You might already be familiar with "hanami," or cherry blossom viewing. But how many people are aware of Japan's cherry blossom festivals?
After a long, cold winter, the warm, sunny spring is just what we need to lift our spirits. And now is the season when Japan's beloved sakura, or cherry blossom trees, bloom along river banks, parks, streets, and schools. Many people celebrate the season with Sakura Matsuri, festivals dedicated to appreciating the beauty of the cherry blossoms.
Here, we will introduce the history and background of Japan's famous cherry blossom festivals and related events held all throughout the country.
- Table of Contents
- What are Japan's Cherry Blossom Festivals All About?
- Brief History and Background of Cherry Blossom Festivals
- 10 Famous Cherry Blossom Festivals in Japan
- 1. Goryokaku Cherry Blossom Festival (Hakodate City, Hokkaido)
- 2. Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival (Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture)
- 3. Tsuruoka Cherry Blossom Festival (Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture)
- 4. Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival (Kitakami City, Iwate Prefecture)
- 5. Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival (Tokyo)
- 6. Odawara Cherry Blossom Festival (Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture)
- 7. Hikone Castle Cherry Blossom Festival (Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture)
- 8. Mount Yoshino Cherry Blossom Festival (Yoshino, Nara Prefecture)
- 9. Osaka Castle Park Cherry Blossom Festival (Chuo, Osaka)
- 10. Matsuyama Spring Festival (Ehime Prefecture)
What are Japan's Cherry Blossom Festivals All About?
Cherry blossom festivals (also known as sakura matsuri) are held during early spring in parks amidst rows upon rows of cherry blossom trees. What goes on at the festivals may vary by location, but these events usually include a variety of entertainment and activities centered around the beauty of the cherry blossoms, such as hanging paper lanterns and watching nighttime light-ups.
Some places are not open to the general public, such as Osaka City's famous Cherry Blossom Viewing at the Osaka Mint (where participation is by lottery). There are also live music venues and stalls. Many people in the suburbs look forward to the Cherry blossom festivals every year.
Cherry blossom festivals and other events are held at famous cherry blossom spots. Visiting to see the cherry blossoms is called "hanami" (literally, "flower viewing"). Many people enjoy picnicking under the trees during a hanami.
Brief History and Background of Cherry Blossom Festivals
Hanami is an old Japanese custom dating back 1300 years ago to the Nara Period. It was started in Nara, which was Japan's capital at the time, by aristocrats who would go to see the blossoming "ume," or plum trees. The focus of hanami is said to have switched from plum to cherry blossom trees about 1200 years ago during the Heian Period.
This pastime spread from the emperor and aristocrats in Kyoto to the common people of Tokyo during the Edo Period. People gathered, opened up shops, and the cherry blossom festival was born. As time went on, street lights and lanterns were added, and soon, people could enjoy the cherry blossoms, even at night.
Since the 2000s, more and more places have included live music and nighttime light-ups at the temples and shrines.
10 Famous Cherry Blossom Festivals in Japan
Here are some of the most popular Cherry blossom festival venues, selected from amongst the top 100 cherry blossom spots in Japan.
1. Goryokaku Cherry Blossom Festival (Hakodate City, Hokkaido)
The Goryokaku Park Cherry blossom festival features a light-up of nearly 1,600 cherry blossom trees. Goryokaku is Japan's largest Western-style fort. The original structures behind these unique and historic star-shaped castle ruins were built by the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867). You can look out over the pink-dyed, star-shaped Goryokaku from the neighboring 107-meter Goryokaku Tower.
・Annual Event Period: Late April to mid-May (*2021 dates to be announced)
・Annual Event Activities: Nighttime light-up; barbecue possible during event period only (*2021 activities canceled)
2. Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival (Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture)
The history of Hirosaki Park's Cherry blossom festivals goes back over 100 years. In 1916, you could still see the cherry blossoms at night thanks to street lights and light-ups. The park was lively with people, dumpling stands, food stalls, and all sorts of visual entertainment.
The park is currently holding a light-up from sunset to 11:00PM. The white castle walls (currently under renovation), the green, old pine trees, and the colorful cherry blossoms are quite a sight to behold!
・Event Period: April 23, 2021 (Friday) - May 5, 2021 (Wednesday). Light-up from sunset to 11:00PM.
・Annual Event Activities: Nighttime light-up, shamisen performance, and more. (*2021 activities canceled)
3. Tsuruoka Cherry Blossom Festival (Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture)
Food stalls line Tsuruoka Park in the Tsuruoka Castle Ruins. Japanese paper lanterns (called bonbori) softly illuminate the 730 cherry trees, including varieties such as the Yoshino and weeping cherry tree.
・Annual Event Period: Mid-late April (*2021 period to be announced)
・Annual Event Activities: Food stalls, bonbori lanterns (5:30PM-10:00PM)
Tsurugaoka Castle Remains鶴ヶ岡城址
- Address 4 Babacho, Tsuruoka-shi, Yamagata 997-0035
Ride the bus bound for Shonai Kotsu Yunohama Onsen from JR Uetsu Line Tsuruoka Station (about 10 minutes) to Tsuruoka City Hall bus stop; venue is a short walk from the bus stop
Phone: 0235-25-2111 (Tsuruoka City Information Center, Weekdays: 8:30AM-5:15PM)
4. Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival (Kitakami City, Iwate Prefecture)
The Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival is held along the Kitakami River amidst rows of cherry blossom trees spanning about 2km. During cherry blossom season, there are nighttime light-ups and folk art performances held around Kitakami City. Be sure to check out the impressive display of 300 koinobori, or carp streamers, on the Kitakami River!
・Event Period: April 15 (Thursday) - May 5 (Wednesday) 2021
・2021 Event Activities: Light-ups (cherry blossom season only; 6:00PM-9:00PM), folk arts performances
・Annual Event Activities: Kitakami River pleasure boats, ferries, and sightseeing carriages (*2021 activities canceled)
5. Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival (Tokyo)
Ueno Park has been a longtime favorite hanami spot since the Kanei Period (1624-1644). The current cherry blossom festival has been around for over 70 years! Various activities are provided by the Ueno Music Preservation Society for this occasion, such as the Daikoku-mai and Kotobuki-jishi folk dances, a flower market, and the Aozora Antique Market.
・Event Period: March 19 (Friday) - April 11 (Sunday) 2021
・Annual Event Activities: Daikoku-mai and Kotobuki-jishi performances, flower market, Aozora antique market, bonbori lanterns (*2021 activities canceled)
Uenokouen, Taitou-ku, Tokyo, 110-0007
Ueno Station （Hokkaido Shinkansen Line / Tohoku Shinkansen Line / Akita Shinkansen Line / Yamagata Shinkansen Line / Joetsu Shinkansen Line / Hokuriku Shinkansen Line / JR Keihin-Tohoku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Tohoku Main Line / JR Utsunomiya Line / JR Takasaki Line / JR Joban Line / JR Ueno Tokyo Line / Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line）
1 minute on foot
- Phone Number 03-3828-5644
- Address Uenokouen, Taitou-ku, Tokyo, 110-0007
6. Odawara Cherry Blossom Festival (Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture)
Nearly 300 Somei-Yoshino cherry trees are planted at Odawara Castle Park. The trees surrounding the castle ruins were planted over 60 years ago. Once the sun sets, the trees are all lit up, creating a spectacular sight!
・Event Period: Late March-early April 2021
・2021 Event Activities: Nighttime sakura light-up (6:00PM-8:00PM) *Hours shortened for 2021
・Annual Event Activities: Nighttime sakura light-up (6:00PM-10:00PM)
6-1, Jonai, Odawara-shi, Kanagawa, 250-0014
Odawara Station （Tokaido Shinkansen Line / JR Tokaido Main Line / JR Shonan Shinjuku Line / JR Ueno Tokyo Line / Odakyu Odawara Line / Hakone Tozan Railway / Izuhakone Railway Daiyuzan Line）
10 minutes on foot
- Phone Number 0465-23-1373
- Address 6-1, Jonai, Odawara-shi, Kanagawa, 250-0014
7. Hikone Castle Cherry Blossom Festival (Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture)
Hikone Castle is a designated Special Historic Site, and the venue of an annual cherry blossom festival and light-up! Crowds of tourists visit every year to enjoy the local specialties and specialty shops.
・Event Period: March 27 (Sat) - April 15 (Thursday), 2021 *Dates subject to change
・2021 Event Activities: Light-up only (No Cherry blossom festivals for 2021)
・Annual Event Activities: Light-up, stalls, pleasure boats, bicycle taxis, rickshaws, and more. (*2021 activities canceled)
8. Mount Yoshino Cherry Blossom Festival (Yoshino, Nara Prefecture)
When the flowers are in bloom, light-ups are held at Kamisenbon, Shimosenbon, and Nakasenbon Parks. Nearly 30,000 wild cherry blossoms bloom beautifully all over the mountain! You can see the cherry blossoms at night from the inns and restaurants in the area, as well.
・Event Period: March 21 (Sun) - April 17 (Sat) 2021
・Event Activities: Light-up (6:00PM-10:00PM)
9. Osaka Castle Park Cherry Blossom Festival (Chuo, Osaka)
Osaka Castle Park, Osaka, is another famous cherry blossom spot. There are about 300 Yoshino cherry trees in Nishinomaru Garden, where a light-up is also held. Also, check out the amazing view of the castle overlooking the sakura trees! (Activities canceled for 2021)
・Annual Event Period: Late March to mid-April
・Annual Event Activities: Sakura nighttime light-up (*Canceled for 2021.)
・Note: picnicking is prohibited.
10. Matsuyama Spring Festival (Ehime Prefecture)
There are plenty of springtime events where people can enjoy the cherry blossoms, especially around Matsuyama Castle and the Horinouchi area of Shiroyama Park. There is a light-up of the cherry blossom trees in Honmaru Square and along Tojo Road, as well as a parade and Shinonome Noh event (at Shinonome Shrine).
・Event Period: Late March to mid-April
・Event Details for 2021: Honmaru Square Sakura Light-up (March 20-April 18, 2021), Tojo Road Light-up (April 2-18), Shinonome Noh (April 4) (*2021 will be held on a smaller scale)
・Annual Event: Daimyo Parade and Community Parade, held first Saturday and Sunday of April (*Canceled for 2021)
- Address 3 Chome-2-46 Okaido, Matsuyama-shi, Ehime 790-0004
Take local train bound for Dogo Onsen from JR Matsuyama Station to Kencho-mae (about 11 minutes); walk about 5 minutes
Phone: 089-941-0194 (Matsuyama Youth Conference Center, Open 24 hours)
The events introduced here are only a handful of the many cherry blossom festivals held in small parks and temples throughout Japan.
While many activities such as nighttime light-ups and food stalls have been canceled for 2021, there are still plenty of less-crowded places where you can see the beautiful sakura for yourself!
Editor: Koji Yashita, Tourism Journalist
*Cherry blossom flowering times vary each year.
*Event dates and activities subject to change. Please be sure to avoid crowds and take proper precautions against infection when going out.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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