How to beat peak pricing and crowds, while still enjoying maximum pinkness!
You go to Japan for cherry blossom season expecting it’ll be like this:
But if you come during peak season, you’re more likely to get this:
And trip dates are becoming harder to guess. Thanks to global warming, the sure bet of “last-few-days-of-March-through-the-first-few-days-of-April” is shifting—sometimes by as much as ten days—and while the Japanese powers-that-be can still predict peak bloom, the map isn’t published until it’s too late for overseas visitors to buy plane tickets and get hotel reservations.
So, what can you do, besides invest in a rabbit’s foot?
Expand your cherry blossom wish list—come to see the spectacular early or late-blooming varieties instead of the classic Yoshino cherries
The classic cherry blossoms that are mooned over by the haiku poets are the single, barely pink, Yoshino variety that bloom in giant clouds like the ones below at Shinjuku Gyouen.
These are the ones predicted by the cherry blossom forecasts and that feature in all the hanami party plans. The ten days when the yoshino-zakura are in bloom are the most crowded and expensive travel days all year.
But cherry blossoms come in all shapes and sizes, and lots of them bloom outside that narrow “cherry blossom season” window. The ones that bloom as early as mid-February (even in Tokyo) look like this:
The next to bloom are the kan-zakura and shidare-zakura, which pop in mid-March, a week or two before the official cherry blossom season begins. They look like this:
And in mid-April, about a week after the Yoshino cherries become sad shreds of wilted petals on the ground, the fluffy, double yae-zakura begin to bloom
Here’s where to see the best late-blooming cherry blossoms in Tokyo
Also…Tokyo is an urban heat island, so if you get to town late and miss The Season, you can still catch peak bloom of the yoshino-zakura an hour inland.
Here’s where to take the best cherry blossom photos in Tokyo, with maps to where the earl and late-blooming trees are.
Expand your horizons: Explore famous cherry blossom spots outside the big cities
If you travel to places outside Tokyo and Kyoto, peak bloom happens as much as a month earlier or later.
Official yoshino-zakura cherry blossom season only lasts about ten days from the first buds opening to the last petal dropping, but those ten days happen at different times over a two month span, depending on altitude and north/south location. (They bloom later at higher elevations and to the north; earlier at sea level and to the south.)
Not surprisingly, the places and bloom times outside the well-beaten paths around Tokyo and Kyoto not only have fewer crowds, they have more affordable travel prices.
But are they just as beautiful? You be the judge!
If you go early:
Kawazu City kawazu-zakura
If you go late:
Mid- to late-April
Photo taken April 18, Miyagi prefecture, shidare-zakura
Photo taken April 24: Hirosaki, Aomori prefecture yoshino-zakura
If you do hit the sweet spot and manage to be in Tokyo or Kyoto for The Classic Pinkness, here’s how to enjoy the fluffiness despite the kerbillion other lucky souls enjoying them with you…
Choose what time of day you enjoy them
Go in the early morning…
…or at night. Plenty of places hold “light-up” events now, and the crowds of people become mere silhouettes instead of distracting annoyances.
Here’s where to see the best cherry blossoms lit up at night in Tokyo
Talk a local friend into divulging their favorite secret cherry blossom spots
Everybody who lives here has one. Or more.
Because you are my friend, here are MY favorite secret cherry blossom spots in Tokyo.
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Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly Japanagram newsletter, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had