When is the best time to see cherry blossoms? Where are the best spots to see them? These are two of the most common questions I get from people eager to visit Japan.
The truth is, even for people living in the country, finding the best time and place to see cherry blossoms can be tricky. Forecasts can only predict as much, and if you’re only free on weekends, chances are the places you visit will be packed with (drunk) people.
Of the five years I’ve been Japan, this year was first time I’ve made considerable effort in checking out as many places in Kanto as I could, given the limited time and resources. Below is a gallery featuring the spots I visited.
Otona Water Park /音無親水公園 (Oji, Tokyo)
Located near the city hall, Otona Water Park is among the relatively quieter spots to enjoy cherry blossoms. Perhaps this is because the more popular and more spacious Asukayama Park is close by. I personally love the way the branches lean towards the wooden bridge. The spot always makes for good pictures.
Access: JR Keihin Tohoku Line Oji Station/Toden Arakawa Line Oji Ekimae Station/Google Maps URL
Koishikawa Kōrakuen Garden/小石川後楽園 (Iidabashi, Tokyo)
One of the nine cultural heritage gardens of Tokyo, Koishikawa Kōrakuen is wildly popular. I visited the park on a weekend during peak season, which meant I had to line up for an hour just to get in the park. The shidarezakura or weeping cherry blossoms were indeed lovely, but with cameras and people in the way, they were a bit more difficult to enjoy. Other than cherry blossoms, however, the park also has curious historical sites that made the trip worth it. The highlight for me was getting to see the Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge), which was funnily enough, people seemed less enthusiastic about. Perhaps I just love bridges?
Access: Iidabashi Station (Toei Oedo, JR Sobu, Tokyo Metro Tozai, Yurakucho and Nanboku Lines)/Google Maps URL
Chidorigafuchi/千鳥ヶ淵 (Chiyoda, Tokyo)
Arguably the most popular sakura spot in Tokyo, Chidorigafuchi is well loved for its cherry blossom tunnels and the still waters of the moat that looks as if it has witnessed a thousand stories. It leaves one in a pensive mood. Given its popularity, Chidorigafuchi is perhaps best visited on weekdays.
Access: Kudanshita Station (Tokyo Metro Tozai and Hanzomon Lines)/Google Maps URL
Asakuyama Park/飛鳥山公園 (Oji, Tokyo)
During peak season, Asukayama Park holds a hanami festival where a portion of the park transforms into a stage. With a wealth of cherry blossom trees, live performances, and plenty of food stalls, the park attracts a large crowd. On normal days, however, the park is quiet and is a lovely place to read and relax.
Access: JR Keihin Tohoku Line Oji Station, Toden Arakawa Line Oji Ekimae Station/Google Maps URL
Minoyama Park/美の山公園 (Chichibu, Saitama)
This is what I mean by reports being only able to predict as much. My friends and I went to Minoyama Park on the day the park’s cherry blossom festival was scheduled. Of course, organizers pegged this day to be the best time for viewing cherry blossoms, but when we got there, the park was shrouded in mist and the trees were dotted with buds instead of blossoms. The place was reminiscent of Silent Hill, which made it rather interesting, but I’m willing to bet the park makes a pleasant picnic spot on a sunny day.
Access: 20-minute drive from Chichibu Railway Minano Station/Google Maps URL
Hitsujiyama Park/羊山公園 (Chichibu, Saitama)
Whereas we were rather unlucky in Minoyama, Hitsujiyama Park provided the perfect space for a group of six to relax and see flowers. The park is spacious and despite the fact that we went there on a Saturday afternoon, the place was not crowded at all. Of all the places I visited, this was the place where I felt like I got to enjoy hanami the most.
The park is also famous for shibazakura or moss phlox, and we were lucky enough to see a spot blooming. Shibazakura is in season from mid-April to early May.
Access: Chichibu Station (Chichibu Railway and Seibu)/Google Maps URL
Behind Arakawa Yuen/あらかわ遊園 (Arakawa, Tokyo)
A secret spot, I might say, as this strip of land running along the Sumida River is not known to many. Tucked behind an amusement park with narrow entryways, the place is perhaps mostly known to those who live nearby. I’ve only seen a few people in this area, mostly people who like to jog or fish. The place also makes for a lovely reading spot.
Access: Toden Arakawa Line Arakawa-yuenchimae Station/Google Maps URL
And that makes the list of cherry blossom spots I’ve visited for 2017. The cherry blossom season is mostly over, but these places are worth visiting even without the famed beauty of sakura trees.
Part of the charm of cherry blossoms lies in the fact their beauty is fleeting, and the chase can be both thrilling and rewarding. While I appreciate the excitement of such pursuit, as in all other things, I find deeper meaning in things that grow stronger and more beautiful over time.