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. I had visited Japan many times, but my favorite had to be when I went during the peak of Sakura season.
Here is a bit of a back story – when I booked this trip to Japan, I didn’t even know it was going to be Sakura season. I went because I was meeting up with one of my best friends from college in Osaka, whom I hadn’t seen in person close to eight years.
So it was already a huge trip for me, and the pleasant surprise only made the trip even more memorable.
Anyways, let’s move on to the Sakura!
What you need to know about Sakura season
Sakura season is indeed a very magical time to be in Japan. For a period of two weeks, the entire country will be covered in a pink blanket of the delicate Sakura flower. The Sakura trees are literally everywhere in Japan. You can already see bits and pieces of them as you are taking the train into the city from the airport.
What is the best time to see Sakura in Japan?
The Sakura season varies each year from mid-March to late-April. Sakura season is such an important time in Japan that each year there is actually an official Sakura forecast published by the Japan Weather Association. For us English-speakers, we can find 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, as it allows visitors to maximize their time in Japan.
Hanami: The Japanese Sakura-viewing tradition
Sakura is clearly an important part of Japanese culture – important enough to warrant its own emoji! 🌸🌸
For centuries, the Japanese have 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, locals 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. In Japanese, it is written as 花見 which literally means “flower-watching” – Hana 花 means “flowers” and Mi 見 means “to watch”.
If you happen to be in Japan during this time you can definitely participate 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 don’t have to actually picnic though, 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.
More fun facts about Sakura!
Okay so I have these random Sakura facts in my head so I’ll pass the knowledge to you since I think they are fascinating:
Most Sakura trees you find in Japan have identical DNA. This is because Sakura trees do not produce seeds – they are grafted through a technique called tsugiki. When you see Sakura trees in Japan, most of them are probably Someiyoshino hybrid, which was artificially created and favored due to its soft pink color. Since they are reproduced through grafting, all Someiyoshino trees have identical DNA, which is why the blooming and falling of the flowers can be predicted and tend to happen at the same time.
Ume (Plum) trees bloom before Sakura. If you are in Japan before the Sakura season, you might notice another type of flower blooming – don’t get these confused with Sakura! They might actually be Plum flowers, aka Ume, which tends to be the first flower that blooms in the Spring. The blooming of Ume trees have been said to be a more accurate indicator of when Sakura will bloom, as it usually follows soon after.
Traditional Food you can enjoy during the Sakura Season
I think having seasonal food and sweets is the most traditional way to welcome the Sakura and warmer spring season. Here are some food you definitely should try!
1. Hanami Dango 🍡
My favorite is the Hanami Dango (花見団子) – yes, it’s THAT 🍡 mysterious emoji. Japanese people eat 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 Sakura Mochi (桜餅), which is a 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!
3. Pretty much anything Sakura-flavored
During Sakura season, you’ll notice the country will be filled with Sakura-flavored food items. The Japanese (understandably) love to incorporate Sakura into their food, most notably into their desserts. Every restaurant seems to have limited edition Sakura food items, including big chains like Starbucks, Kit Kat, Haagen Daz, just to name a few. So make sure to peek into their Sakura seasonal menu!
You don’t even have to try super hard, sometimes you can even find a regular pink-tinged sakura soft serve ice cream like this one below at the park itself:
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
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