Cherry blossom season in Japan is probably the most popular time to visit.
However, a lot of people wonder when’s the best time to view cherry blossoms in Japan in full bloom.
The answer is both, easy and complicated.
You can actually enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan almost all year round!
I’m not kidding you! Read on if you want to know what I’m talking about.
So, the best time to view cherry blossoms in Japan is …?!
For the main tourist areas (Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima) cherry blossom season is usually from the end of March to the beginning of April.
You can’t go wrong if you come visit between the last week of March and the first week of April.
There’s also a cherry blossom forecast released each year.
For major cherry blossom viewing spots you can check the current status of the blossoms online, sometimes even with up-to-date photos of the actual location. It’s sometimes difficult to navigate through these websites as they’re all in Japanese, but if you know a few terms, it’s not a big deal.
That being said, there are always exceptions.
I remember a year (2011, right after the big quake) where the cherry blossoms were extremely late. I returned from my spring vacation which lasted throughout the first week of April without having seen sakura in full bloom at all.
Yashima (Kagawa Prefecture), April 1st 2011.
Sometimes a typhoon or rainstorm hits and the blossoms that just were in full bloom the day before have all suddenly vanished the next day.
There’s never a 100% guarantee that you’ll be able to catch cherry blossoms in full bloom.
The good thing is that there’s something called the “cherry blossom front”. Cherry blossoms don’t exactly bloom at the same time in all of Japan.
It usually starts from the southwest (Kyushu, Shikoku) and then wanders to the northeast of Japan (Tohoku, Hokkaido).
In parts of Tohoku and Hokkaido you can enjoy cherry blossoms much later than in the rest of Japan. Early May is a good time to visit then. Some islands up north (e.g. Rishiri and Rebun) get their sakura sometimes as late as June!
There are also early blooming cherry blossom types, so you can view these from early February to early March. They’re called “kawazu-zakura” (河津桜) and can be found in Kawazu, Shizuoka Prefecture. It’s a nice day trip from Tokyo.
In Okinawa, cherry blossoms start blooming in mid-January!
Kumejima, Okinawa (January 6, 2013)
There’s also winter sakura (冬桜), another special type of cherry blossoms that is blooming in autumn / winter.
That’s why you can enjoy cherry blossoms and autumn colors at the same time at some spots in Japan!!
Sakurayama Park in Fujioka City (Gunma Prefecture) is probably the most famous location for enjoying cherry blossoms and autumn colors at the same time.
As you can see, you can enjoy sakura almost all year round.
But it goes without saying that the most impressive and beautiful time to view cherry blossoms in Japan is spring (March – May) when the common “somei yoshino” (染井吉野) are blooming and everything is filled with thousands of trees and pink petals.
And only then can you enjoy “hanafubuki” (cherry blossom blizzards) to the fullest. One of my favorite things in Japan!
If you simply cannot come during the main cherry blossom season, then there are also other, equally impressive flowers and trees you should check out.
In February and early March you can enjoy plum blossoms (ume, 梅) almost everywhere in Japan.
A lot of people actually confuse them with cherry blossoms as they look quite similar. On top of that plum blossoms smell amazing! They’re definitely worth checking out.
Also quite impressive are so-called “shiba-zakura” (芝桜, moss pink) which can be enjoyed in late April / early May.
These don’t grow on trees, but it’s a good alternative to cherry blossoms. And in some regions you can enjoy sakura and shiba-zakura at the same time! Pink in all shades!
Personally I love seeing sakura together with other colorful plants, e.g. here with tulips:
Hamamatsu Flower Park (Shizuoka Prefecture), April 1st 2014.
The main cherry blossom season is about to start, so I hope this was helpful.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.