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? 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 

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. Read on to learn more about the Japan cherry blossom season and where to enjoy it. 

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Why See Cherry Blossoms in Japan?

Hanami Season: Where to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids sakura hanami lantern sakura hanami bridge blur bokeh

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Hanami Season: Pink cherry blossom petals

Photo 1, 2, 3, 4 by Torne, coniferconifer, paul robinson & torne via CC BY

Beautiful and Fleeting

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.

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

cherry blossom close up
east tokyo cherry blossoms

Time to Party

During cherry blossom season in Japan, 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.

Hanami Season: Where to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids sakura hanami sakura umbrella shinjuku gyoen

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Something happens to people during during the cherry blossom season in Japan — especially at hanami parties. 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).

crazy yoyogi hanami parties

Photo #3 by Dick Thomas Johnson via CC BY. All others mine

Hanami party food

Japanese food in Hanami Season

Why the Japan Cherry Blossom Season is Different Every Year

This transition of bare trees to pink petals doesn’t happen all at once nation-wide. Instead, Japan’s cherry blossom season starts in the warmest areas of the archipelago in the south. Then it moves northward as temperatures rise. Forecasters can’t predict when Japan’s cherry blossoms will bloom with complete accuracy. Therefore, it’s hard to book flights in advance.

That said, the Tokyo cherry blossom season  is usually around late March/early April. The Kyoto cherry blossom season usually arrives a few earlier along with the rest of the Kansai area (Osaka, Nara, Kobe, etc). It all depends on the local weather, really.

Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo 

I’ve spent over 13 years in Japan thus far, and there is no better week of the year for me than the Tokyo cherry blossom 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 Tokyo…and where not to.

cherry blossoms in Tokyo

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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 in Ueno 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 my kids to run around or blow off some steam.

Should you go see the cherry blossoms in Ueno? 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. Consider an east Tokyo cherry blossom day during hanami season.

  • 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 hanami for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a beautiful park with plenty of paths and hills for kids (and adults) 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. Keep in mind that 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. A beautiful Tokyo cherry blossom experience.

  • 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. One of the best places for cherry blossoms in Tokyo after dark.

  • 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 hanami 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 wine or 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 the Tokyo cherry blossoms least once here. 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 the company picnic at my old job. 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.
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Photo by Ryosuke Yagi via CC BY

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

Kansai Area: Cherry Blossoms in Japan 

So you’re not in Tokyo but want to see cherry blossoms in Kyoto, Osaka or Nara? Here are a few places in the Kansai area that I can recommend. And even more in a piece that I wrote for the Japan Times about Kyoto cherry blososm season and 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 Osaka, but 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 Osaka 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 the Osaka 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 the sakura 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 Kyoto cherry blossoms, 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?

Hanami Season: Where to see cherry blossoms in Japan with kids sakura hanami sakura kyoto arashiyama hanami

Have You Seen Cherry Blossoms in Japan?

Would you want to see cherry blossoms in Japan? 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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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you,  we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book a hotel in Japan using those links. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help you enjoys the cherry blossoms in Japan. 

Comments

  1. Bee Ling Goh says

    Hi Jason,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in Japan. I thoroughly enjoyed your articles/website, very insightful and glad to find it this time.

    We (+ 2 kids 9&11) are planning our second trip to Japan in late June for 12 days in total. We would like to explore Tokyo and the surrounding areas this time since we spent most of our time in Kyoto and Osaka couple years ago.

    I am still overwhelm with how big Tokyo is and where to stay. We love Japanese food so much so that my son thought he is going to Japan just for sushi, sashimi and tempura! Our plan is to stay in a hotel in Shinjuku for the first 2 nights followed by 4-5 nights in Airbnb in Shinjuku. This is where I am a bit stuck deciding best suburb to stay on the east side so that we can commuting easily to Asakusa, Odaiba, Tsukiji Market and a day trip to Disneyland.

    Hope you don’t mind sharing your thought. Thanks Jason.

    Kind Regards
    Bee Ling

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