The season of first flowers is arriving again. I still remember the surreal moment of being entirely surrounded by a constellation of soft, dreamy pink. I must have been transported to an alternate reality. My fingers reached out to touch the fluttering petals floating around me. Being lost in an alternate dimension can do funny things to one’s head, for I did an uncharacteristic twirl and a shrill giggle rippled from my throat. I didn’t need the customary booze at hanami parties to feel light-headed, such was the intoxicating power of cherry blossoms.
Now if you are a flower obsessed person like me, you will know there is no better place to view cherry blossoms than in Japan, where sakura is most cherished. The first bloom for this year in Tokyo is forecasted to be on March 18, with full bloom on March 26. And with the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, there is no better time to visit Tokyo this spring.
What are some of the best places to view cherry blossoms in Tokyo? There are different types of places that compliments every type of hanami-goer, so we have selected some of the very best to suit your personal preferences.
For Party Lovers
If you find joy in a bustling environment and wish to fully immerse yourself in the Japanese tradition of hanami (flower viewing), that is having a picnic under a crown of pink petals complete with a dozen of beer cans and getting slightly inebriated, Yoyogi Park is made for you. Yoyogi Park, located in the heart of Harajuku and home to over 700 cherry trees, is frequented by Japanese youths who revel in merrymaking in large groups during the cherry blossom season. If you are intent on joining this large outdoor party, take note to “chope” a spot with a picnic mat from early morning as it will be filled up fast.
・Access: 5-minute walk from Harajuku Station ・Free entry
For Serene Park Lovers
If you love the idea of having a picnic under a park but aren’t too thrilled about sharing the space with unruly youths, head over to Shinjuku Gyoen for a more sophisticated hanami experience. Shinjuku Gyoen is expansive, with over 1000 cherry trees planted across large lawns, so even when it’s crowded, you will still be able find quiet spots for your hanami. The ultimate perk (or bane for some) is that alcohol is banned in this park, so you will have a guaranteed peaceful hanami. Shinjuku Gyoen also has a wide variety of cherry blossoms, so if you time your hanami period right, you will be witness to a wondrous blend of varying shades of pink and white all around you.
・Access: 5-minute walk from Shinjukugyoenmae Station. ・Admission: 500 yen (General), 250 yen (Senior citizens and students), Free for children 15 years and under. ・Opening hours: (March 15 to Sept 30) 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (closing at 5:30 p.m.).
For Yozakura (Night Cherry Blossom) Viewing
Walking under cherry trees in full bloom during the day is an already an enchanting experience on its own. But have you seen cherry blossoms at night? Lit in a myriad of colours, the cherry blossoms take on an ethereal feel. So beautiful is this phenomenon that the Japanese even have a name for it, yozakura. And there is no better place for yozakura viewing than at Chidorigafuchi, the moat of the Imperial palace. A 700-m long footpath along Chidorigafuchi is transformed into a sakura tunnel during full cherry blossom bloom, and as you meander your way slowly under the glowing petals, you will even forget the crowd around you. Alternatively, how about renting a boat to row on the shimmering lake surrounded by a wreath of cherry blossoms? Be warned though, the queue for the boat rental can take up to 2 hours of wait.
・Access: 5-minute walk from Kudanshita Station / Hanzomon Station ・Free entry ・Illumination: 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm
With all the jam-packed crowds in Tokyo especially during the cherry blossom period, it is almost impossible to find a picture perfect place to capture that stunning shot of frothy pink cherry blossoms embellishing an entire river sans the intruding figures of humans. Almost is the word. We have discovered the perfect location for you to take countless photos for as long as you want. Omokagebashi Bridge is almost identical to its more famous counterpart, Meguro River. What it lacks is the throng of food stalls selling sakura-themed food and drinks along Meguro River, drawing both locals and tourists from all over the world. But it precisely this dearth that makes it all the more picturesque. Omokagebashi is shrouded in obscurity and known perhaps only to the Waseda University students, thanks to its proximity to the Waseda campus.
・Access: 5 minutes from Omokagebashi Station ・Free entry
For Alternative Viewers
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You might never connect the pink beauty of cherry blossoms with cold, dark death, but an alternative, albeit slightly morbid location might surprise you. Yanaka Cemetery is bedecked with a shower of flush pink blossoms during spring, and is actually a tranquil location to admire the falling petals. While it may sound a little macabre to view cherry blossoms in a cemetery, it is not unusual for the Japanese, particularly when cherry blossom, in its brevity of beauty, is the very embodiment of mortality. Running through the cemetery is a wide road flanked by rows of cherry blossoms known as sakura-dori (Cherry Blossom Lane), a perfect place for you to take your stroll to a larger, more breathable space if you’re starting to feel a little too melancholic standing amongst gravestones.
・Access: 5 minutes from Nippori Station ・Free entry
For Nature Lovers
If you long to see cherry blossoms blooming freely in the wild and don’t mind a bit of a climb, why not try hiking? Mount Takao is only 50 minutes from Shinjuku and has a great spot, the Itchodaira area, lined with a thousand of cherry blossoms that bloom a couple weeks after those in Tokyo. To reach this beautiful hanami site also known as Takaosan Senbonzakura (Mount Takao Thousand Cherry Trees), you will have to add an extra 30-minute hike from the summit. Good things never come easy, but the reward will be well worth the workout, and the journey itself is full of scenic sights that will certainly ease the process.
・Access: In front of Takaosanguchi Station. ・Free entry for hikers, entrance fee applies for cable car and chair lift, and other attractions on the mountain.
For Thrill Seekers
What’s the fastest way to view cherry blossoms? On a rollercoaster, of course! At Yomiuri Land, an amusement park in Tokyo, you can jet your way through cherry blossoms and watch the flowers turn into a whirlwind of pink and white blur on Bandit, its most popular rollercoaster. If you prefer to glide through mid–air over a carpet of cherry blossoms, take their Sky Shuttle Gondola, a cable car that links Keio Yomiuri Land Station and the park entrance. For a panoramic view of the cherry blossoms, go for a spin on the 60-m high Ferris Wheel to see over 1000 cherry trees in Yomiuri Land. On an especially clear day, you may even get to see Mount Fuji from a distance!
・Access: From Keio Yomiuri Land Station, ride the Odakyu bus to the amusement park or take the Sky Shuttle gondola. From Yomiuri Land-Mae Station, take “読01(Yomi01)” bus bound for Yomiuri Land. ・Entry Fee: 1800 yen for adults, 1500 yen for ages 12-17, 1000 yen for ages 11 and under. Free for children under 3. ・Opening hours: Varies, refer to website for updated schedule.
All photographs were taken by Discoverist team unless otherwise stated.