Annual spring festivals always produce a crowd in Japan
Annual spring festivals always produce a crowd in Japan
If you think cherry blossom season is the only exciting event this spring, you are in for a huge surprise. Acknowledging the arrival of new flowering blooms is not just a fleeting nod to Mother Nature, but a cause for real celebration and a genuine pastime in Japan. Japanese even have a special word – Hanasanpo (literally translated as ‘flower walk’) – to describe the activity of admiring and walking in amongst seasonal blooms. Love, respect and appreciation of the beauty of the changing seasons transpires into various public events dedicated to showcasing every flower that comes to bloom. A significant advance preparation goes into arranging these festivities to create ultimate ambiance and relaxing setting for taking in the seasonal beauty – background music, themed performances, souvenir stalls, food and, of course, soft serve in the same flavor as the featured flower. While cherry blossom festival is the most well-known and highly anticipated event in spring, it certainly is not the only one. Here is the list of my favorite upcoming flower festivals in and around Tokyo.
Here’s the biggest myth debunked: you can see cherry blossoms exclusively during end of March and/or beginning of April. The truth is, there are at least dozen species of cherry trees in Japan and some start blooming as early as January! A one-hour rapid express train ride on Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station will get you to Matsuda. This little, unassuming town comes to life every February when local tourists flock here to admire the early blooming sakura, called Kawazu-zakura. On clear days, you get an unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji as well.
While cherry blossoms get all the glory when it comes to heralding the arrival of spring, modest blooming buds of ume are also held in high regard here. Celebratory ume matsuri (plum blossom festivals) are held all around the country, filled with performances, and plum-themed food stalls. Early February to mid-March is when the city starts filling up with bursts of white, blush and hot pink. You can spot the blooming trees everywhere, although there are a few parks which boast of a nice choice of trees for plum-watching. Hanegi Park in Setagaya, Koishikawa Koraguen in Suidobashi and Koganei Park in Koganei are one of the best spots to marvel at the blooming plums in Tokyo. However, if you are willing to get out of the city, Odawara boasts with spectacular plum tree groves and Mt. Fuji views – all quite easily accessible on Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station.
Cherry Blossom Festival
This list wouldn’t be complete without featuring one of the main spring events in Japan – blooming of Somei Yoshino cherry trees, the most widespread type of cherry blossom in the country. Depending on the weather, end of March or beginning of April marks the time when Tokyo is transformed into a floral fantasia. The fluffy clouds of sakura cover the cityscape, forming tunnels of blooms while filling the city with incredible delicate fragrance. Japan Meteorological Agency released its national 2019 cherry blossom forecast. According to the report, the first blossoms began to open in Tokyo on March 21, with peak season falling on March 27. So where do you see cherry blossoms in Tokyo? One of the most picturesque spots for viewing cherry blossoms, as well as immersing into hanami tradition are, Shinjuku Gyoen Garden, Meguro River near Nakameguro, Yoyogi and Inokashira Parks, Chidorigafuchi moat and the neighboring Yasukuni Shrine. For less crowded spots, head to Canal Café in Kagurazaka neighborhood by the Iidabashi Station.
Yaezakura Cherry Blossom
Arriving in Tokyo mid to late April? Don’t worry, you will still haveT a chance to get your dose of sakura blossoms, as Yaezakura cherry trees start blooming just around that time, covering the city with stunning soft pink hues. Unlike Somei Yoshino, which only has five petals, these blooms are fuller and havea hundred-petal flowers. Enjoy a peaceful afternoon while picnicking under these beautiful trees at Shinjuku Gyoen Garden. As crowded as it gets during this time, the park is expansive enough to provide you with a secluded serene corner of your own.
Azalea and Wisteria Blossoms
April is a lovely month not only because of the iconic cherry trees, but also because so many equally beautiful flowers come to life and fill the city with color. Remarkable views of vibrant azalea bushes and wisteria tunnels should not be missed. Head to the quaint neighborhood of Tokyo Yanaka Ginza to marvel at azaleas contrasting against the tunnel of vermillion torii gates in Nezu Shrine. Kameido Tenjin Shrine in Tokyo and Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi, on the other hand, feature ornamental trellises of draping wisteria blooms creating an ethereal display.
Nemophila (Baby Blue Eyes) and Tulips
In late April/early May, the rolling hills of Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki is blanketed with these whimsical pale blue and white flowers. With the sea to one side and the expanses of the large park on the other, the sight is nothing short of magical. The same park is also home to the brilliantly colored world of tulips that come to bloom. Showa Kinen Koen, or Showa Memorial Park, located in Tachikawa, is another place where you can enjoy your walk among the vibrant tulips during the annual flower festival in the months of March, April and May.
Why would I want to see a moss, you ask? Well, the moment you see the fields carpeted with color-coordinated patterns paired with glorious views of Mt. Fuji in the background, you will know exactly why. The most famous Fuji shibazakura festival takes place in Yamanashi Prefecture (early May usually being the most optimal time), while the shibazakura festival in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture is also equally popular.
Blooming dates are given as a rough guide only. Flowering periods differ depending on location and the weather Gods from year to year, and peak periods can come and go quickly. To ensure accurate peak bloom predictions, I recommend you to research the location and time you plan to visit. Typically, I look up the hashtag of the location on Instagram and see the latest photos of the place, which usually gives me an idea how it looks. Reaching out to people who just visited and asking them how it looked is also helpful.
*Schedules are subject to change due to coronavirus concerns. Please check each event organizer’s official website for current information.
MIDTOWN BLOSSOM 2020: March 20 - April 19; 150 cherry trees are in bloom and can be viewed at an open-air terrace of Tokyo Midtown Garden; Right up is scheduled at 5-11 p.m.; 9-7-1 Akasaka Minato-ku; 3-minute walk from Roppongi Station or Nogizaka Station; 03-3475-3100; www.tokyo-midtown.com/en/
CHIDORIGAFUCHI: March - April; the northwest canal of the Imperial Palace; one of the most popular cherry blossom viewing spot in Japan and the trees are illuminated 6-10 p.m.; Kudan minami 2chome Chiyo-ku, 5-minute walk from Kudan Shita Station; 03-3556-0391; visit-chiyoda.tokyo/
JINDAI BOTANICAL GARDEN CAMELLIA & CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL: March 10 - April 12, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Mon; 620 camellias and 720 cherry trees bloom starting in mid-March; 500 yen for adults, 250 yen for age under 15; 5-31-10 Jindaiji Motomachi, Chofu-shi; Bus from Mitaka Station or Chofu Station; 0424-83-2300; www.tokyo-park.or.jp/jindai/
SUMIDA RIVER CHERRY FESTIVAL: March 20 - April 10; a row of cherry blossom trees continues about 1 km on both banks on the river. Collaborated event with Tokyo Sky Tree is also available. Illumination is scheduled from 6:30-21 p. m.; five-minute walk from Asakusa Station. 03-5608-6951; visit-sumida.jp/
SHINJUKU GYOEN: March 25 - April 24, 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; 144 acres park in Shinjuku, famous viewing spot of 1,000 cherry trees; prohibited to possess alcohol beverage; 250 yen for age over 65 and under 15; 500 yen for age over 18; 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station; 03-3350-0151; www.env.go.jp/garden/shinjukugyoen/
INOKASHIRA PARK: March - April; 500 cherry trees around the pond at Inogashira Park, illuminated between 6-10 p.m.; Gotenyama 1chome, Murashino-shi; 10-minute walk from Kichijoji Station; 0422-47-6900; www.kensetsu.metro.tokyo.lg.jp/jimusho/seibuk/inokashira/index.html
FUSSA CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL: March 28 - April 5; 500 cherry trees along the banks of the Tama River, illuminated 5-9 p.m.; Free parking are available on weekend; 1-12-1 Minamidenen Fussa-shi, 10-minute walk from JR Kumagawa Station; 042-551-1740; www.city.fussa.tokyo.jp/sightseeing/osusumeevent/sakura/1009352.html
KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE CHERRY BLOSSOM: March - April; Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., close on Mon.; enjoy 1,000 cherry trees in bloom at the Imperial Palace gardens; free; 15-minute walk from Maruta machi Station; 075-211-6348; www.env.go.jp/garden/kyotogyoen/english/index.html
ODAWARA CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL: March 25 - April 6; about 320 cherry blossom trees at Odawara Castle Park; illuminated 6-9 p.m.;10-minute walk from Odawara Station; 3-30 Shiroyama, Odawara; Tourist Association 0465-33-1521; odawaracastle.com/
TSUKAYAMA PARK CHERRY BLOSSOM: March - April; about 1,000 cherry blossom trees on the hill with a view of Yokosuka Port; Nishiihemicho 3-chome Yokosuka-shi; 25-minute walk from Itsumi or Anjinzuka Station; 046-822-2575; www.kanagawa-park.or.jp/tsukayama/access.html
SANKEIEN GARDEN: March - April, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; seasonal flowers and historic buildings in the garden; 700 yen for adult; 58-1 Sannotani Honmoku Naka-ku Yokohama; 10-minute bus ride from Negishi Station; 045-621-0634; www.sankeien.or.jp/
HIROSAKI PARK CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL: April 23 - May 6; about 2,500 trees around the castle and moat bloom and are illuminated from sunsets to 11 p.m. prohibited to operate drone in the park; 20-minute bus ride from Hirosaki Station; 320 yen for adult, 100 yen for children; 0172-35-3131; www.hirosaki-kanko.or.jp/en/edit.html?id=cherry_blossom_festival
MIYAJIMA CHERRY BLOSSOM: March-April; Miyajima is one of the best scenic spots in Japan, enjoy 17,000 cherry trees in bloom, contrasted with O-torii gate, which stands in the sea, and five-storied pagoda of the well-known structure of Itsukushima Shrine; 10-minute ferry ride from Miyajimaguchi pier, 0829-44-2011; www.miyajima.or.jp/english/index.html
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