Five Days in Sakura Paradise

I don’t recall ever experiencing a cherry blossom season that came as quickly—and ended just as quickly—as this year’s. Since we had an extremely cold winter, I couldn’t believe it when the Japan Meteorological Corp announced in February that the first buds were forecast to open on March 17th. Usually cold weather prolongs their dormancy, and I had expected a late-March start date.

But when March 1st rolled around, it was like someone turned the switch to spring. In the first few weeks of the month, we had many days of high temps hovering around 20ºC (though the lows were still around 4-5ºC). And true to the forecast, the first buds of Tokyo’s representative tree at Yasukuni Shrine were declared open on the 17th—nine days earlier than the average year.

Exactly one week after the buds first opened, full bloom was announced… though in my (very professional) opinion, the majority of flowers were only around 70% bloomed. Most people seem to agree the actual full bloom—where the trees are at their fullest and puffiest—was around the 27th.

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
17
Buds open
18

 

19

 

20

 

21

 

22
~30% bloom
23

 

24
~70% bloom
25

 

26
~90% bloom
27
Full bloom
28
Full bloom
29
Petals falling
30
Green leaves
31

 

1
Season end

We had just two full days of peak bloom before the petals started blowing away. Luckily for me, I was on spring holidays for the main blooming period so I was able to dedicate every day to making the most of the sakura’s short life. I discovered some amazing places, revisited some of my old favourites, and joined a few hanami picnics. And the cherry on top: we were blessed with warm, sunny weather almost all week.

Day 1: March 26th

I started my sakura-hunting week off at Meiji Jingu Gaien. It was my first time here and I decided to go on a whim after it popped up on Google Maps as a sakura hot spot (a special feature in spring). The area is famous for its ginkgo avenues which turn bright yellow in November, but I never realised there were cherry trees here, too. There were several somei yoshino trees (the main sakura), but also the weeping sakura, apricot blossoms and magnolias were very pretty.

Meiji Jingu Gaien

A few stops away on the Oedo Line, Tokyo Tower was my next destination. Particularly, I was after a great yozakura (night sakura) place. I figured if I walked around the area I’d find somewhere eventually. Well, I didn’t have to go far. Right around the corner from Akabanebashi Station was a whole street lined with cherry trees. I used a parking meter as a tripod and got a couple of nice shots! Further up the road, there were plenty more trees at the base of the tower. A taxi driver I spoke to a few days later said this area was his favourite in Tokyo!

Day 2: March 27th

I decided to stay local and explore my neighbourhood, Setagaya, by bicycle. First up was Shoin Jinja, a small shrine at the end of a shopping street. Next, was a famous temple called Gotokuji, known for its maneki neko (lucky cat) statues. The cherry blossoms were looking full and very beautiful. The whole of Setagaya Ward is packed with so many sakura trees that you really don’t have to go to any specific places to enjoy the flowers. Just put on your walking shoes, or jump on a bike, and follow the trail of petals!

Day 3: March 28th

There were two places I had reserved for the peak bloom. One was the canal behind Toho Studios. I went here three years ago and it immediately became my favourite sakura spot. I don’t remember why but I couldn’t make it last year or the year before. So this year I was itching to get back there. As soon as I laid eyes on the first trees at the canal, I thought, yep it’s still my favourite place! The cascading trees, the little waterfalls, the reflection on the surface of the water. It looked like a painting. Interestingly, there were only about a dozen other people, so it seems like word hasn’t got out about this amazing place.

Toho Studios

Toho StudiosToho Studios

The other place I wanted to see during full bloom was a canal near Shukugawara (technically this place is in Kanagawa Prefecture, but it’s near the border of Tokyo and only a 15-minute train trip from the previous place). Think: a bubbling stream running past grassy banks and colourful flowers. Overhead, a ceiling of soft, white cherry blossoms creating a heavenly tunnel. And every so often, hundreds of tiny petals sprinkling down with the breeze. This place was 10/10.

ShukugawaraShukugawaraShukugawaraShukugawaraShukugawaraShukugawaraShukugawara

I needed to be in Omotesando at 5pm for an appointment, which ended up being cancelled last minute. So without anything else planned, I walked up the road to Aoyama Cemetery. Many people rave about this as one of Tokyo’s best cherry blossom spots, but I’ve never been keen on the idea of hanging out in a graveyard. It turned out to be a very beautiful place and especially gorgeous in the late afternoon light, but I still feel a bit weird about it.

Day 4: March 29th

Thursday was a hanami picnic-filled day. I started by visiting the Imperial Palace (former Edo Castle) which opens its gates to the public only a few days a year. In spring, we can walk down Inui Street and see many varieties of cherry. I was expecting long lines to get in, but surprisingly we only had to wait 10 minutes. The street itself is not long, but it felt like a privilege to be there and to catch a glimpse of some of the palace’s buildings.

Imperial Palace

Imperial PalaceImperial PalaceImperial Palace

For lunch, I joined a group of colleagues at Hinokicho Park behind Tokyo MidTown, a luxury shopping complex. I absolutely love hanami picnics because everyone always seems so happy and relaxed. Kids run around, couples lay around, friends kanpai together. The trees in the park were already past peak, showing signs of the end of the season.

Tokyo MidTown

In the evening, I joined another group of friends at Yoyogi Park. As expected, the atmosphere here was super fun and lively. People come here to drink and have a good time; some people even bring their own stereos to blast music. There’s nothing like a party under a ceiling of white flowers!

Yoyogi ParkYoyogi Park

Day 5: March 30th

One of the things I was most looking forward to this week was going to Chidorigafuchi, one section of the Imperial Palace moat. I met a few girlfriends early in the morning and we were among the first out in the row boats. I always feel so uncoordinated when rowing a canoe but I’m not one to back down from a challenge! It was so much fun, and we could have stayed out much later than the 1 hour time slot. Many trees were already noticeably flower-less… not even two weeks since the first buds opened, can you believe?

Imperial PalaceImperial PalaceImperial PalaceImperial PalaceChidorigafuchi

In the afternoon, rather than stick around Tokyo city, we decided to head west to Showa Kinen Park. The flowers bloom a day or two later here, and were very much still at their peak! The ‘cherry blossom garden’ was insanely beautiful. It was my first time to be here during full bloom, and I was blown away. The green grass, the white blossoms, the blue sky. It was the perfect combination, and a great end to Tokyo’s 2018 sakura season.

Showa Kinen Park

Showa Kinen ParkShowa Kinen ParkShowa Kinen ParkShowa Kinen ParkShowa Kinen ParkShowa Kinen ParkShowa Kinen Park

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64 thoughts on “Five Days in Sakura Paradise

      1. Do they only give out the forecast by February? I really want to experience it but I’m worried we might not get to “guess” it right!

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        1. There are about half a dozen forecasts announced starting in January up until mid March. It’s very hard to predict the peak period… but in general if you’re here late March-early April then you should catch them at some stage of the bloom!

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe it was because we had such good weather this year – not even one rainy day… the first time in a long time! But I think that was also the cause for its extra short blooming period.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no! Well, make sure you head to some mountainous areas where they bloom a little later. It was such an early and short season this year – no one was expecting it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I thought that was the best way to show how quickly they come and go. There’s such a big build up… and then they’re gone all in the space of two weeks :'(

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I love all your pictures and tried (but couldn’t really) choose what day I preferred the most. I think the picture with the kids stood out – as well as those with a temple in the background. It must be great to be able to experience that time in Japan!

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  2. Such a beautiful post and wonderful photos, you have really brought the place to life and I can’t wait to go thank you for sharing.

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  3. Wow absolutely beautiful! This sight is pretty high on my list of things to see. The japanese culture is something i have yet to experience, this post has provided some great inspiration! Thanks for sharing 😊

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  4. Your photos are gorgeous! I would love to visit Japan at this time, I think I’ll have to plan my trip so I can see the blossoms :)

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  5. Wow! Love all the pictures! Makes me miss Japan :) I studied abroad at Okayama University in 2012 and was able to experience the sakura season. It was amazing. I’ve since fallen in love with Japan and have been back twice :) I was actually just there this past winter visiting a friend.

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    1. Oh wow! That must have been so cool to study here. Japan is one of those countries you need to come to back to many times… that’s why I ended up moving here! Have you thought about living here again?

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  6. Wow! What amazing pictures of Sakura in full bloom! It reminds me of our trip through Japan some 10years ago. While we have Sakura bloom in several places in US, Tokyo is just a world apart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! So glad it brought back some good memories of your trip. I often see pics of the sakura in DC and though the trees may be similar I think it’s the culture and history in Japan that makes it unique!

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  7. your photo collage is like a dream come true!!! They look so nice and i would love to see them someday for myself!!!

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  8. Wow!!! simply amazing photos. Your photos are so stunning and the place is also very beautiful with full blossoms. I have heard so much about this blossom and seen so many great photos that I can not just wait to go there personally.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I can’t wait anymore to experience Sakura season someday. I have been wanting to go to Japan only to experience this season. I even bought some fragrant dried Sakura leaves from Thailand to make up for the delay in my Japan trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The pictures are so so beautiful Celia. I’ve never seen Japan during the sakura season and hopefully one day my family can visit one or two of the places you mentioned during that season. Thanks for the great tips!

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