Photo by Denisse Rauda/Stripes Japan
Photo by Denisse Rauda/Stripes Japan

Sakura season: Simply the best of Tokyo's cherry blossom spots

by Nano Betts
TRAVELWITHNANOB.COM

Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions I get about Japan is “where are the best places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo?” and the shortest answer to that is everywhere. Literally.  You’ll see canvases of fluffy blooms on every street and at every park, big or small. The city turns into a real flower-land and you are guaranteed to get your sakura fix almost anywhere you go. However, to make your sakura hunting a little bit easier, I put together not only the well-known hanamispots but also my personal favorite, off the beaten path nooks in and around Tokyo that provide stunning views without all the crowds. Whether you are coming to Japan for the first time, or are a seasoned resident, I hope you discover a new place on my list below and get inspired to have hanami there just like the locals do.

 

MUST VISIT SPOT

Opinions will differ on this, but I think if you, for whatever reason, have to pick only one place to view cherry blossoms in Tokyo, then Chidorigafuchi is a perfect one. It is a very scenic spot surrounding the moat around Imperial Palace grounds. While at it, Yasukuni Shrine next to it is also not to be missed. As packed as it gets by tourists and locals alike, it is a charming place to stroll around. Don’t miss a little Japanese garden, hidden behind the shrine, which has beautiful koi fish pond.

 

LARGE PARKS & JAPANESE GARDENS

Tokyo has a reputation of being a concrete jungle (which it is), but it is also seeded with a plethora of massive lush parks which make a wonderful, alas crowded, spots for viewing sakura. Shinjuku Gyoen Garden is my favorite public park in Tokyo. It has a beautiful collection of different types of cherry trees some of which start blooming as early as February and bloom until mid-April. Basically, every weekend there is a new set of trees blooming so it keeps me coming back for more.

 

Other gorgeous places are Inokashira Park where you can ride the swan boats on a lake surrounded by sakura trees, and Showa Kinen Park which is huge and provides ample space for hanami.

 

Yoyogi Park and Ueno Park are two other super busy spots and attract tons of crowds. These turn into more of a party central and typically it is very hard to find a space there, that’s why they rank low on my list.

 

If you are looking for more zen setting with beautiful Japanese landscape, then I’d recommend visiting Rikugien and Koishikawa Gardens. Both have traditional tea houses where you can make yourself comfortable on tatami floor and admire the blooms.

 

COZY NEIGHBORHOODS

There are a few areas in Tokyo I love to revisit when trees are in full bloom. Nakameguro is perhaps the most popular and for a good reason. As crowded as it gets, it’s impossible not be drown by those fluffy trees lined up along the Meguro river. The atmosphere is lively and there are a lot of food stalls selling drinks and snacks. Night light-up here is also stunning. If you want to enjoy almost exact same setting (three lined along the canal/river), but with much fewer people then head to either Shin-Yurigaoka area (direct train from Shinjuku on Odakyu line), Sengawa River in Setagaya or Senbonzakura along Hikichigawa River.

 

Another favorite of mine is Jiyugaoka, and so far, it has remained a bit less touristy even though cherry blossoms here are spectacular.

 

Yanaka neighborhood and its cemetery, in particular, is a wonderful place for not just gawking at blooms but exploring the old part of Tokyo with quintessential ambiance.

If you care to explore another old part of Tokyo in addition to admiring cherry blossoms, then Chofu area is a good place. It has a hushed sylvan setting and its Buddhist temple Jindai-ji (second oldest in Tokyo) is dedicated to sakura. The year-round beautiful Jindai Botanical Garden close by is also worth visiting.

Last but not least, locals recommend Harimanzomin Sakura Street in Bunkyo which is a bit out of the way, but offers a stunning avenue set up in matsuri (festival) style during sakura season.

 

CAFÉS WITH SAKURA VIEWS

When the weather is cooperating there is hardly a better place than Canal Cafe. Onibus Coffee in Nakameguro is also known to have a nice view of the sakura tree outside its second-floor windows. Lastly, Works in Nakameguro is a great brunch spot with an equally beautiful view.

 

INDOOR VIEWS

Sadly, cherry blossom season also coincides with the rainy season, so in case the weather is not cooperating, you can head to Nihonbashi which is decked out in festive sakura theme and offers an array of entertainment to set you in the mood for spring.

 

CHERRY BLOSSOM SPOTS OUTSIDE TOKYO

I was absolutely smitten at the beauty of Kawagoe in full bloom last year, so I’d highly recommend it.

 

Another place I recently discovered is Fujinomiya in Shizuoka Prefecture where I was invited to join a food tour by Arigato Japan. Not only does this little town has a fantastic spot for viewing cherry blossom, but it offers spectacular views of Mt. Fuji and has a great food scene to boot.

 

Kamakura never disappoints no matter when you visit and cherry blossom season is not an exception. Shrines like Hase Dera and xxx in particular are not to be missed.

Kawaguchiko Lake and Chureito Pagoda need no introduction, it is one of the most scenic and quintessential images of Japan: cherry blossom framed Mt. Fuji.

 

Yokohama, Japan’s second-biggest city, also has a beautiful array of gardens which are a bit less touristy as not everyone cares to venture outside Tokyo. Sankeien Garden is one definitely worth visiting and has a very impressive night light-up.

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