As Hokkaido’s long winter season comes to a close, the melting ice and warm weather signify the beginning of spring. Living in Sapporo for four years now, spring is one of my favorite seasons as the blossoming flowers turn the city into a tapestry of vibrant colors. Not to mention the much-anticipated cherry blossom season during late April and early May and all the festivities that come with it!
It can be pretty daunting trying to plan a cherry blossom trip. So, here are some of the most popular spots to visit during the sakura season in Sapporo and when to visit!
Main image: PIXTA
- Table of Contents
- What is the meaning of cherry blossoms in Japan?
- Cherry blossoms in Sapporo
- When to see cherry blossoms in Sapporo
- Five best places for cherry blossoms in Sapporo
- What to do in Sapporo during cherry blossom season
- Things to eat & drink during cherry blossom season in Sapporo
- Recommended day trips from Sapporo for cherry blossom season
- Final thoughts
What is the meaning of cherry blossoms in Japan?
Japan has a deep cultural connection with cherry blossoms, ingrained in ancient philosophical beliefs. These ephemeral flowers sprout, blossom, and fall within a few weeks, conveying the beauty and transcience of life.
Japanese scholar Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) pioneered the idiom mono no aware (the pathos of things) in the 18th century and beautifully summed up the importance of cherry blossoms: “If I were asked to explain the Japanese spirit, I would say it is wild cherry blossoms glowing in the morning sun.”
Cherry blossoms in Sapporo
Sapporo is a fantastic city to view cherry blossoms as they bloom considerably later than in the rest of Japan. You can also see the remnants of winter with the snow-capped mountains in the background, juxtaposed with vibrant pink cherry blossoms.
Cherry blossom season in Sapporo has an exceptional warmth to it, which I love. The long, cold, and harsh winter is difficult for many, but the arrival of cherry blossoms creates a warm and exciting atmosphere that brings the city to a new life.
When to see cherry blossoms in Sapporo
Sapporo's cherry blossom season usually occurs in late April and early May, thanks to the cooler climate in Hokkaido. This year, for instance, the cherry blossoms in Sapporo are expected to begin blooming on April 21 and reach full bloom on April 26. Remember that these are just forecasts, and the actual blooming dates can vary depending on the weather conditions.
Best time to visit Sapporo based on bloom status and weather conditions
Visiting Hokkaido during the cherry blossom season can be an excellent experience, but planning ahead is essential. Because the cherry blossom season coincides with Golden Week, one of Japan's most popular holiday periods, it can become crowded. Book your trip as early as possible to avoid crowds and higher prices.
If you have plenty of time, consider visiting Sapporo in late April onwards. You'll have a better chance of catching the cherry blossoms in full bloom, and the weather will likely be pleasant.
Plum and cherry blossoms in Hokkaido
In Japan, plum blossoms usually bloom during early spring in February, marking the start of the season. However, in Hokkaido, plum and cherry blossoms bloom around the same time, in late April/early May. This makes it an excellent opportunity to see both beautiful flowers at once. So if you're interested in seeing more than just cherry blossoms, plan your visit for early May, and take in the beautiful plum blossoms alongside the famous cherry blossoms.
Five best places for cherry blossoms in Sapporo
1. Sapporo’s most popular spot - Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Shrine
Maruyama Park is one of Sapporo’s most popular spots to enjoy cherry blossoms. Around 160 trees, including the Sargent’s cherry and Yoshino cherry species, bloom, turning the park into a carpet of pink. It’s also a fantastic spot to see some wildlife, as many wild squirrels and birds roam the park. It’s also very accessible as it is just a five-minute walk from Maruyama Koen Station.
Next to the park is Hokkaido Shrine, which offers some of the most beautiful cherry blossoms scenes. Around 1400 cherry blossom trees bloom alongside 250 plum blossom trees.
During this period, many food stalls line the paths, making it a great place to get a bite to eat while enjoying the spring scenery. However, Hokkaido Shrine is a sacred spot, so picnics for hanami (flower viewing) are forbidden around the shrine grounds. Visit during late April and early May to see the cherry blossoms at their peak!
2. Escape the city hustle - Odori Park
Odori Park stretches 1.5km down the spine of Sapporo city, with around 4,700 trees and 92 different species. The cherry blossom trees are scattered throughout the park, such as Yoshino Cherry, Ezo-yamazakura, and Chishima-zakura, and bloom between late April and early May.
The park has many benches where you can relax and enjoy the cherry blossoms amongst the backdrop of the iconic Sapporo TV Tower. Along with the trickling sound of the water fountain, it is the perfect spot to relax from the city hustle.
3. Nakajima Park
Nakajima Park is a five-minute walk from Susukino, Sapporo’s entertainment district. The park includes multiple ponds and various kinds of trees, such as Sargent’s cherry, Yoshino cherry, weeping cherry, and double-flowering cherry trees. The trees bloom in succession so that you can enjoy the cherry blossoms from late April to the end of May. Locals visit Nakajima Park for their daily run or a leisurely stroll. However, I recommend taking the swam boats and experiencing the cherry blossoms from the water!
4. Relaxing place to enjoy cherry blossoms - Moerenuma Park
Moerenuma Park was designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi and stretches 188.8 hectares. Throughout the park, there are beautiful monuments such as glass pyramids and other fascinating artworks. The Sakura Forest is the most popular cherry blossom viewing spot, including 1,800 cherry trees (mainly Ezo-yamazakura, Kasumi-zakura, and Chishima-zakura) blooming from late April to mid-May. It’s a spectacular spot for a scenic stroll or for a relaxing picnic. The whole park takes a while to walk around, so I love renting a bicycle and exploring the park by bike (the rental shop is next to the P1 parking lot).
The park is located on the east side of Sapporo and is approximately a 30-minute drive from downtown Sapporo. Alternatively, take the JR Gakuentoshi Line from Sapporo Station to Ainosato-Kyoikudai Station (440 yen) and then board the No. 69 bus to Moerenuma Koen Higashiguchi (210 yen). As Moerenuma Park is a little far away from downtown Sapporo, it is less crowded than the other spots mentioned.
5. Loved by the locals - Hiraoka Park
Hiaroka Park is a 66.4-hectare park located southeast of central Sapporo. More than half the park is woodland, so it is a fantastic spot to see cherry blossoms as well as wild birds such as red-cockaded woodpeckers and various insects. The park also has many sports facilities, such as a baseball field, tennis courts, and even a park golf course. Hiraoka Park is loved by the locals to enjoy some sports, take a quiet stroll, or have a picnic.
The park is also famous for its plum festival, which coincides with the cherry blossoms. Approximately 1,200 plum trees blossoms throughout May, attracting over 100,000 visitors. The Bungo red plums and white plums are planted at a ratio of 4:6, painting the park a beautiful pink and white. Along with the plum blossoms, you can enjoy some delicious local cuisine from the food stalls! To see the cherry blossoms and plum blossoms, it’s best to visit during early to mid-May.
Hiraoka Park is around a 30-minute drive from downtown Sapporo. By public transport, from Sapporo Station, board the JR Rapid New Chitose Airport to Shin-Sapporo Station (1,180 yen). Then board the number 16 bus to Live Hills Chuo bus stop (210 yen) and a 5min walk to the park.
What to do in Sapporo during cherry blossom season
1. Enjoy picnics and hanami parties under the blossoms
Hanami is a Japanese tradition of enjoying the beauty of cherry blossoms. It typically involves a picnic with friends, family, or co-workers, under the trees, along with some food and drinks.
These are some top tips that I recommend to enjoy hanami to the fullest:
1. You can buy everything you need at 100 yen shops. These include a tarp to sit on, paper cups, plates, utensils, and garbage bags.
2. Stock up on food and drinks beforehand. There might be food stalls at the park, but they tend to get very crowded, so I recommend buying food and beverages at convenience stores or supermarkets.
3. Avoid setting up your picnic near crowded walkways, toilets, and garbage cans at the park.
4. Toilets will become very busy later in the day, so try to go beforehand.
5. If you plan to stay the whole day, bring warm clothes as it will get surprisingly chilly as the day goes on.
2. Take scenic walks and bike rides through cherry blossom-lined streets
Sapporo is very accessible by bicycle or even walking. The abundance of nature throughout the city means you can enjoy the cherry blossoms on foot or by bike.
There are bicycle rental shops around Sapporo Station, or you can make use of Porocle, a community bicycle rental service. You can purchase a day pass from a 7-Eleven or a FamilyMart for 1,430 yen, including tax. This will come with a 24-hour pass and instructions on how to use the Porocle bikes. They are also motorized, so they are perfect for getting around, and not to mention there are over 40 ports to park around the city!
3. Visit temples and shrines surrounded by cherry blossoms
Hokkaido Shrine is an iconic spot in Sapporo and the whole of Hokkaido. The beautiful architecture, aura, and presence of the shrine, accompanied by the cherry blossoms, make for some of the most picturesque views during spring.
There are also numerous shrines dotted around the city, such as the Sapporo Fushimi Inari Shrine, which are equally as beautiful. Don't forget to bring your 'goshuin-cho' temple stamp book before visiting!
Traveling around the city by car, bicycle, or even walking, you’ll uncover some of the hidden shrines and cherry blossoms that might often go undiscovered.
4. Enjoy cherry blossoms at night!
Yozakura (nighttime cherry blossom viewing) is also a popular activity and a unique way to enjoy the cherry blossoms. Many parks have special illuminations at night where you can see the flowers under the night sky! The blossoms feel more tranquil and magical under the moon and starry night sky.
5. Rent a kimono and enjoy snapping photos with sakura
People from all over the world visit Japan to get a glimpse of the ephemeral cherry blossoms. To fully immerse oneself in this stunning event, renting a traditional kimono can add an extra element of wonder to your photographs. A kimono, with its vibrant colors and intricate patterns, is the perfect way to make a unique memory.
So, donning a kimono and strolling through the picturesque parks and streets filled with cherry blossoms can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, giving you a glimpse into the unique and beautiful culture of Japan.
6. Check out Shibazakura!
Shibazakura is pink moss flox that blooms a little later than cherry blossoms, from mid-May to late June. While they are typically pink, some are white and purple, with some having a striped pattern. Unlike cherry blossoms, shibazakura blooms on the ground, often covering vast areas in a vivid array of pinks, whites, and purples.
You can see shibazakura throughout Sapporo, however, if you have the chance, we recommend visiting Shibazakura Takinoue Park in Asahikawa for one of the most beautiful spots in Hokkaido. You can check out the tour here!
Things to eat & drink during cherry blossom season in Sapporo
Along with the cherry blossom season comes various sakura-flavored sweets, treats, and drinks. One of the most popular sweets is sakura mochi, a traditional wagashi (Japanese sweet). Mochi is folded around red bean paste and wrapped in a salted sakura leaf, providing a delicious tartness to the sweet mochi.
Hanami Dango is also popular, consisting of balls of mochi in three flavors: matcha or yomogi (young Japanese mugwort) and sakura. The mochi are chewy and slightly sweet, making them the perfect spring snack.
You can also find various sakura-flavored cakes, teas, and alcohol. The subtly sweet flavor and flower aroma pair perfectly with sweets and in warm drinks, it brings out a slight sourness.
Many of these items can be found in convenience stores. However, if you feel a little more luxurious, head down to the basement floor of a department store for higher-quality goods! Many cafes will also have seasonal items on their menu, so you can find sakura-themed foods and drinks no matter where you go!
Recommended day trips from Sapporo for cherry blossom season
There are many other spots around Sapporo that make for great day trips during cherry blossom season.
Temiya Park in Otaru is one of the port city’s most popular spots to see the ephemeral flowers, and it’s just under an hour’s train ride away from Sapporo. Throughout Otaru, you can enjoy the unique Hokkaido architecture from the city's historical trading days. The city is also famous for its glass and candle goods. Be sure to pick up some souvenirs and also indulge in the many seafood restaurants around the city!
Visiting the hot spring town resort, Jozankei, is a fantastic way of soaking your body in the onsens while enjoying the cherry blossoms. Jozankei is lined with dozens of ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) with indoor and outdoor onsens available for staying guests or people just on a day trip. But be sure to check the ryokan's website for reservations and availability, as they can fill up during peak season. Throughout the town, there are free-to-use ashiyu (footbaths) to soak your feet while enjoying the scenery.
Another great option is Lake Shikotsu, which is around an hour's drive from downtown Sapporo. Lake Shikotsu is one of the clearest and deepest lakes in Japan, and also surrounded by picturesque mountains such as Mount Eniwadake, Mount Fuppushidake, and Mount Tarumaezan. On the lake’s clear waters, you can ride the swan boats and enjoy the spring scenery from the water and the snow-capped mountains in the distance!
So there are some of my recommended spots to view cherry blossoms in Sapporo. Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Jingu are a must if coming to the city. Odori Park is also the perfect park to take a break from the city hustle, overlooking the iconic Sapporo TV Tower. No matter where you go, you’ll find beautiful spring scenery and magical cherry blossoms.
Renting a car isn’t necessary to get around Sapporo as there is public transport readily available for wherever you need to go. However, to enjoy the cherry blossom season to the fullest, it might be a good idea to take a flower tour or rent a car to explore areas outside Sapporo city!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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