Spring in Japan usually means one thing; it’s time for the cherry blossom viewing or hanami season. The spectacle starts at the end of March and continues till May with the peak blossoming season varying every year. Having gained popularity the world over, Japan’s tourist numbers are at their highest during this time and with good reason. Native cherry or sakura trees in full bloom present a dazzling display of pink and white across cities. If you’re planning to visit Japan during the Cherry Blossom Festival, here are the five best places for getting the grandest views.
1. Ueno Park, Tokyo
The sprawling 54-hectare Ueno Park has almost 9,000 trees, of which a large number are cherry. The park also has four museums and a zoo on its premises along with other attractions. Come hanami season, the central path is flanked with blossoming cherry trees. The crowds swell during this time as residents and tourists flock here during the annual picnic held here. Getting to Ueno Park literally at the crack of dawn guarantees a good spot. Expect to stay well in to the night when lanterns strung throughout the park illuminate the trees for what is known as magical yozakura or night-time viewing!
2. Daigo-ji Temple, Kyoto
A Shingon Buddhist, the Daigo-ji Temple in Kyoto comprises several structures including the ‘Golden Hall’ and a five-story pagoda, which are National Treasure of Japan. With over 700 cherry trees spanning the 660 hectares complex, it’s a favourite spot during hanami with the majestic Daigo-ji Temple serving as a backdrop.
3. Matsumae Park, Hokkaido
The island of Hokkaido sees the last of the cherry blossom season in Japan in May. The landscape here is truly quixotic with the park containing 10,000 cherry trees of over 250 varieties. The annual Matsumae Sakura festival held here is quite the crowd puller as is Matsumae food festival. While you’re here, visit the Matsumae Castle, Kozenji Temple, Sakura Museum and Matsumae Shrine housed within the park grounds.
4. Himeji Castle, Hyogo
On Japan’s main island of Honshu, Hyogo is where you can find Himeji Castle dating back to the 1600s. The grounds have over 1,000 cherry trees that seem to shelter what residents fondly called the White Heron Castle. One of Japan’s favourite spots for hanami, a walk up to the top floor of this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a stunning panoramic view of the grounds in full bloom.
5. Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo
Arguably the best spot in Tokyo for hanami, Shinjuku Gyoen has approximately 1,500 cherry trees. Both a park and an imperial garden, it spans over 58 hectares and boasts of French, Victorian and traditional Japanese landscaping. There’s also a Japanese tea house on the grounds. When the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, Shinjuku Gyoen sees many picnickers who bask in this outdoor wonderland for as long as it lasts!
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