Considering the amount I’ve blabbered about Japan since my March adventure, there’s one aspect I’ve pretty much neglected to write about so far…
And it’s the actual reason I decided to head to Japan when I did – Cherry blossom season! Or “Hanami” if you will, which literally means “flower viewing”.
Now I’m not really one for flora and fauna, and admiring floristry wouldn’t regularly be a hobby of mine, but getting to see Japan during one of it’s most beautiful and festive times of the year was an experience I wasn’t willing to pass up. Thus my late March outbound flight was booked with pretty flowers very much in mind…
Initially I thought my timing could be a little off, as heading to Tokyo at that time could have been a little early for the sakura to be out in force. Thankfully though NHK put my mind at rest and cranked my excitement up when I caught a report talking about how the blossoms had bloomed in Tokyo a few days before I left.
Upon landing I was greeted with fake sakura trees decorating the shopping area of Haneda airport – it was definitely the right time to visit! Several trees in full bloom also broke up the concrete landscape on view during the train journey in to Asakusa. But my sakura snapping needs had to wait a further day – barring a wander around my adopted area – until I had returned from my detour north to Nikkō. So it ended up being Thursday before I could finally enjoy Japan’s signature flower in full.
It was worth the wait though.
To be short – Hanami is fantastic! Seemingly every Tokyo-ite spills out to enjoy the fun and festivities of the blossoms in full bloom, with every amateur snapper out to get some picture perfect shots of the scenic sakura – and in electronics mad Tokyo, that’s a lot of people! Scores of salarymen fill the parks of the Japanese capitals, indulging in after-work drinks and picnics with colleagues and friends alike on temporary tarpaulins under the trees. Add to that the plastic sakura-decorated shops all around Tokyo, and multiply the festive fun five-fold at the weekend, and it’s a superb experience all round!
Of course with Tokyo being the epic megalopolis that it is, there’s several spots for sakura viewing. So here’s my rundown of my favourites that I visited.
The traditional Tokyo hotspot for Hanami celebrations and sakura viewing – both for Tokyo citizens and visitors alike – is one of the city’s largest public parks. I checked it out both late one evening, where it was filled with suited salarymen getting sozzled under the trees, and then again on the Sunday afternoon, when it was rather packed to say the least.
Heading in from the Shinobazu exit of Ueno Station is the easiest way to stumble across scores of Hanami revellers. Simply head up the steps and to the right, then past the restaurant on the left and you’ll see masses of sakura trees before you. Check out the trees surrounding one small storehouse on your left too for good chances to get right up close to the blossoms. You can then follow the paths up towards the Tokyo National Museum for several scenic sakura opportunities.
Whilst I was unfortunate to have the skies pretty grey during my daytime visit to the park, there’s no doubting it’s the place to be for Hanami parties.
Sumida River, Asakusa
I’ve already mentioned before about how the Sumida riverside during Hanami is an awesome place to be. But it’s worth recapping!
With the combination of picturesque blossoms and high-rise, typically Tokyo modern developments looming from over the river, alongside the river in Asakusa provides the ideal place for the photographer who wants to capture traditional and modern Tokyo in the same setting. The tree-lined, Asakusa-side boulevard sits parallel to the Tokyo SkyTree, Asahi Beer Hall and it’s crowning “glory”, the Flamme D’Or, so it provides a great parallel to the Sakura trees.
Of course you’ll find it busy during dry springtime evenings, but not to the extent of Ueno Park. And you’ll likely find that it clears out a lot earlier too. Combine a wander along the riverside with a visit to Asakusa’s Sensoji temple and Kaminarimon – where you’ll also find blossoms decorating the scenery – for a top evening of sightseeing and Sakura spotting in Asakusa.
Tokyo Midtown (near 21_21 Design Sight)
One of the spots that I didn’t expect to be a Hanami hotspot was über-developed Roppongi. I initially headed there to check out the National Art Center, but got distracted along the way when I realised 21_21 Design Sight was also nearby at the Tokyo Midtown complex.
A short stroll down a sakura tree-lined green belt took me down to the gallery, and I ended up spending a good hour chilling out eating lunch (some random Japanese flavoured French fries – very tasty!) under the trees as the breeze decorated the scenery with blossom petals. Whilst a road ran right alongside the green belt and tall office buildings loomed from the other side of the road, the Sakura trees completely transformed the area and made this into one of my favourite areas for cherry blossom photos.
Check it out if you’re heading to any of the museums or other attractions in Roppongi, it’s literally a 2 minute walk from the station!
Any other spots you’d recommend for Hanami in Tokyo?
So that’s the best spots I found for enjoying cherry blossom season whilst in the Japanese capital. As I said previously, it’s a really fantastic experience, and one that I’d wholly recommend. Sunny weather makes it all the better of course, but either way it’s impossible to not enjoy the good natured atmosphere that comes from everyone hitting the streets and enjoying the start of springtime.
Now I can’t wait to head back to Japan and experience Hanami other spots, particularly in Kyoto!
Have you experienced Hanami in Tokyo? What were your favourite spots for Sakura viewing?