A curious cherry blossom fact: While Japan’s national flower is the chrysanthemum, many people outside Japan probably associate sakura - or cherry blossom - with the country.
But what's the big deal about cherry blossoms in Japan? Bearing in mind that sakura are in bloom for only about one week, there's a flurry of activity surrounding the season. And once the buds open, there’s an explosive chain reaction that results in a beautiful display of pale pink, finally fluttering to the ground in grand finale known as sakura fubuki - sakura snow. Though it’s for a short period of time, a trip to see cherry blossoms in Japan is a wonderful way to enjoy nature in all its glory.
We’ve put together these cherry blossom facts to help you enjoy the viewing of cherry blossoms this year!
- Table of Contents
- #1. What is the history around sakura in Japan?
- #2. Why are there so many cherry trees in Japan?
- #3. What is the significance of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture?
- #4. What should I wear to see cherry blossoms in Japan?
- #5. When is the best time for cherry blossoms in Japan?
- #6. How long do the cherry blossoms last in Japan?
- #7. Can I still enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan ever after peak bloom?
- #8. Any tips for seeing cherry blossoms at night in Japan?
- #9. Where are cherry blossom trees found in Japan? What can I expect to see during cherry blossom season?
- #10. Where to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo?
- a. Shinjuku Gyoen
- b. Koishikawa Korakuen
- c. Chidorigafuchi
- #11. Where to see cherry blossoms in Japan?
- a. Kyushu, Kumamoto Prefecture: Take part in the cherry blossom festival right in front of Kumamoto Castle
- b. Kansai, Shiga Prefecture: See Riverside Cherry Blossoms in Omihachiman
- c. Tohoku, Akita Prefecture: Relieve history underneath the tunneling weeping cherry tree at the Samurai Residences of Kakunodate.
- #12. What are those birds in Japanese cherry blossom trees?
- a. Japanese white-eye
- b. Brown-eared bulbul
- c. Japanese tit
- d. Sparrow
- #13. What do Japanese cherry blossoms smell like?
- #14. Can you eat Japanese cherry blossoms?
- #15. What’s the difference between sakuramochi from Kansai and Kanto?
- #16. Why are Sakura Cherry Blossom songs such tear-jerkers?
- #17. Why are so many things called “Sakura” in Japanese when they have nothing to do with cherry blossoms?
- Popular activity
#1. What is the history around sakura in Japan?
Our first of several cherry blossom facts is that according to the traditional Japanese calendar, spring officially starts on February 4, the day known as risshun. Kicking off spring in Japan is the February bloom of Japanese plum blossoms.
This is followed by the early spring celebration of Hina Matsuri on March 3 that wishes health and happiness for girls. After the ornamental dolls of Hina Matsuri are put away, it’s only a matter of time until the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
As spring’s premier event, it’s no surprise that talk of cherry blossoms dominate conversation in Japan. It’s no exaggeration to say that all of Japan is glued to their TV screen anxiously awaiting updates on the weather forecast.
Will there be sunny skies for this year’s cherry blossom viewing party? Exactly when will the cherry blossoms begin their bloom? Will spring showers put a premature end to cherry blossom festivities? The following are some of the other major questions asked about cherry blossoms in Japan!
#2. Why are there so many cherry trees in Japan?
Viewing cherry blossoms has been a national pastime since the 8th century. Another of our cherry blossom facts is that there are many species of cherry, some of which have been cultivated through cross breeding. These efforts took off in the 14th century where they became cultivated as an ornamental flower.
In the mid-19th century, a variety of cherry blossom known Somei-yoshino (Prunus x yedoensis) was first introduced to Japan. From the late 19th century onward, its cultivation spread across Japan, resulting in it becoming the most abundant species of cherry tree.
#3. What is the significance of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture?
Around February each year, shops all around Japan stock their shelves with sakura-themed items, snacks, and dishes. This is way before the first flowers open, mind you, but the mood is set well in advance.
Every year, this cherry blossom market grows larger and the range of products and food centered on the flowers increase. Especially dessert creations and sweets are plentifully available during March and April when Japan actually experiences the beautiful cherry blossom.
But why is Japan so fascinated with the sakura phenomenon since centuries ago? Cherry blossom trees have many meanings to the Japanese. A lot has to do with the very brief life of the flowers, blooming only for about a week to ten days.
Their fleeting beauty illustrates all too perfectly that nothing in this world is permanent, everything passes away at some point. A sad but beautiful admiration for this impermanence has been an important part of the Japanese mindset since ancient times. In Japanese, it’s called “mono no aware.” This mindset can be found in the smallest things of Japanese daily life.
Fans of manga and anime might know the expression “hana yori dango (food over flowers),” which simply means to be present in the moment by pairing nature's beauty with equally appealing and delicious food. There are many ways to enjoy the beauty of cherry blossoms but they nearly always include alcohol and food!
In other countries, the start of the school year or school semester is in September. However, April, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, is the start of the Japanese academic and fiscal calendar. The bloom of cherry blossoms in Japan matches up nicely with this period, making it an excellent opportunity for new coworkers and classmates to get to know each other.
This is the main event on Japan’s social calendar. Plenty of Japanese look forward to gathering with their friends, family, and acquaintances.
#4. What should I wear to see cherry blossoms in Japan?
Although the cherry blossoms bloom in spring, you should dress in layers, especially when going out at night. The sun’s rays certainly feel nice in the daytime, but once the sun goes down, the chill sets in!
#5. When is the best time for cherry blossoms in Japan?
This is a commonly asked question and another of our very important cherry blossom facts! Starting around March 20, the cherry blossom trees in the southern region of Japan (Kyushu) begin to bloom. Next, is the island region of Shikoku, Chugoku (Hiroshima/Okayama), the Kinki/Kansai Region (Kyoto/Osaka), and Tokai (Nagoya).
Then, the cherry blossom front reaches the Kanto (Tokyo) region by the end of March. It then moves upward to Hokuriku (Kanazawa) and Tohoku (Sendai), reaching Nagano in mid-April and the northern island of Hokkaido at the start of May.
In the Kanto region, buds turn yellow-green and open in mid-March. Gradually they become pink. On average you can expect the cherry blossoms to be in full bloom around five days after the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) announces that the buds have opened. However, if there is a cold snap the flowers will reach peak bloom ten days after the JMA announcement.
You have a two-week window starting from when the buds bloom to when they start to wither. This is all of course dependent upon factors such as wind and rain.
There are several terms in the Japanese language used to describe the trees when they are three-quarters in bloom and nearly in bloom. It is around this time that the petals take on their signature pink color. It is also around this time where you can see both the cherry blossom buds and blossoms at the same time.
#6. How long do the cherry blossoms last in Japan?
Full bloom (mankai) typically occurs within a week after the first opening of cherry blossoms (kaika); you can expect to enjoy the cherry blossoms at peak bloom for about one week.
#7. Can I still enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan ever after peak bloom?
You will see hazakura, cherry blossom trees whose blossoms have been replaced with fresh green leaves, anywhere from April to May. The contrast between the dainty pale pink petals and the vibrant green leaves is nature’s signal for summer to make its entrance. When you see hazakura, you’re witnessing the change in seasons, a sayonara to spring.
#8. Any tips for seeing cherry blossoms at night in Japan?
The best way to delight in the full bloom of cherry blossoms is under the moonlight. The moonlight casts a filter over the blossoms, creating a dreamy, romantic mood.
In Tokyo, try to visit a popular spot like Roppongi or Rikugien in the daytime then again at night to marvel in the change in scenery. Accent your nighttime viewing with a bottle of your favorite beverage.
#9. Where are cherry blossom trees found in Japan? What can I expect to see during cherry blossom season?
It’s said that Japan has 600 species of cherry blossom trees. Around 80% of them are somei-yoshino. When cherry blossoms reach peak bloom depends on their region and species. For example, some varieties in Okinawa bloom as early as January, while trees in other areas of Japan don’t bloom until mid-May. Furthermore, trees in Hokkaido stay in bloom much longer compared to other regions.
There are also several species of cherry blossom trees that bloom even in the winter. You can see these trees in bloom twice a year, once in April and again from October to January.
While cherry blossoms are closely associated with spring, there are times where unusual weather patterns will cause them to bloom in autumn or winter. Cherry blossoms prepare for their spring debut in the winter. But if the mechanism that controls their bloom is interrupted they will mistake the warm temperature for spring and open prematurely.
When cherry blossoms bloom depends heavily on location and temperature, so it's a good idea to keep an eye on the forecast.
#10. Where to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo?
a. Shinjuku Gyoen
Right in the heart of Shinjuku is a sprawling garden with greenery that reflects the changes in the four seasons. There are 65 species of cherry blossom trees in this park totaling around 1,100 trees in all.
b. Koishikawa Korakuen
The variety of cherry blossom tree here is known as shidare zakura, or weeping cherry blossom tree, which reaches peak bloom a week before the somei yoshino. There are also somei yoshino at Koishikawa Korakuen. If you're lucky you might be able to see both in bloom at the same time.
Right next to Ichigaya Station on the JR Sobu Line is Chidorigafuchi and its pink double cherry trees. Rent a rowboat to take a better look at the flowers. The double cherry tree reaches peak boom two weeks after somei yoshimo.
#11. Where to see cherry blossoms in Japan?
Since you’ve made it all the way to Japan, it’s only natural that you want to see more of what this country has to offer. Here are a few places to add to your itinerary.
a. Kyushu, Kumamoto Prefecture: Take part in the cherry blossom festival right in front of Kumamoto Castle
The cherry trees on the grounds of Kumamoto Castle are listed Japan's Top 100 Cherry Blossom Viewing Sites. Kumamoto Castle itself is one of the three great castles in Japan. At present you can not enter the castle due to damage it sustained in the April 2016 earthquake. However you can view the castle keep and scaffold from Ni No Maru Hiroba, a space where the Kumamoto Castle Festival takes place every March. Enjoy taiko drum performances and dishes made with locally grown ingredients. You might even get the chance to meet Kumamoto prefecture popular mascot, Kumamon!
Event: Spring at Kumamoto Castle Festival (Haru no Kumamoto to Oshiro Matsuri)
Address: Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamoto, Chuo-ku Honmaru 1-1
Hours: March to November: 8:30 to 18:00 (entry until 17:30); December to February: 8:30 to 17:00 (entry until 14:30). Entry to the tower keep until 30 minutes before closing.
Holidays: December 29 to December 31
Entry Fee: 500 yen (group rates and year passes available)
b. Kansai, Shiga Prefecture: See Riverside Cherry Blossoms in Omihachiman
Omihachiman is a serene expanse of nature and one of the eight picturesque sights of Lake Biwa. In mid-April, the riverside comes alive with the harmonious union of cherry blossoms and greenery. Be led downstream in a boat, riding along the narrow winding river and taking in your surroundings along the way. It’s almost as if you’ve been transported to a world of fantasy.
Event: Omihachiman Riverside Cruise
Dates: April 1 to November 30. Departure times at 10:00 and 15:00 (private tours depart according to schedule)
Address: 880 Kitanosho-cho, Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture
Access: From JR Omihachiman, take a bus bound for Chomeiji; Get off at Hounenbashi Wasen Noriba Guchi
Admission: Adults 2,160 yen, children 1,080 yen, rental boats from 8,930 yen (price per person, reservation required)
c. Tohoku, Akita Prefecture: Relieve history underneath the tunneling weeping cherry tree at the Samurai Residences of Kakunodate.
The samurai residence of Kakunodate are where the warriors of feudal Japan called home. There are several buildings on the property that remain intact in an area designated as a Nationally-selected Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings.
The trees 2,000 trees on the grounds of Kakunodate are designated national treasure. When in bloom, they envelop the samurai residences in a tunnel of cherry blossoms, coating the town in a beautiful carpet of pale pink. The Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Festival takes place annually from April 20 to May 5, attracting visitors from all over Japan. Walk in the footsteps of samurai as you explore this castle town and its cherry blossoms.
Event: Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Festival
Dates: April 20 to May 5
Address: Akita Prefecture, Senboku, Kakunodate
Access: 20 minute walk from JR Kakunodate Station
#12. What are those birds in Japanese cherry blossom trees?
Birds play a vital role in pollinating flowers and trees. Let’s dig deeper into another of our cherry blossom facts and take a look at the species you’re likely to find among the cherry blossoms in Japan.
The nectar of cherry blossoms is deep at the base of the petals. Only birds with long thin beaks can reach the nectar. Therefore you're likely to see the Japanese white-eye and brown-eared bulbul nestled among the cherry blossoms. Short beaked birds like the Japanese tit and Eurasian tree sparrow have short stout beaks so they need to tear at the petals to reach the nectar. When you see petals on the ground, it's like the work of those two.
Among the many varieties of cherry blossoms trees, birds are found of somei yoshino and other single petal flower varieties because they have more nectar.
a. Japanese white-eye
A bird with a sweet tooth, the Japanese white-eye is attracted to nectar and fruit. You can easily spot them thanks to their yellowish-green feathers and white ring around their eye. The Japanese white eye is frequently mistaken for the Japanese bush warbler but it takes a keen eye and ear to spot the difference.
b. Brown-eared bulbul
High in the trees chirping cheerily is the brown-eared bulbul. You can often find them drinking the nectar upside down.
c. Japanese tit
You’ll instantly recognize the Japanese tit thanks to the bold black line running down its chest. It chirps as if it’s urging spring to begin.
The urban dwelling sparrow is responsible for picking apart the cherry blossom in search for nectar. It's believed that the sparrow drinks the nectar of cherry blossom because their food source is diminishing.
#13. What do Japanese cherry blossoms smell like?
In early spring, you’ll see cherry blossom-flavored drinks, sweets, and snacks all over Japan’s shops and department stores—but do Japanese cherry blossoms even have a smell?
Generally speaking, the scent of sakura is subtle and delicate, including the flowers of Somei Yoshino, the variety that makes up 80% of Japan’s cherry blossom trees. It's curious among cherry blossom facts, but even if you hold a flower right under your nose, there will only be the tiniest hint of a scent. Most people recognize the scent and taste of cherry blossoms as their salted leaves and petals, or the aromatic traditional sweet called sakuramochi.
For salted cherry blossoms—a recipe that has been around for centuries—people generally use “double cherry blossoms” of the Fugenzo or Kanzan varieties and pickle them with salt or plum vinegar. The leaves of sakura trees are pickled in the same way, coming from the Oshima cherry variety. This pickling brings out the plants’ coumarin, a fragrant organic chemical that gives the cherry blossoms a wonderful aroma.
For a genuine whiff of the cherry blossom scent, pour hot water over the flower. The rising steam carries an elegant and sweet aroma, which is the natural scent of sakura.
#14. Can you eat Japanese cherry blossoms?
By pickling both the leaves of Japanese cherry trees and the flowers, they’re left intact. Especially the flowers boast a beautiful, vivid pink color and are used as toppings for tea called sakurayu, sakura anpan (bean paste-filled sweet rolls), or sakura onigiri (rice balls).
The most famous dish made with these pickled leaves and flowers is sakuramochi. The rice cake is wrapped in the leaf, while the flower is often—but not always—used as a topping.
Sakurayu is a cherry blossom tea in which hot water is poured over the pickled flower. This tea is somewhat of a lucky charm and often served at weddings or engagements instead of the usual green tea. Regardless of the season, it is commonly enjoyed for celebratory occasions.
Sakura anpan is a spring-tastic twist on the regular sweet roll with bean paste. One of the most famous shops when it comes to sakura anpan is Ginza Kimuraya. After presenting a bread specialty called sakadane anpan sakura to Emperor Meiji, it became a craze all around Japan. The sweet, flavorful bean paste is the heart of this snack, embraced by fluffy bread and topped with a salted cherry blossom that provides a hint of salt.
Sakuramochi can be enjoyed in two different ways. A lot of people eat it as it is, with the pickled leaf wrapped around the rice cake, while others wait until the fragrance of the leaf has soaked the rice cake and then eat them separately from each other.
#15. What’s the difference between sakuramochi from Kansai and Kanto?
Sakuramochi is a seasonal word to express spring. It also is a sweet to celebrate the Doll’s Festival (Hinamatsuri) on March 3 and one of Japan’s most beloved spring desserts.
However, if you did an image search of “sakuramochi,” you’ll come across at least two kinds that look rather different from each other. This is because the shape of the sakuramochi differs by region.
The sakuramochi of the Kanto region, meaning around Tokyo, is called “chomeiji” and is shaped a bit like a crêpe, with sweet bean paste wrapped in a bread-like baked dough. It is named after the temple where Tokyo’s own sakuramochi were first sold. Its creator collected the leaves from the banks of the nearby Sumida River, preserved them, and made the now famous mochi variety.
The people of Edo loved it and even today, you can enjoy the traditional sweet for around 200 yen per mochi (tax included). For 100 yen extra, sit down in the shop and enjoy it with a cup of green tea.
Meanwhile, Kansai’s sakuramochi is called “domyoji” and features a round bun shape. It is made from a rice cake powder called domyoji-ko and filled with sweet bean paste. As its name suggests, the mochi was first created at Osaka’s Domyoji Temple.
Domyoji-ko is a type of rice that is first cooked and then dried, before being pounded into a very coarse powder. It boasts a history of over 1,000 years and was first created as army provision that was easy to carry and easy to store. These kinds of sakuramochi can be found for about 150 yen at basically all convenience stores throughout the country.
During spring, you’ll also find all sorts of sakuramochi varieties in the basement floors of Japanese department stores. They tend to be a bit more expensive than the convenience store choices, at about 200 to 300 yen.
A lot of famous confectionery stores offer their creations there and comparing the different creations is a fun and gourmet-centric pastime during spring! The main question is, however: chomeiji or domyoji, which one is your favorite?
#16. Why are Sakura Cherry Blossom songs such tear-jerkers?
As already mentioned, the fleeting cherry blossom has inspired artists since ancient times. One trend that you will notice when it comes to songs that have “sakura” in their title is that a lot of them are bittersweet or downright sad and dramatic—why is that?
The reason for that actually does not lie with the short life of the flowers. Throughout Japan, the sakura trees blossom between March and April, which is the season for graduations and entrance ceremonies at Japanese schools.
This also means a lot of changes, a lot of goodbyes, and a lot of life-altering decisions. Where to go next, what to do from here? What will the future hold? It’s a time during which people leave the environment they’ve grown up in, parting with long friends and even lovers.
To say it briefly, it’s an emotionally turbulent time. Because of this amalgamation of complicated feelings, songs that tug at your heartstrings with dramatic and emotional lyrics and melodies are generally called “sakura songs.”
Some name the cherry blossom in their title and some don’t, but the trend definitely goes towards calling a springtime melody “sakura something-something.”
One of Japan’s most famous songs is called “sakura sakura,” initially composed in the late Edo period as a practice song for the koto, a traditional string instrument. Its current lyrics were written in the Meiji period, which is also when the song has become so majorly popular that there’s not a single person in Japan who doesn’t know it.
Nowadays, various artists release such a sakura song every spring season.
The top 5 best-selling J-Pop examples of such sakura songs are:
1. “Sakurazaka” by Masaharu Fukuyama
2. “Sakura no ki ni narou” (Let’s become a sakura tree) by AKB48
3. “Sakura” by Naotaru Moriyama
4. “Sakura” by Ketsumeishi
5. “Sakura Drops” by Hikaru Utada.
All of them are often sung or played at graduation parties or even when parting with a love interest. Even if you don’t understand the Japanese lyrics, we encourage you to give those songs a listen—can you feel your heartstrings being pulled at?
#17. Why are so many things called “Sakura” in Japanese when they have nothing to do with cherry blossoms?
The Japanese language is filled with words and expressions featuring “sakura,” even if they seemingly have nothing to do with actual cherry blossoms. That is because the cherry blossom image is a very familiar one for Japanese people, so even things slightly resembling the flowers in one way or another are often named after the blossoms. For tourists, this may be especially confusing, as a lot of things really look nothing like the flowers at first glance! Let’s take a look at some of the most common words.
You’ll notice that a lot of the things introduced either boast a resemblance to the famous cherry blossoms in color, shape, or both – sometimes it may take a bit of imagination, but for the Japanese name givers, the resemblance is obvious!
Shibazakura – Pink Moss Phlox
Also called “hanatsume kusa.” The shape of this flower resembles the cherry blossom and it blooms either in a vivid pink or light purple. It covers the ground densely, forming a floral carpet that is absolutely breathtaking.
Akizakura – Cosmos Flowers
The Cosmos, a flower that blooms in autumn. The kanji for “akizakura” can also be read as “kosumosu,” making the phrase a phonetic equivalent to the flower’s actual name. The spelling was made popular by the song “Kosumosu” by Momoe Yamaguchi in 1997.
Sakuragai – A Type of Wedge Shell
These clams are named because of their pale pink color, making them look like cherry blossom petals.
Sakura ebi – Sakura Shrimp
These little shrimps have a semi-translucent body that shines in a subtle pink, resembling the color of Japan’s famous cherry blossoms.
Sakuragayu – Red Bean Porridge
Sakuragayu is a porridge made with sweet red beans and rice. Traditionally, it is eaten during New Year’s, on January 15th to be precise, to purge and ward off evil and disaster.
Sakurani – Cooked Octopus Legs
This is a dish of octopus legs being cooked until soft with sake, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. The finished dish is of a pink color.
Sakuraniku & Sakura nabe – Horse Meat and Horse Hot Pot
This might be one of the weirdest sakura names. Sakuraniku describes horsemeat, while sakuranabe stands for a hot pot made with said horse meat. Incidentally, boar meat is called “peony meat,” while venison is also called “autumn leaf meat,” literally translated. There are various theories on how this name came to pass, with the most prominent one saying that these names were invented to conceal where the meat came from, as the consumption of game was forbidden during the Edo period.
Sakura, Spelled in Katakana – Fake Buyer, Hired Applauder
If “sakura” is spelled not in kanji characters (桜) but instead in katakana (サクラ), the syllabary used to spell words with a foreign origin, it can also refer to a fake buyer. That’s a person at, for example, a market stall, getting all excited about the wares to attract other customers. On TV, you’d also call someone hired to applaud or create excitement for a performer or act.
Cherry blossoms aren’t only a beautiful phenomenon in spring, but the culture and philosophy around them is a major part of Japanese daily life as well. From the image of the filigree flowers to their complex and bittersweet meaning, you’ll stumble across “sakura” a lot more than you might expect!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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