Cherry Blossom Guide: How to Hanami

What you need to know to beat the sakura-loving crowds

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By Jaclynn Seah   Feb 8, 2019 - 6 min read

Visiting Japan to catch the beauty of the Sakura blooms for the first time? Hanami, literally translated as the 'flower viewing' season, typically happens in late March to early April and is Japan at its most picturesque, with vibrant bursts of pink and white colours throughout the city parks and countryside, creating picture-perfect moments as these small flower petals dance in the breeze.

Hanami season has become an integral part of Japanese culture. Here are the essential things you need to know about cherry blossom season in Japan.

How to hanami?

Hanami party essentials if you want to sit down at the parks under the trees and do like the locals do:

    Bring hanami friends

    Once you've checked the weather forecast, set a date, choose a park or riverside area and invite everyone you know! Bringing like-minded friends is most important for a fun time and for taking turns to reserve spots! If you're flying solo and still want the Hanami experience, either make some new friends on the fly (look for fellow travellers or friendly folk with some space to spare!) and share their mat, or just walk around instead and explore the various hanami spots instead of getting stuck in just one location.

    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    (Photo: Shutterstock)

    Grab the best location early

    Identify the exact spot and get there early to reserve it - all you need is a tarp or picnic sheet to physically reserve your space, if not to keep your bottoms dry if up against the elements. An additional jacket can be handy because sitting down without moving for awhile in prime Hanami weather can get chilly. Of course, not all places allow picnics and parties, so check first and also remember to clean up after yourself at the end of your party

    Food and drink

    Stock up on everything you'll need: bento, snacks, and beer or sake. Get your own supplies but it is also good etiquette to bring something to share, if not agreed in advance. Don't necessarily rely on the closest conbini to your hanami hotspot - they'll be busier and maybe pricier than usual. Thenagain, knowing your nearest (for waste disposal and toilet facilities) is good planning none the less (and it always considered proper etiquette to take your own trash with you).

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    Be seasonal

    Many companies release seasonal sakura-themed editions of the typical hanami fare which always prove popular – allowing you to grab a Sakura bento and pink-edition Asahi Super Dry to go all in. Or get into the spirit and make sure you try some of the limited edition seasonal snacks that you can buy as soon as the first cherry blossom starts blooming! More...

    Kyoto-style hanami, with festival yatai stalls at hand  (Photo: Prasit Rodphan / Shutterstock.com)
    Kyoto-style hanami, with festival yatai stalls at hand (Photo: Prasit Rodphan / Shutterstock.com)

    Tips for Travelling During Cherry Blossom Season

    Plan for a longer stay if possible

    Sakura blooming is a tenuous business - it happens at different times each year depending on a multitude of factors like the weather and which part of the country you are in. If they are an essential reason you want to visit Japan in the first place, try and stay in Japan for a longer period so there is better chance of your stay overlapping with the full blossoming period. Typically once a few trees start blooming, it takes around 3-4 days for everything to be in full bloom. Always check the cherry blossom forecasts to be certain, especially with the unpredictable weather.

    There is no avoiding the crowds

    Locals and tourists alike are willing to queue for their chance at Hanami as it only happens once a year, so expect any Hanami spot you visit to be packed with people. The crowds start to grow once a few trees are in bloom - it is slightly ridiculous how everyone crowds around to photograph that one blooming tree - but once full bloom hits, that number goes up exponentially, especially on the weekend. The most crowded spots I came across include Yoyogi Park near Shibuya, Ueno Park, as well as the Imperial Palace Gardens in Chiyoda.

    Yoyogi Park - a sea of people in all directions
    Yoyogi Park - a sea of people in all directions

    My favourite less-crowded spot that I found was in a rather unusual location - Yanaka Cemetery. It may seem an odd choice for Hanami, but there is an avenue lined with cherry blossoms that is absolutely beautiful. Obviously, there is no picnicking or revelry since it is a cemetery, so you can admire the blooms in quiet and without too much jostling.

    Happy Hanami, and don't worry if you missed it this year, there's always another year of new blooms to look forward to!

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    Jaclynn Seah

    Jaclynn Seah @jaclynn.seah979

    Jaclynn Seah is The Occasional Traveller, inspiring other working people to remember to take that time off and travel a little more. 2016 is the year of her career break.

    Join the discussion

    Kim B 2 months ago
    Love that you went off the beaten path and found some beautiful cherry blossoms in a cemetery!
    Jerome Lee 3 years ago
    There were definitely the swarms of crowd at places like Yoyogi Park and Ueno Park, so I agree that Yanaka does have some beautiful cherry blossoms there too! Of course, if you want to hanami-party it up the cemetery might not be the most appropriate place to do so...lol
    Elizabeth Scally 2 months ago
    Yanaka Cemetery is a well-known hanami spot. It's best to stroll (not linger) on a walk from Nippori Station, through the cemetery, visit Tennoji Temple, go along the avenues of cherry trees to the south gate. You'll pass graves of many famous people in Japan - St. Nicholas, Prime Minister Hatoyama. Go down the hill and stop in at the galleries, coffee shops and pass dozens of temples on your way to Ueno Park.

    People do have hanami parties in the cemetery, but they are likely celebrating with ancestors buried there.
    Victoria Vlisides 3 years ago
    What a great idea for a blog!!
    Victoria Vlisides 3 years ago
    Awesome. I can't wait to check out more this weekend!
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