Cherry Blossoms in Japan with Kids: Bring on the Hanami!

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Cherry blossoms in Japan. When spring is on its way, ever wonder where to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids? Let me tell you about the best places to be for Japan’s cherry blossom season.

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Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan with Kids

I’ve talked about skiing in Japan and all the other great things to do in Japan during winter. However, my favorite time to be in Japan is once the temperature starts to rise again. That’s when the sakura trees bloom and the hanami parties begin. The cherry blossoms in Japan are a sight to behold.

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Why see cherry blossoms in Japan?

Before I tell you where to see cherry blossoms in Japan, first let me tell you why. As winter ends, the sakura (cherry blossom) trees around the country start to bloom. During the winter, Japan’s streets and parks are marked by dark, knotty sakura tree trunks and their skeletal branches. When spring arrives, these trees suddenly come alive. The environment turns from gray and brown to pink, white and (eventually) green.

When spring arrives, these trees suddenly come alive. The environment turns from gray and brown to pink, white and (eventually) green.

Beautiful and Fleeting

This transformation is brief: less than two weeks after this tableau of cotton candy reveals itself, it starts to disappear. The spring winds catch the petals and they fall like snow to the ground. It’s magical, it’s ephemeral, and it speaks to something in the Japanese soul about how life, beauty, and everything else is fleeting.

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Time to party

During this time, people have hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties. The word hanami (花見) is literally the kanji characters for “flower” and “look/watch/view” in Japanese.

Something happens to Japanese people during hanami season. People celebrate and let loose in a way that they rarely do any other time of year. People fix elaborate picnics and meet their friends under the trees. They drink, eat delicious Japanese food, and laugh as they watch winter subside and a new year begins. Spring is all about new beginnings, after all (the Japanese school year begins in spring).

This transition doesn’t happen all at once. It starts in the warmest areas of the archipelago in the south. Then it moves northward as temperatures rise. Forecasters can’t predict when the cherry blossoms will bloom with complete accuracy. Therefore, it’s hard to book flights in advance.

That said, the Tokyo area usually has its hanami season around late March/early April. The Kansai area (Osaka, Nara, Kobe, and Kyoto) usually sees the blossoms a day or two earlier. It all depends on the local weather, really.

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Hanami Season: Where to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids sakura hanami food
Hanami Season: Where to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids sakura hanami lantern

Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo with Kids

So far I’ve lived in Japan for over 13 years, and there is no better week of the year for me than hanami season. I’ve been to many, many, many hanami parties — some with the family, some not. Here are my recommendations of where to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids.

Ueno Park

Okay, so let me start with the hanami location that everyone seems to recommend: Ueno Park.

Everyone but me.  Are the cherry blossoms here beautiful? Yes. Is there a festive atmosphere? Absolutely. That said, I have never had a good hanami experience in Ueno. This is purely anecdotal of course, but the fact is that most hanami parties in Ueno park are on the sidewalk. On concrete. Moreover, there are thousands of people walking past every minute, and there are few open spaces for kids to run around or blow off some steam.

Should you go see the cherry blossoms here? Sure, but I wouldn’t bring the picnic here. Instead, go for a walk through the grounds and then head somewhere with open space for a picnic.

Nearest Stations: Ueno, Ueno Kachimachi, Uguisudani

Monzen Nakacho and the Sumida River

Let me let you in on a little secret: my old neighborhood is an awesome place for a hanami party. We lived on the Tokyo’s east side for nearly seven years. Our backyard was the Sumida River, and large stretches of it are lined with sakura trees. This is an excellent place to walk past the cherry blossoms or to have a picnic under them.

Another bonus of the Monzen Nakacho neighborhood is that the entire area is a latticework of canals: the “Venice of Tokyo” some people say. Most of these canals are also lined with sakura trees, and during the two weekend they’re blooming, you can find a very charming and authentic matsuri (festival) with mostly local visitors.

Nearest Stations: Monzen Nakacho & Tsukishima

Kasai Rinkai Park

On the eastern edge of the city near Tokyo Disneyland, Kasai Rinkai park hugs the shore of Tokyo Bay. You’ll find plenty of space to stretch out here. There’s also a Ferris wheel, a kiddy train and many playgrounds to keep little ones occupied. If the weather hasn’t turned warm yet, wind off the bay can make it feel even chillier.

The Tokyo Sea Life Park is located here as well and can be a nice diversion or place to warm up if the wind picks up.

Nearest Station: Kasai Rinkai Koen

Arisugawa Park

This is a great spot for family hanami for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a beautiful park with plenty of paths and hills for kids to run free on. Secondly, the nearby National Azabu supermarket has all the imported drinks and snacks you may crave for your picnic. Finally, since the park is in the Hiroo neighborhood, you’ve got lots of nice dinner options once the sun goes down. If that’s not enough, the restaurants and museums of the Roppongi neighborhood are minutes away, as well.

Arisugawa Park has a lot of stairs and rocky paths, so strollers beware. Taking the sidewalk around to the east side might work better.

Nearest Station: Hiroo

Aoyama Cemetery

Yes, I’m telling you to go walk around a cemetery, but hey, it’s a beautiful one. This is another picnic-on-concrete situation. Therefore, I usually prefer a walk-through as opposed to a sit-down affair. That said, both are possible in the right place and with the right attitude. Don’t worry: you won’t be the only one who’s having a picnic there.

Nearest Stations: Gaienmae, Aoyama-Itchome

Nakameguro River

Nakameguro is a cool neighborhood with hip shops, cafes, and restaurants. When the cherry blossoms are in bloom, a lot of the establishments along the riverside sell food and drinks on the sidewalk. Beautiful night or day, I especially recommend a stroll through after dark when the trees are lit.

Nearest Station: Nakameguro

Shinjuku Gyoen

This is the most beautiful park in the city, and so naturally it’s a popular place to watch the pink petals fall. It’s wide, spacious and impeccably clean. You can even get away without using a ground cloth in some areas. If the weather still chilly, then step into the garden’s impressive greenhouse and warm up.

Some think Shinjuku Gyoen is the best place for families because of its early closing time and restrictions on alcohol. The garden starts announcing closing time at 3:30 pm and everyone is out by 4 pm. You will need to pay a small entrance fee but are allowed to bring your own food and drink to have a picnic there.

As for alcohol, I won’t say that they have zero tolerance. I’ve personally brought in bottles of wine without feeling like a smuggler. They let you pass if your booze is within reason, and you don’t act like a drunkard who could cause trouble. It’s not just me: you’ll see crowds of pensioners sipping sake, as well. Contrast this with parks like Yoyogi Park. Here people haul in crates of beer, ice, and BBQ by the wheelbarrow for a full day of partying.

There’s one final advantage for Shinjuku Gyoen — and it’s the reason you should see cherry blossoms with kids here at least once. The garden has multiple cherry blossom varieties. One of them (the yaezakura) usually blooms later than the others, which means that when all the other trees are bare, you can come here for one last hurrah.

Nearest Stations: Shinjuku Gyoenmae, Shinjuku, Shinjuku Sanchome, Sendagaya.

Yoyogi Park

This is my personal favorite place to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids. However, I must admit that it isn’t as wholesome or family-friendly as some of the others mentioned above. Why? Well, this is where lots of students have their parties. Plenty of artsy and alternative types, too. Here you’ll see more people in goofy costumes, and many parties bring their own sound systems as well. There are, of course, many families too. Including mine.

I’ve been going to hanami parties in Yoyogi Park since 2001 when I volunteered to arrive early morning and set up the tarps for my company’s picnic. There’s something about the wild, crazy energy here, I just love it. It’s safe, too, but keep in mind that there are a lot of drunk people around. One of them might be me. If you see me there, say hello! I might even remember it.

Nearest Stations: Harajuku, Meiji-Jingumae, Yoyogi Koen.

Want to know more about Tokyo?

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Kansai Area: Cherry Blossoms in Japan with Kids

So you’re not in Tokyo but want to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids? Here are a few places in the Kansai area that I can recommend. And even more in a piece that I wrote from Japan Times about hanami places in Western Japan.

The Japan Mint and the Osaka Castle (Osaka)

This path has hundreds of trees, including the late-blooming yaezakura I mentioned at Shinjuku Gyoen. This is a great place to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids, this is not the place to sit down for a picnic. If you would rather sit down, the Japan Mint is about 20 min walk from the Osaka Castle, which is another great cherry Blossom viewing spot. Walk over to Nishinomaru Park where you get to have views of the Osaka Castle tower and light up in the evening.

Expo’70 Commemorative Park

This park stands on the site where Osaka hosted the World Expo in 1970. It’s a huge park, and there are over 5,000 cherry trees here. In addition, you and the kids will have plenty of space to run around. This park usually closes at 17:00, but during cherry blossom season, they are open till 21:00. The trees are illuminated from 18:00.

Since this is a huge park, it’ll take a bit of walking from the station to reach cherry tree area. Also, keep in mind that there are no stores around, so carry your own supplies in. There are, however, some delivery services available. Don’t be surprised if you see a Domino’s pizza guy handing off a few pies. That said, I highly recommended preparing all the food and drinks before you get there.

Nara Park and Wakakusa Yama (Nara)

In addition to the astounding temples and 1,500+ cherry blossom trees in Nara Park, there are also deer. Like, over a thousand of them.

These deer are tame too. Too tame, to be honest. Just be careful with what food you’re carrying and what’s visible in your hands and bag. One time when we were there, Keiko had a few pastries hanging off a clip on her backpack. They were in a plastic bag, but a deer must have smelled them. He ripped the small bag off the clip and chewed them up, plastic bag and all. We felt like morons and wondered how the poor creatures would digest two croissants still wrapped in plastic.

Wakakusa Yama (Mount Wakakusa) is not really a mountain per say, but more like a hilltop behind Nara Park. You can enjoy cherry blossom there as well.

Arashiyama (Kyoto)

This is one of the most beautiful places in Japan in my opinion, and we love being here during spring. Many people come here for the bamboo forest but arrive in late March/early April and you might catch the hanami, as well.

The Philosopher’s Path (Kyoto)

I love walking in Kyoto any time of year, but it’s especially beautiful in spring. This is a good time to see Ginkaku-ji Temple to Wakaoji-jinja as well since the Philosopher’s path runs between them.

Maruyama Koen (Kyoto)

Save this one for after dark. The star attraction for me in Maruyama Park is the weeping willow cherry blossom trees, which they illuminate at night. Magical.

Need a Hotel in Kansai?

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Have You Seen Cherry Blossoms with Kids?

Would you want to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids? These are the places we are most familiar with, but there are amazing places to see cherry blossoms all over Japan. Tell us where you’ve seen them in the comments below. Or where you want to see them. Where should people see cherry blossoms in Japan?

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Bring on the Hanami! Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan with Kids
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