Japan is famous for its flowering cherry trees. These trees are much sought after around the world. Cherry blossom festivals are held in such diverse regions as Washington, Vancouver, Paris, Stockholm, and Spain’s Jerte Valley. Still, Japan remains the premiere location in the world for viewing the cherry blossoms or attending a cherry blossom festival, especially when seeing Japan by train.
During the peak of the blooming season, the Japanese people and tourists alike attend festivals and engage in hanami, or picnics beneath the cherry trees.
Table of Contents
- 1 Japanese cherry blossom symbolism
- 2 Plum blossom vs. cherry blossom
- 3 Top Sakura festivals and viewing locations
Japanese cherry blossom symbolism
The cherry blossom, called the sakura, is steeped in tradition and meaning. It shares the title of Japan’s national flower, appears on Japanese coins, and is the subject of many Japanese folk songs, such as “Sakura, Sakura.” Japanese cherry blossom meaning involves Buddhist religious influence and can be considered a metaphor for the ephemerality, or brevity and mortality, of life, along with life’s beauty.
Cherry blossoms are also associated with clouds due to their fluffy, cloudlike appearance when in full bloom.
Plum blossom vs. cherry blossom
The sakura may at times be confused with the ume or Japanese plum tree. Plum blossom spots in Japan tend to bloom earlier in the season – from mid-February to mid-March – while the cherry blossom season peaks in April. Both trees produce flowers ranging in color from white to pink, to red but can be easily identified in the following steps:
- Cherry flowers have a small split or notch in each petal; plums do not.
- Cherry blossoms produce multiple flowers per bud, while plums produce only one.
- New cherry leaves are green in color, while plum tree leaves emerge with a purple or red hue.
Top Sakura festivals and viewing locations
Hirosaki Park, Hirosaki, Japan
Home to 2,600 flowering cherry trees, Hirosaki Park is considered one of the best cherry blossom viewing locations in the country. More than a million visitors flood its gates each spring. The four-hundred-year-old Hirosaki Castle also adds to the uniqueness of this location. Visitors can rent boats and float amid fallen blossoms in the castle’s moat. Hirosaki Park is only a short bus ride from JR Lines Hirosaki Station.
Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo
This park features lush lawns and over a thousand cherry trees. The area is unique in that it is home to both late and early blooming trees. This makes it a prime spot for visitors who arrive a week too early or too late for the main sakura festival. Located in the heart of the city, Tokyo’s high-rise buildings provide a startling contrast to the park’s peaceful natural surroundings. Shinjuku Gyoen is a mere ten-minute walk from Shinjuku Station, one of the central Tokyo train stops, part of the circular Yamanote line. Japan Rail Pass holders can ride all Yamanote line trains with no limits, during the duration of their JR Pass.
Mitsuike Koen, Yokohama
Mitsuike Park has been named one of the “100 Best Cherry Blossom Spots” in Japan. It is home to three ponds and over a thousand cherry trees. This park offers free admission. Using your Japan Rail Pass (JRP), you can take City Bus Number 104 from either Shin-Yokohama Station or Tsurumi Station.
Chureito Pagoda, Fuji Five Lakes
A favorite spot for photographers throughout the year, Chureito Pagoda offers magnificent views of the famous Mount Fuji. During the month of April, the pagoda rises above the “clouds” of cherry blossoms spread between it and the mountain. Early morning offers the best lighting conditions for serious travel photographers. Chureito Pagoda offers free admission and is an approximately twenty-minute walk from Shimo-Yoshida Station.
Expo 70 Commemorative Park, Osaka
This park was the site of the 1970 World Exhibition. It is now home to more than 5,000 cherry trees, one of the highest concentrations in Japan. The trees line paths that meander through the public park. Using your JRP, take the Osaka Monorail to Banpaku Kinen Koen Station.
Mihara Takizakura, Fukushima
Most cherry blossom spots feature hundreds, if not thousands, of individual trees. Mihara Takizakura is unique in that it is home to only a single tree. What, then, makes this location so special? One of the “three greatest cherry trees” in Japan, this may be the most popular individual tree in the country. The takizakura, or “waterfall cherry tree,” is a weeping cherry that is thought to be over one thousand years old. It is located in the hills outside of Miharu Town, near Koriyam City in the Fukushima Prefecture.
No matter the location you choose, Japan is sure to delight the April traveler with its showy display of delicately hued sakura blossoms. With your Japan Rail Pass in hand, you will be equipped to discover amazing hanami locations and sakura festivals around the country. Select from 7, 14 or 21-day JR Pass, confirm your order and start packing. The most remarkable cherry blossom views are just around the corner.