Visiting Japan during Sakura season is definitely one for the bucket list. It’s no secret that I’m a huge Japan-lover, which you can probably sense from the sheer amount of posts I’ve written about Japan. Yes, I had visited Japan many times, but my favorite had to be when I went during the peak of Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season.
Here is a bit of a back story – when I booked the trip I didn’t even know it was going to be Sakura season! I went because I was meeting up with one of my bestest friends from college, Kat, whom I hadn’t seen in person close to eight years and was flying in from LA. So it was already a huge trip for me, and the pleasant surprise only made the trip even more memorable.
What you need to know about Sakura season
Cherry Blossom season, or locally known as Sakura, is indeed a very magical time to be in Japan. The entire country is covered in a pink blanket of the delicate flower. The Sakura trees were literally everywhere, and you can even see bits and pieces of them as you are taking the train into the city from whatever airport you flew in from. Sakura is clearly an important part of Japanese culture – important enough to warrant its own emoji! 🌸🌸
When to go for Sakura-viewing
The Sakura season varies each year from late March to late-April / early May. Sakura season is such an important time in Japan that each year they’d have an official Sakura forecast published by the Japan Weather Association. For us English-speakers, we can always count on japan-guide.com to publish a translation of the Sakura forecast here, including the predicted best time for viewing.
Sakura flower is quite fragile and they fall off very easily. Each time the wind blows even just a little bit, a drone pink petals would rain down all around you. While this undoubtedly makes for a beautiful sight, this also means the flowers won’t stay around long – it could take as short as one week from the start of the bloom to the pink petals falling off. I heard it could be even shorter if it happens to rain a lot that year.
Although Sakura trees can be found everywhere in Japan, we have to remember that it is a country that goes long from North to South. The temperature varies from the one tip of the country to another and because of that, the Sakura season also varies from region to region depending on where they sit geographically.
Generally, the southern area warms up first and the Sakura trees in those areas would bloom earlier, while the Northern area might not see Sakura blooming until a month later. This is why the forecast is such a big deal!
Hanami: The Japanese Sakura-viewing tradition
For centuries, Japanese have long celebrated the blooming of Sakura as a happy mark to the start of spring and to welcome warmer weather. At the peak of Sakura bloom, many would flock to the nearest park and have a picnic party with friends and family while enjoying the sight of Sakura. This tradition is called Hanami 花見 which literally means “flower-watching” (Hana 花 = Flowers; Mi 見 = Eyes / to watch)
If you happen to be in Japan during this time you can try participating in Hanami, but you need to know what to expect – the parks can get very crowded and getting the best viewing spot is extremely competitive. You can read more about Hanami and etiquette during Hanami here.
You can also just visit the park and just walk around while enjoying the flowers. This is what we did when we visited Arashiyama in Kyoto – we found a park by the river with tons of Sakura trees and just sat around while watching the pink flower. There are usually plenty of street food and snack vendors around the park in case you get hungry!
Traditional Food you can enjoy during Spring and Sakura Season
During Sakura season, Japanese love to incorporate Sakura into their food, most notably into their desserts. Everything seems to have “Sakura” in them, but I think these two sweets are the most traditional in relation to Sakura and spring season:
1. Hanami Dango
My favorite is the Hanami Dango (花見団子) – yes, it’s THAT 🍡 mysterious emoji. Japanese eats dango (rice dumpling) as snack all-year round, but this variation with pink, white and green is traditionally eaten during Hanami or spring season. The pink color comes from either Sakura flower itself, or azuki (red beans) and the green is from green tea. It is said that the pink, white and green symbolizes the blooming Sakura, the white sky and the green grass the trees grow on.
2. Sakura Mochi
I also loved the Sakura Mochi (桜餅), which is beautiful pink rice cake with sweet red bean paste in the middle, wrapped in pickled sakura leaf. There are two versions of sakura mochi, one made with rice flour (Kanto/Tokyo style) or glutinous rice (Kansai style). Since I was in Kansai during my trip, I had the Kansai style Sakura Mochi!
Alright, I hope that helps! I’ll end off this post with a photo of us goofing off in front of Sakura trees, which is basically what we did 90% of the time we were there :p