“The cherries’ only fault: the crowds that gather when they bloom” — Saigyo, a 12th-century poet.
One of my favorite poems throws massive shade on the whole hanami experience, and in the 800 plus years that followed things have gotten only worse. The popular cherry blossom viewing spots are crowded for a reason – they are gorgeous, to say the least. But cherry blossoms are everywhere in Japan, so there are alternative cherry blossom viewing ideas in Tokyo that will help you avoid the crowds.
*Always follow the Covid-19 related guidelines. The ideas below are good for social distancing at the time of writing, but guidelines may change at any point.
Cherry blossoms at schools and universities
Cherry blossom season in Japan signifies new beginnings. Both graduations and new school year enrollments happen around the same time, as well as new graduates hired en masse by the big companies starting their first jobs in April. Naturally, there is virtually no school or university campus that doesn’t have a whole flurry of sakura trees. What is more, students are off in March and the campuses are quite tranquil. As long as there is no ceremony and students taking photos with their diplomas under the trees, you can probably walk under the cherry blossoms without a big crowd.
University campuses are usually open to walk through, but in the case of elementary and high schools, it’s better to admire the blossoms from the outside. Either way, if you can plan your walks or bicycle rides around education institutions anywhere in Tokyo, you are sure to encounter many sakura trees and not many people.
Cherry blossoms and sports fields
Sometimes adjacent to schools and university campuses, and other times part of municipal sports centers, many sports fields in Tokyo are lined with sakura trees. These fields and stadiums are often located further from the city center and from the busy train stations, so lack of crowds is almost guaranteed. Even when there’s practice or matches being played there is no issue, as you generally view the cherry blossoms from the outside. Of course, these are not picnic spots for hanami, but they are excellent for jogs, walks, cycling, and of course photoshoots.
Cherry blossoms near government offices
You don’t have to go register your new address in the City Hall, just take a walk there because streets will often be lined with cherry blossom trees. Across Tokyo, this is the case with many government offices, as well as various companies that have at least several sakura trees on their premises. Photo ops are best when crossing the street and the light is green, or when you stand on an overpass.
Similarly, there are cherry blossom trees around hospitals and cemeteries as well, for those who don’t mind strolling around there. Some are already famous and crowded such as the Aoyama Cemetery, but most are not.
A residential area stroll
Universities, stadiums and offices aside, the probability of seeing a cherry blossom tree gets exponentially higher the further you go away from the train station. Diving into residential areas you will find that any tiny neighborhood park and playground has a sakura tree. The same goes for alleys, private gardens, rivers and canals, small temples, and so on. What these places lack in sheer quantity of cherry blossom trees, they make up for with the quality of the sakura viewing experience. No lines, no crowds, no awkward passive-aggressive hogging of the best angles. At the end of the day, that close-up shot of a few sakura petals will be the best, whether you’ve taken it in the Imperial Palace or in front of a 7-Eleven in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, when in quiet residential areas the caveat is you too need to be quiet and respectful, and not loiter for too long.
Try a night-time cherry blossom viewing
If all else fails, or you are desperate to see the famous Tokyo spots, you can go there in the dead of night to avoid the usual crowds. Popular cherry blossom spots are illuminated for a few hours in the evening, so to make sure there are no crowds you’ll need to visit sometime after the illumination ends (usually after 9 or 10pm). The best-case scenario is visiting between the first train and the last train, especially if you can walk or cycle to the place. Depending on restrictions, you can even sit down and do a mini hanami picnic with drinks and snacks. Make sure to read the rules, as many places have a special set of those for the sakura season. On top of that, there are restrictions and safety measures for the pandemic.
These alternative cherry blossom viewing ideas in Tokyo aside, it’s good to get out of the city whenever possible, so check out Day Trips from Tokyo: 6 Places to See Cherry Blossoms. Hakone and Kamakura might already have become too popular, but there are more options.
Wherever you spot sakura, if you take photos and share them on social media, tag TW and join our contest.
For tasting the cherry blossom season check out 12 Places in Tokyo to Find Sakura-themed Treats This Season.
For seeing sakura art check out what teamLab offers.