Looking for a new way to appreciate spring’s sakura? Plan a road (or train) trip that takes you from Fukuoka all the way to Hakodate, and you’ll catch the flowers as they bloom from late March in the south to early May up north. To get you started, we’ve mapped out six top hanami areas across Japan, their forecasted blossoming dates, and a few bonus must-see sights to explore.
Forecasted blossoming: March 26, full bloom April 6
No area of Japan does street cuisine quite like Fukuoka. There are over 150 food stalls – known as yatai – in the city, though it’s usually the ones serving Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen (thin noodles prepared in a pork bone-based soup) that draw the biggest crowds. One of the most idyllic locations in the region is the massive Uminonakamichi Seaside Park, which has millions of flowers and 2,000 cherry trees. Worthwhile day trips from Fukuoka include the castle town of Yanagawa and the splendid Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine.
Forecasted blossoming: March 31, full bloom April 6
Quite like Kyoto, only much smaller and with fewer tourists, Nara is particularly charming during hanami season. A gentle stroll through Nara Park alongside the 1,200 or so deer and 1,700 different kinds of cherry trees leads to most of the city’s main attractions such as Kofukuji’s five-story pagoda, Kasuga Taisha, and Todaiji Temple, home to the Great Buddha statue. Nara Prefecture’s Mt. Yoshino, a two-hour train ride from Nara City, has 30,000 cherry trees and is widely regarded as “Japan’s number one cherry blossom site.”
Forecasted blossoming: April 5, full bloom April 10
Considered one of “the three most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan,” Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen is enticing all year round. It has plum and cherry trees in the spring, azaleas and irises in the summer, colorful foliage in the autumn and snow-covered landscapes in the winter. Other places of interest in the city include the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, the old samurai area of Nagamachi and the Higashi Chaya (teahouse) District, where geisha perform.
Forecasted blossoming: April 12, full bloom April 17
Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano is best known for its ski slopes and onsens. The city’s must-see sight is the seventh century Zenko-ji Temple and the adjoining Joyama Park, boasting around 500 cherry trees. Within the prefecture, Takato Castle Park is the best hanami spot, though Matsumoto Castle is also worth visiting. The unique experience of seeing wild monkeys bathing can be enjoyed at the Jigokudani (Hell Valley) in Yamanouchi.
Forecasted blossoming: April 14, full bloom April 18
Affectionately called “The City of Trees,” Sendai has an abundance of greenery, various sights paying homage to the great Daimyo Masamune Date, and numerous gyutan (sliced cow’s tongue) restaurants. As for hanami, the most popular location in the city is the spacious Mikamine Park, though it’s probably worth going a little south of Sendai to Shiroishi Riverside for its magnificent eight kilometer-long sakura tunnel. A day trip to the 260 pine-clad islands of Matsushima Bay is also highly recommended.
Forecasted blossoming: early May
The night view from the top of Mount Hakodate is stunning, particularly just after sunset.
Another great vantage point of the city comes from the Goryokaku Tower. This is the best position to see the huge star-shaped citadel that was built to protect Hakodate from Western forces. Over 1,000 cherry trees were planted along its moats, making it one of the country’s top hanami spots. Onuma Park, a little north of Hakodate, is also a popular cherry blossom viewing location.