Cherry blossom season is undoubtedly one of the best times to visit Tokyo. The city is filled with an unspoken air of excitement; locals start shedding their winter layers for the joy of sunshine and picnics.
If you’ve never been to Japan during cherry blossom season, there are two words you absolutely must know. The first is sakura, the Japanese word for cherry blossoms. Let this word be your guide for all cherry blossom-inspired beverage choices – think sakura lattes, spring cocktails and seasonal beers.
The other is hanami. While it simply means ‘flower viewing’ and can refer to any kind of flower, it is mostly associated with enjoying the cherry blossoms, and specifically by having a picnic under the blooming branches and drinking to the season.
So, where are the best places to see sakura and enjoy hanami in the nation’s capital? Well, like most things, it really depends on your interests. Here are some of the city’s top spots based on the kind of experience you can have there.
Hanami for party-goers
If letting your hair down and getting a little tipsy on some of those aforementioned seasonal drinks sounds like your perfect idea of a spring afternoon, you needn’t look any further than Tokyo’s public parks. One of the liveliest is Ueno Park, where you can find 1,000 cherry trees along the street that leads from the Saigo Takamori statue towards the National Museum and around Shinobazu Pond.
The cherry blossoms here tend to open 1-3 days ahead of the rest of the city and the blooms are lit up until 9pm, making it a top choice for those visiting early in the season as well as those wanting to keep their party going into the evening.
Access: Ueno Station (Shinobazu Exit); admission free; illuminations during blooming period until 21:00.
Another popular spot for a boozy picnic is Yoyogi Park with its large, open spaces and 600 cherry trees.
Yoyogi Park is located in the heart of Tokyo’s youth sub-culture district of Harajuku and therefore tends to attract a younger crowd.
Access: 5-minute walk from Harajuku Station; admission free.
Hanami for lovers
If you’re looking for the perfect date spot or just a classier vibe, then the Meguro River has you covered. Instead of picnics, it’s more of a standing-room-only cocktail type affair.
Think sakura champagne by the glass and gourmet eats. Paired with the whimsical scene of the river’s pale pink cherry blossom canopy and the lingering swirl of petals in the water below, it’s hard to beat this romantic spring display.
For a date to remember, consider heading here mid-afternoon to enjoy the blooms before the after-work crowds. Then enjoy a sunset drink and the changing light, before retreating to one of the neighborhood’s trendy bars and restaurants for dinner.
Access: A couple of minutes walk from Naka-Meguro Station – follow the crowds; admission free; illuminations during blooming period until 21:00.
Hanami for families
While kids are welcome at any and all cherry blossom viewing spots in Tokyo, there are some that may be more attractive to those traveling with little ones than others.
A top family-friendly spot is Shinjuku Gyoen. These manicured gardens are a worthy attraction all year round, but especially so during its glorious seasonal changes. As alcohol is prohibited here and there is an entrance fee (albeit small – about $2), it tends to attract a tamer crowd.
Coupled with its wide, open spaces for the kids to enjoy and the fact that those under 6 get in free, it’s a favorite for local families.
Access: 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station; 200 yen entry for adults, 50 yen for elementary and junior high school students, children under 6 free; 9:00-16:30.
Another great spot for those traveling with children is Asukayama Park. It’s one of Tokyo’s oldest cherry blossom viewing spots with several hundred cherry trees to picnic under. While it is located on a hilltop, stroller-wielding parents don’t fear, there’s a short inclined monorail provided free of charge on the north side of the park making it accessible for all visitors.
Add in a playground and castle with tunnels and slides, two preserved railway vehicles and an observation deck for watching bullet trains and other rail services zooming by, and you have a winner for keeping the kids entertained.
Access: Short walk from JR Oji Station; admission free; illuminations during blooming period until 21:00.
Hanami for hikers
If you love the outdoors and the idea of working for the reward of a great view, then Mt. Takao is the place for you. The fact that the mountain can be reached in under an hour from the city center and that it’s only a 1.5-hour hike to the summit, makes it one of Tokyo’s most popular day trips.
For the best cherry blossom viewing, you’ll want to make the 30-minute hike beyond the summit to the Itchodaira area, also known as Takaosan Senbonzakura or “Mount Takao Thousand Cherry Trees”.
The great part about Mt. Takao is that due to its higher elevation and great variety of cherry trees, cherry blossom viewing can usually be enjoyed here up to a couple of weeks after the main event in the city.
Access: Takaosanguchi Station; admission free; a cable car and lift (480 yen one way, 930 yen round trip) can get you about halfway up the mountain, essentially cutting the climbing time to the summit in half.
Want to explore some of these Tokyo hotspots? This 14-day Japan trip will sort you right out.
Image Credits (top to bottom): Jessica Korteman, iStock, Jessica Korteman x3, iStock, Intrepid Travel x2