The cherry blossom is an iconic symbol of Japan. Encompassing the renewal of spring, the beautiful cherry blossom is celebrated wherever Japanese cherry trees grow, throughout the world. To truly experience the majesty of the annual cherry blossom festivals, however, one must travel to the heart of it all – to Japan itself.
Before you board your international flight, there are a few things you should know, such as the cultural significance of the cherry blossom, when and where to see them, and how to capture the best cherry blossom photographs.
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Japanese Cherry Blossom Festivals
The Japanese cherry blossom, or sakura, is an integral part of the Japanese culture. In Japan, you will find not only thousands of cherry blossom trees blanketing the country side, but also sakura flavored Coca-Cola, sakura ice cream, and a Shinkansen bullet train known as the Sakura. The sakura in paintings, poems, and song is often used to represent the transient nature of life.
Cherry blossom festivals are held throughout Japan, and often include food, drink, music, and family activities. Picnics or parties beneath the sakura trees are known as hanami, which means “flower viewing.” Some hanami events take place at night, with lanterns illuminating the trees.
Best Time to Travel to Japan for Cherry Blossoms
If seeing the cherry blossoms is to be the highlight of your trip, don’t disappoint yourself by traveling at the wrong time of year. The cherry tree blooms only during the finals days of March and first half of April. If planning your trip for a specific week or weekend, find out which areas will have the best viewing at that time, as the blossoms last for about two weeks in each location. Try to plan your visit to each area during full bloom, the time when the most flowers are open at the same time.
For example, the cherry blossoms are expected to begin opening in Tokyo around March 26, with full bloom occurring around April 1. In Kyoto, full bloom is expected to occur on April 4. Visit our cherry blossom forecast for the most up to date information and dates for other locations.
Best Cherry Blossom Locations
When visiting any major city, public parks are sure to be rife with sakura trees. There are also some interesting locations outside the urban areas, such as the Mihara Takizakura, a single weeping cherry tree thought to be over one thousand years old. For a full list of prime viewing locations, visit our list of the best cherry blossom spots in Japan.
Cherry Blossom Travel Tips
As a part of nature, the blooming of cherry trees is somewhat unpredictable. Variables such as weather, location, and variety of tree affect when and where you will see the best blooms. The following tips will help you to get the most out of your sakura pilgrimage.
1. Check the cherry blossom forecast often to see the blooms at their peak. The sakura forecast is made by comparing historical data on when the trees bloom in each location to a given year’s weather predictions. Variables such as temperature and rainfall affect when the flowers will bloom. Thus, the forecast is subject to change. Check it often for the most up to date information. During your trip, you may want to check the forecast daily so you can adjust the next day’s travels accordingly.
2. Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to cancel hotel reservations or travel to somewhere unexpected if cold weather, a warm front, rain, or wind alters the best blossom spots. With the aid of your Japan Rail Pass, you’ll be able to easily hop a train to travel anywhere you may want to go.
3. Bring a jacket. Spring in Japan often includes icy winds and chilly temperatures, so be sure to dress accordingly.
4. Prepare for the crowds. Don’t be surprised when the parks and other locations containing sakura trees are crowded. Be patient and kind to others, as they want the same thing you do – to see the cherry trees. The trains may also become crowded, so allow yourself plenty of extra time when traveling from place to place.
5. Do as the locals do. Join in the festivities and have a hanami beneath your favorite tree. This will give you a real taste of Japanese culture.
Cherry Blossom Photography Tips
Many people enjoy taking the cherry blossom phenomenon home with them in the form of beautiful photographs. Make the most of your photos by applying these helpful tips.
1. Get up early. Many prime sakura viewing locations become crowded with people during the course of the day. If you’d like to photograph nature’s beauty without people in the picture, be prepared to get up very early in the morning, perhaps at dawn. You may be able to take your photo before other tourists arrive. Alternatively, you may wait until dusk when most travelers have retired for the day.
2. Experiment with macro shots. Most digital cameras have a “macro” feature, indicated by a flower icon on the camera menu. Use the macro feature to get stunning close-up shots of the sakura flowers. Using the macro feature will also produce photos with pleasing bokeh, or purposely unfocused, effects in the background.
3. Don’t forget the selfies. Experiment with different poses of yourself and your traveling companions, and you may achieve professional looking results. Get a shot of your family lounging beneath the boughs of a tree, enjoying a hanami. Create lots of depth by taking a picture of you and your loved one peering through the flowers. Be creative – if a shot looks good to you, take it.
Once you’ve delighted in taking countless cherry blossom photographs, share your favorites by entering our upcoming Instagram photo contest.