A sea of pink and white as far as the eye can see. Everywhere the beguiling scent of millions of cherry blossoms is in the air. Under ancient trees, the Japanese spread out their picnic blankets. Because looking at the cherry blossoms, called Hanami, is a tradition in Japan. Every year in spring, locals and tourists gather all over the country to admire and celebrate the beauty of the cherry trees in blossom.
The special thing about the Japanese cherry trees is that they do not bear edible fruit, but a lot of blossoms. Like a colorful carpet, the cherry blossoms are gradually covering the whole country. It often starts on Okinawa in the south already in the middle of January and then slowly moves to the northeast, where it ends on Hokkaido at the beginning of May.
In addition to the tourist centers of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima, which are all excellent spots for hanami, there are also less frequented, equally worthwhile places where you can experience the blossoming cherry trees in their full glory. And if you can't get enough of the Japanese cherry blossom, you even have the possibility to travel after it.
To the early cherry blossom to Okinawa
When winter still has Germany firmly in its grip, the first cherry trees are already blossoming on Japan's southernmost island of Okinawa. So if you like, you can combine hanami with the first beach walk of the year. From mid-January to mid-February, vibrant pink blossoms sprout against a magnificent backdrop of green mountains and blue skies. The petals of Okinawa's native Kanhi-zakura cherry trees are much darker in color than those on the main Japanese islands. An absolute highlight is to visit the famous "blossom tunnel" of about 4.000 cherry trees on the way from Motobu to Mount Yae.
Hanami with picnic and dinosaurs
Kyushu has a subtropical climate, so the cherry trees are in full bloom early, usually from the end of March. In the far north of the island lies the city of Fukuoka with its famous castle ruins, on whose grounds more than 1.000 cherry trees stand. No wonder it is a popular destination among locals for the traditional hanami picnic. Sakurajima Dinosaur Park in Kagoshima also becomes an attraction every spring. The giant figures of prehistoric animals against the backdrop of over 100 blossoming cherry trees are a popular photo op for kids and dinosaur fans alike.
Garden art and blossom mountain on Shikoku
Takamatsu, on Japan's smallest main island of Shikoku, is home to the famous Ritsurin Park, which combines the beauty of the Japanese countryside with the finest in gardening. This is why it is considered a Japanese national treasure – not only because of the picturesque pavilions, ponds and bridges, but also because of the countless cherry trees, which are in full bloom from the end of March/beginning of April. Shikoku is also home to one of the country's most famous hanami sites: the slopes of Mount Yoshino, which are filled with more than 30.000 cherry trees are planted about 200 different varieties. While the blossoms on the lower slopes start already at the end of March, the buds on the higher slopes open only in mid-April. Thus, the region around Yoshino offers an unusually long time a colorful sight. If you want, you can take the cable car to the top and enjoy the panorama.
Hanging trees and cherry blossom ice cream
In the Tohoku region, the city of Sendai is located on a narrow strip of land between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Tsutsujigaoka Park is famous for its old, hanging cherry trees, which, with a little imagination, are reminiscent of the hair ornaments worn by maikos and geishas. Among locals, the park is a popular place for lively hanami celebrations in mid/late April. If you are not satisfied with just looking at the cherry blossoms and smelling their lovely fragrance, go to Mikamine Park and enjoy a cherry blossom ice cream under one of the blossoming trees.
Late blossoming in the north of Japan
At the beginning of May the cherry blossom has finally arrived in the very north. Hirosaki Castle, located in Aomori Prefecture, is one of the few undestroyed castles in the country. 2.600 cherry trees, moats covered with blossoms, rowboats for rent, plenty of picnic spots and the evening illumination of the trees are enough reasons to celebrate the Cherry Blossom Festival right there. Both the ramparts and the banks of the park, which has been open to the public since 1895, are lined with the magnificent trees.
Insider tip: Cherry blossom magic even in autumn
In Japan, there is one cherry tree that blooms even in autumn. Shiki-zakura, "cherry tree of the four seasons", is what the Japanese call this variety. In the village of Senmicho in Aichi Prefecture, there are no less than 1.200 cherry trees of this kind and offer a spectacular sight in contrast with the autumnal colors of the maple and ginkgo trees. And if you still haven't had your fill after that, simply start your journey on Okinawa all over again.
The following website provides information on the current progress of the blossom, also known as the "cherry blossom front".