Spring in Japan is a wondrous time, thanks to the fleeting sakura season that locals and tourists alike come in droves to see. This also makes it one of the busiest times of the year across the entire country! Japanese love coming together with friends and family to relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery, armed with a picnic blanket and yummy food in tow- an age old tradition called the Hanami.
Imagine your entire line of sight filled with the loveliest pink and white clouds of delicate sakura flowers. From the first bud that blooms til the last petal falls, it really is a sight to behold, before they disappear again for another year. Its also a great reminder that this life is passing, so we need to make the most of it while we can
1. First off, whens the best time to go?
The advance of cherry blossoms across Japan is called the cherry blossom front. The front dates across the islands of Japan vary, usually beginning in the southern islands of Okinawa around January/February, while up north in Hokkaido, they can bloom as late as May. In major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka that lie in between, the season ordinarily takes place in early April. This gives you a window of around 3 months to fit in your trip to see the flowers!
Do note that the blooming period is generally short and differs from year to year depending on the weather ? if the weather around the season is mild, blossoms open early and if its cold, they open later. If the seasons are always changing, how on earth can you start planning? A good way is to study previous years sakura seasons, so you can roughly gauge when the right dates will be.
This is why you need to plan your trip way in advance and give yourself at least a week at your chosen destination- just to make sure that youll be able to catch it in case of variations in bloom time. Always check Japanese weather services and media as they follow the cherry blossom front closely.
2. Now that you know whenwheres the best place to see the magic?
Tokyo and Kyoto are definitely popular locations, with ample parks and groves of trees that you can plonk yourself under. In Tokyo, some of the best viewing spots are at Shinjukugyoen National Garden or Ueno Park, while Kyoto enthusiasts can check out Maruyama Park and Heian Jingu.
Credit: The Boutique Traveller
Almost every city and town across Japan tends to have a famous spot or another, so dont worry about finding a great spot for your picnic!
3. You need a place to stay of course!
Since the spring season is an incredibly popular time to be in Japan for both foreign and domestic travellers, you definitely need to book your stay wayyy in advance if you want to get a good place thats within your budget (We suggest doing it NOW!!). Hotels can have reasonable prices if you book early, while hostels or guesthouses can be cheaper, depending on your tastes. Some airbnb places offer good accommodation at decent prices too, but be sure to check out reviews thoroughly before deciding- one of us has been to an interesting onethanks to last minute bookings
Here are some useful links you can check out:
#HHWT Tip: Look at accommodation on the outskirts of the city or a little bit away to get cheaper prices- e.g. If youre going to Kyoto, you might want to check out accommodation in Osaka which is only a short train ride away (between 15 minutes to 50 minutes away by train, depending on which line you choose to take ? and on your budget of course!). Also think about booking mid-week periods as there are usually less domestic tourists during the week.
4. Getting around can be confusing, but were here to help!
There are a few ways to travel around Japan:
Credit: Inside Kyoto
If youre planning to visit a few cities, your best bet to save on transportation is by purchasing the JR pass, which can only be purchased from outside of Japan by those who have foreign passports or hold short-term visas (Yay for us!). It might seem a tad pricey from the outset but youll be saving a whole lot more if youre planning to really go around Japan to see the flowers in different locations. There are options for 7 days, 14 days or 21 days.
Getting a prepaid Suica card is a great option if buying tickets, calculating fares and looking at train maps confuse you (It really can get quite confusing!)- the right train fare will automatically be deducted from your card when you touch it to the ticket gate. It can be used for JR East trains, subways, and buses too!
Another option you could take if youre going to a few cities around Japan is by purchasing the Seishun 18. Its only released during certain times of the year and thankfully the tickets are available during Spring! Although the tickets are 11,850 yen (for both adults and children), you get unlimited use for 5 days- that basically means you can travel pretty much anywhere for 2370 yen per day.
#HHWT Tip: A useful app that you should download to help you roam Japan easily is Hyperdia- it shows you how to get from place to place, travel times and ticket prices.
5.Of course we wont forget about food!
Weve already listed several halal eateries around Japan which you can find in cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Hokkaido, but since youll be setting up for a picnic, what better way to blend in with the locals than by having halal bentos under cherry blossom trees!
There are a few halal bento services that deliver their sets all around Japan! Yeap, thats right! You can get these babies delivered right to your door! Just let the hotel / guesthouse / ryokan / etc. know that youll be receiving them and theyll be happy to keep them for you.
You can check out bentos from Halal Bento Tokyo or Halal Deli. Taste & Discover Japan is also a useful site that helps you book your bentos. Make sure that you contact them in advance to reserve your bentos! (We heard that bentos from Halal Bento Tokyo have a special heating function on their boxes so you can have your bento nice and warm, anytime anywhere! Perfect for a picnic under those gorgeous flowers dont you think?
6. Sakura here, sakura there, sakura everywhere!
Its pretty obvious that theyre crazy about these flowers, from having it printed on the Japanese currency, to having tonnes of sakura-inspired food and stuff!
You can eat it, drink it and even wear it! Theres a sakura edition of pretty much anything and everything in Japan.?Get limited edition souvenirs during this season!
7. Other useful tips!
- Make sure you have all the picnicking essentials with you, like food (of course), a picnic mat, portable chargers for all your gadgets, cutleries, wet wipes and most importantly garbage bags!
- Go early to your chosen spot ? Popular places get full pretty quickly and since youve made the trip you definitely want to catch a good spot!
- Always check the weather. Here are some handy websites for you to keep tabs on the weather:
- Japan Meteorological Agency