My Tokyo Guide
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Updated: April 2, 2018
In early spring, Japan is gripped by cherry blossom (or sakura) fever. As the buds burst open in parks across Tokyo, picnics and hanami parties to view the blossoms are planned and stores sell special bento boxes, cherry blossom-flavored sweets and even wine flavored with the petals. Different varieties bloom at different times, but most hit their peak in Tokyo at the end of March to the beginning of April. The air is fragrant with their soft scent and the whole city becomes more vibrant and optimistic.
The cherry blossoms herald the beginning of spring after a chilly winter, but they mean so much more. Sakura flowers are a bittersweet reminder that beauty is fleeting. The blooms hit their absolute peak beauty for just a few days, before dropping their petals like confetti, swirling across the city with the first strong winds of the season.
It’s also the time when students graduate and start new jobs and people make major life changes; the flowers represent new beginnings and stir up nostalgic feelings of school days and first loves.
The flowers bloom for around two weeks, from the barely opened buds to the falling petals, so make the most of the short time and get out there! After a long winter, it’s a great time to get outside. The sakura bloom later in the cooler mountains, rewarding hikers.
The classic hanami party sees friends or colleagues gather under the cherry trees to drink beer and sake and eat colorful bento meals and fried chicken. Some sing karaoke in the park or even dress up in cosplay; it’s a time when people let loose and have fun. Stroll along banks of the Sumida or Meguro River to enjoy illuminated cherry trees, or cleave the petal-strewn waters in a rowboat at Ueno Park, Inokashira Park or Chidorigafuchi.
You can see cherry blossoms across the city, from a few trees clustered near a train station, to fast swaths of parkland; it all depends how you want to experience them.
For the iconic photo, stroll the gardens of Chidorigafuchi near the Imperial Palace; the sight of rowboats plying through the petal-strewn water is a classic.
Nakameguro is beautiful all day as cherry blossoms and lanterns line the canal, while stylish shoppers drink champagne at the outdoor cafes that line the route; at night, the trees are lit up and the area becomes a street party with food stalls.
Koishikawa Korakuen Garden offers traditional Japanese garden design and beautiful weeping cherry blossom trees for the ultimate photo opportunity, while families go to picnic at Asukayama Park and Showa Kinen Park, where there’s plenty of space to stretch out and play.
Japan is known as a country of manners, and that extends to cherry blossom viewing. Many of the cherry trees in Tokyo date back to the Edo period (1603-1867), so they are becoming more fragile. You should never pick the flowers, break or bend the branches or climb the trees. They should be treated with respect so that they can bring joy for many more years. Some parks allow picnics with alcohol but recently many of them close around 9 p.m. to prevent trouble. At other popular spots like Chidorigafuchi, you can’t sit under the trees—the rule is, keep moving.