BY THIS time, the cherry blossoms may have reached its peak bloom in Tokyo. If so, then it’s the perfect viewing time! The flowers will stay for another week before it turns the planes and pavements into a dreamy carpet of pink and white.
The magic of the sakura is fleeting. This is why each spring both the locals and tourists celebrate the season with hanami (flower viewing), flock under the blooms and be embraced by its beauty.
Each city has its own best places to view the cherry blossoms. I was lucky to have seen a few, chasing the flowers across prefectures. Soon, I will add more on my list.
Here are a few sakura spots I recommend.
Shinjuku Gyoen. Stand at the center of the green expanse with hundreds of cherry blossom trees behind you for a picture perfect shot. It will almost be you’re photoshopped in it.
The vast garden features over a thousand cherry trees of different varieties, which bloom in different stages. So wherever you are in the 58.3-hectare area, you can find your quiet space under the blooms for a picnic—even if the place gets crowded. Or you can opt to take a stroll under the petals and move from the themed garden to the next.
Shinjuku Gyoen is open from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Accessible via the Shinjukugyoenmae Station or Sendagaya Station. Entrance fee is 200 yen.
If you want to go where the party is during the season, Ueno Park is the place for you. Here, the cherry blossoms usually bloom 1 to 3 days ahead of the blossoms in other spots of the city.
The public park has 8,800 trees of different varieties with more than a thousand of which line the path from the National Museum and around the Shinobazu Pond.
Lanterns adorn the trees to highlight the blooms at sundown and offer illumination should visitors want to take the picnic under the blooms into the night—if you can find space. The park is said to be the most popular city park during the season ergo more crowded. People lay tarps, blankets or boxes to reserve spots.
With musical performances, some dressed up in costumes, pop-up stores offering a variety of food and drinks, the atmosphere in Ueno Park is quite festive (read: noisier) compared to the rest of the hanami spots in the city.
The park is a short walk from the Ueno Station. No entrance fees.
More than 800 cherry trees fringe half of the 7.82 kilometer stretch of the Meguro River. At full bloom the sight is breathtaking!
Nakameguro is a good spot to catch the blooms especially during the Nakameguro Sakura Festival when the trees are lit up with lanterns at nightfall.
Picnics are impossible along the sidewalk but if there’s a will, there’s a way. Grab a glass of sake or two from the pop-up stores along the road and channel a cocktail party with friends by the river and do a standing hanami. Or just take a walk and breathe in the beauty.
Ondagawa River. Along a two-kilometer stretch of the Ondagawa River are 400 cherry trees. When it’s in full bloom the spot is enchanting.
Ondagawa River is perfect for a strolling hanami only since the area has limited space for spreading picnic mats. But the stroll is magical as you get to walk under pink clouds.
Machida City is a 35-minute train ride from Shinjuku. Transfer to JR line to Yokohama, get off at the first stop (Naruse Station) and walk 10 minutes to Ondagawa River.
Odawara Castle. It’s a double treat—the historic castle and the cherry blossoms in full bloom on springtime are great attractions. There are 320 Yoshino cherry trees spread across the castle grounds with the best hanami spot at the base of the castle. The blooms by the bridge and the moat areas are picture perfect spots as well.
Odawara is 1-1/2 hour train ride from Shinjuku. Walk for about 10 minutes from Odawara station east exit. Free access to the castle grounds.
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