My Tokyo Guide
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Updated: February 28, 2020
From late March to early April, Tokyo transforms as cherry blossom fever grips the city. This year, warmer weather looks set to bring the dates forward, with flowering set to begin earlier than usual. We introduce the latest 2020 forecast and the best spots to enjoy these beautiful symbols of spring.
Cherry blossom – or sakura - season in Tokyo is truly a magical experience. Thousands of trees burst into bloom, dousing the streets with stunning shades of pink. The flowers are a national obsession and people flock to parks to hold hanami parties and picnics to view and photograph them. Stores will stock their shelves with sakura-themed or flavored items, such as sakura bento lunch boxes and even serve pink sakura drinks. As if shaking off the winter, a bright and optimistic atmosphere fills the city.
At the beginning of each year, the cherry blossom forecast is eagerly awaited. Broadcast on national television, viewers will anticipate when best to hold their hanami flower viewing parties.
The 2020 cherry blossom season in Tokyo is forecast to begin on March 17. It normally takes about one week to 10 days from flowering to full bloom.
(*According to data from the Japan Weather Association, February 25, 2020.)
Tokyo is full of well-known as well as hidden spots for viewing blossoms. However, for the full hanami experience, soak up the vibrant atmosphere of a festival. We’ve selected three popular events where you can admire the flowers’ ephemeral beauty and join Tokyoites in having fun and welcoming the spring.
The hip yet laid-back neighborhood of Nakameguro is full of trendy coffee shops and cafes. Yet in spring its quiet canal becomes more like a carnival as lanterns line the avenues and food stalls set up shop, selling drinks and snacks to the crowds thronging the streets. The draw is some 800 trees lining a 3.8-kilometer-long stretch form a pale pink arch over the river. Viewable from bridges over the water, the reflections shimmer like magic and make for pictures so stunning it’s hard to believe they are real.
There is a word in Japanese known as “yozakura” and it is definitely something worth experiencing. Literally, “night sakura”, the blossoms are lit up in night crating an otherworldly ethereal scene that is hauntingly beautiful. One of the best examples is the weeping cherry at Rikugien. The gardens were constructed in 1702 by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, a feudal lord and vassal to the shogun (military commander), who was inspired by the picturesque scenes in waka poetry. Walking past the front gate within the gardens brings into view an impressive 70-year-old shidarezakura (weeping cherry blossom) tree. Even today, its branches are covered in pale pink flowers during cherry blossom season, cascading downwards like a waterfall.
Nihonbashi was a former commercial center in the Edo period (1603 – 1868) and is now known for its upscale retail ,as well as large financial institutions. City center it may be, it knows how to celebrate cherry blossoms and does so in all sorts of creative and innovative ways. At the COREDO Muromachi Terrace’s Oyane Square, you will find "The Tree of Light: -Tomoshizakura-," with 8,000 leaves shining in colors with tone. In between Coredo Muromachi 1 and 2, you’ll find the the installation artwork "Nihonbashi Art Street -Kotoba-namiki-" with the theme of words. Don’t miss “Sakura Menu Walk,” which offers a cherry blossom-themed menu at 170 local shops, and the pink-colored illuminated buildings along Edo Sakura Dori and Chuo Dori.
You may have noticed that cherry blossoms often line the moats of castles and canals, their reflections amplifying the spectacle. Sumida River in the east of Tokyo is no exception. During the Edo period, Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa shogun (military commander), ordered the planting of sakura along both banks, forming a kilometer-long sakura boulevard running from Azumabashi Bridge to Sakurabashi Bridge. This has attracted large crowds for centuries. Nowadays, local councils and businesses set up booths, and even tourism associations flaunt beautiful locations, so you can start dreaming of your next trip. At night time, the blossoms are lit up with the added bonus of Tokyo Skytree in the background.
Just north of the Imperial Palace, the Chidorigafuchi Green Way provides a peaceful path away from the bustle of the city and, in spring, it becomes a 700-meter-long cherry tree tunnel. Around 260 trees of the Somei-yoshino and Oshima varieties are illuminated at dusk. The Chidorigafuchi boating area is also open late during the festival so that visitors can view this magical sight from the water. Many neighboring shops and local organizations also hold sakura-themed events, adding to the spring festival atmosphere.
Ueno Park is one of Tokyo’s most popular leisure spaces, housing a variety of museums, the charming Shinobazu Pond and even a zoo. Its avenue of cherry blossom trees along the main path is famous across Japan, even earning recognition in a haiku by the renowned poet Matsuo Basho. To celebrate spring in style, a thousand lanterns light the way at night, alongside several yatai, street food stalls that selli popular snacks from grilled chicken skewers to chocolate bananas. Several antique markets are also held around the pond.
The Koganei Cherry Blossom Festival really has it all. Not only does it take place in the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, which makes for a visit that is both historical and fun, but the park is home to more than 1,700 cherry trees of around 50 different varieties. There are several events to be enjoyed from music, dancing and Japanese taiko drums performances, to tea ceremony and flower arrangement experiences. Sample some local and regional dishes at food stands and enjoy the special sakura light-up at night.