Hanami is a long-standing Japanese tradition of welcoming spring. Also known as the “cherry blossom festival,” this annual celebration is about appreciating the temporal beauty of nature. People gather under blooming cherry blossoms for food, drink, songs, companionship and the beauty of sakura (cherry blossoms).
Celebrations begin in the day and often last into the night. The festival dates vary by location and year, as the trees bloom at different times with weather and climate variations, but they are typically in late March through May and last a few days to a few weeks. Although the traditional beverage of choice for hanami is sake, you can also drink tea. Seasonal foods (like wagashi- Japanese sweets) and seasonally decorated teaware can echo the beauty of nature in your hanami tea ritual. For a pleasing floral-tart taste, fresh, organically grown sakura can be blended with green tea or black tea and then brewed in a kyusu.
Below is a list of some of Japan’s most popular cherry blossom spots with the typical timing for best viewing in the average year:
- Shinjuku Gyoen
Early April 10 minute walk from Shinjuku Station, 200 yen, 9:00 to 16:30
Shinjuku Gyoen features more than one thousand cherry trees of over a dozen varieties, including numerous early and late blooming trees. There are spacious lawn areas, and the atmosphere is calm and peaceful. Thanks to the early and late blooming trees, Shinjuku Gyoen is a good hanami destination for those who miss the main season by a week or two. Alcoholic drinks are prohibited.
- Ueno Park
A few steps from Ueno Station, admission free
One of Japan’s most crowded, noisy and popular spots for cherry blossom parties, Ueno Park features more than 1000 trees along the street leading towards the National Museum and around Shinobazu Pond. Ueno Park’s blossoms typically open 1-3 days ahead of the blossoms in other spots in the city.
- Sumida Park
A few steps from Asakusa Station, admission free
The park stretches for a few hundred meters along both sides of Sumida River with views of the Tokyo Sky Tree. Some food stands are available. Cherry blossom viewing can also be enjoyed from boats that cruise the river. Trees are lit up in the evenings.