Springtime in Japan is nothing less than magical. From late March to early May, the country’s iconic cherry trees capture the attention of visitors and locals as billions of tiny pink flowers blanket the country in soft splendor.
These pretty pink and white flowers signal the start of spring, but like with most things in Japan, they have a deep and fascinating history. Cherry blossoms have quite the surprising backstory.
Japan's National Flower
A cherry blossom is a type of flower produced by several trees of a genus named Prunus. The most well-known species is the Japanese flowering cherry, Prunus serrulata. Known as "sakura" (written as 桜, 櫻 or さくら) in Japanese, these pale blooms are a symbol of more than just spring in Japanese culture — they stand for renewal and hope.
Fun Fact: Although cherry blossoms are typically pink or white, there are also unusual varieties that flower in green and yellow. Some enjoy seeking out such unusual cherry blossoms.
Oldest Cherry Tree in Japan
There are three official cherry trees that carry the title of the oldest in Japan. In Fukushima lies Miharu Takizakura at about 1000 years old, in Gifu, Usuzumi Sakura of Motosu which has stood its ground for 1500 years old, and the oldest of three, Jindai Zakura (神代桜), located in Yamanashi’s city Hokuto, has been growing and flowering for about 1800~2000 years.
Jindai Zakura, which means ‘divine generations’ in Japanese, might also be the oldest cherry tree on Earth. According to the legend, the Jindai Zakura was planted by Yamato Takeru (known as Prince Osu), the 12th Emperor of Japan who reigned at the end of the first century.
Best Places for Cherry Blossoms in Japan
In Japan, there are endless spots where you can enjoy the abundant cherry blossoms. And it's a tough job to pick out the best places for cherry blossoms in Japan - there are so many!
Locals have a long-standing tradition of partaking in hanami which loosely translates to flower-viewing. We suggest packing a picnic blanket, a bento box, a warming bottle of sake (rice wine) and enjoying the cherry blossom season Japanese-style!
These three places are our personal recommendations for a gorgeous hanami experience:
1. Hirosaki Castle Park (Hirosaki)
With its abundance of over 2500 trees, cherry blossom tunnels, petal filled moats, numerous pleasant picnic areas, rental rowing boats, and many varieties of cherry trees and illuminations in the evenings, Hirosaki Park deserves its title as one of Japan's best cherry blossom spots.
A festival is held annually from April 23 to May 5, when the blossoms are usually in bloom where you get to enjoy multiple great cherry blossom spots combined into a single one.
2. Shinjuku Gyoen (Tokyo)
Shinjuku Gyoen is home to a large number of cherry trees of more than a dozen different varieties. From late March to early April, more than 400 Somei Yoshino (the most popular cherry tree variety today) trees blossom around the English garden turning the lawns into one of Tokyo's most popular and pleasant hanami spots.
3. Kawazu (Shizuoka)
The Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival (河津桜祭り, Kawazuzakura Matsuri in Japanese) is held yearly from early February to early March in the city of Kawazu, located on the Izu Peninsula. The popular event celebrates the flowering of the Kawazu Cherry Trees (Kawazuzakura) and attracts almost two million visitors annually as one of the earliest opportunities in the year to see large numbers of cherry blossoms near Tokyo.
Next sakura season, you'll find Kuroko exploring quiet rural villages and mountain passes, enjoying a countryside covered with blooming cherry trees and fewer crowds. This is one of our most unique Japan walking tours. Come join us in our newest guided tour addition, Cherry Blossom Walking Tour 2020.
We promise, you're in for a treat.