“In the cherry blossom’s shade, there’s no such thing as a stranger” ~ Kobayashi Issa.
Are you planning on travelling in Japan in spring someday? I’ve felt your excitement! Through clenched fists and a sideways bobble, I’ll never forget the little squeal of delight that escaped my lips when I first laid eyes on early-blooming cherry blossoms in Kamakura. My dream of experiencing spring in Japan had finally come true!
From the breathtaking pink petals dominating viewpoints throughout the country to seasonal snacks and centuries-old festivals, there just aren’t any other destinations that celebrate the arrival of spring quite like Japan.
But where exactly should you go during springtime in Japan? How can you best enjoy hanami (cherry blossom viewing) without the crowds? The cherry blossom season or sakura season is one of the busiest times to visit, and for good reason! But while sakura is the star attraction, when researching my own trip I discovered it’s not the only one.
To bring you this detailed Japan spring guide I’ve teamed up with one of my favourite Tokyo photographers, Lisa from Lisa in Japan. With her exceptional eye for detail that beautifully captures the spirit of Japan, I can guarantee you if you haven’t yet felt butterflies in your stomach about the anticipation of visiting this unique country during spring, you will by the end of this article.
If you’re ready to be inspired by emotive photography and want to learn exactly where to go, how to avoid crowds, alternatives to popular sights, what to wear and tips for how to make the most of your time during spring in Japan, read on for more!
This guide to enjoying spring in Japan will cover:
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Useful spring in Japan terminology
Before we begin, here are some Japanese words associated with springtime you may find useful during your trip. I’ll be referring to each throughout this article so you may wish to take note and save for later!
Spring in Japan months: When and where to go
If you’ve seen my detailed guide about the best time to visit Japan for cherry blossoms, you’ll notice a common theme. The majority of cherry blossoms emerge from late March to mid-April, and last for a little over a week at full bloom. Due to the incredibly short duration of the blooms, sakura hotspots around the country become very crowded with locals and tourists alike.
I’m about to let you in on a little secret I discovered when planning my Japan spring trip. If you’re wanting to witness the magic of blossom viewing, you don’t need to wait until April like everyone else – seriously! This kind of experience can begin as early as mid-February, meaning a more intimate encounter without the overwhelming crowds – I’m about to show you where.
If you’re planning your honeymoon in Japan, you’re probably hoping to avoid crowds and have a more romantic, less hectic time together during this popular season. So let’s take a look at where to go during spring in Japan for plum and cherry blossom viewing, as photographed by the very talented Lisa:
For plum blossom viewing
Although not quite as famous as cherry blossoms, did you know plum blossoms (ume) start flourishing from mid-February? Similar in appearance to sakura, ume blossoms are best viewed until early March. They are fragrant – unlike cherry blossoms – their delicate petals are more rounded in shape and colours range from white to pink.
TIP: Ume are often confused with cherry blossoms but their red leaves and scratchy bark trunks are a simple giveaway. Learn how to further differentiate plum and cherry blossoms here.
The plum blossoms don’t seem to receive as much media attention or hype as their cherry counterparts, making them a wonderful alternative see blossoms without contributing to overtourism in Japan. Here’s where to find them!
Where to view plum blossoms in Japan
From mid-February until early March:
For early cherry blossom viewing
While the iconic sakura bloom from late March to mid-April throughout major cities, you probably haven’t heard that a special variety of cherry blossom named kawazuzakura begins to bloom before the more popular sakura. This is usually from mid-February to mid-March.
Kawazuzakura aren’t as abundant as the regular sakura so it’s easy to be drawn to them while you’re exploring Japan. As much of the trees are bare during this time of year, a burst of pink against an otherwise barren backdrop is a welcome sight!
These trees are almost like celebrities, rare at first and attract what I’ve since fondly labelled as sakurarazzi (cherry blossom paparazzi). I first encountered sakurarazzi at Ueno Park (more below), a usually busy spot during April. As petals began fluttering to the ground, I realised photographers sporting huge lenses were there to capture shots of these gorgeous little birds darting through the blossoms.
Lisa’s shots of these feathered friends are some of the best I have ever seen!
Where to view early-blooming cherry blossoms in Japan
From mid-February until mid-March:
For regular cherry blossom viewing
Now let’s get onto talking about the main event!
Like fluffy pastel clouds you could reach with your fingertips, dreamy pink blossoms outshine all scenery that surround them. They appear to elegantly float above rivers, roads and superbly contrast any architecture backdrop while creating a contradictory aura of calm and excitement. I can’t blame you for wanting to visit Japan during this breathtaking time!
The cherry blossoms that simultaneously bloom during late March to mid-April are known as somei-yoshino cherry trees. Up close, they create hanagasumi – a pretty flower haze that creates incredible photo opportunities.
As many of the below locations are popular with locals, I strongly recommend visiting on a weekday to avoid the busy weekend crowds if possible.
TIP: In order to be an “invisible” tourist, make sure you’re aware of the do’s and don’ts of correct hanami etiquette. Yes, this is a thing, so please respect the culture by blending in.
Where to view regular cherry blossoms in Japan
From late March to mid-April:
For late cherry blossom viewing
Missed the chance to see cherry blossom spots at their peak or prefer to skip the main crowds? No need to worry if your visit doesn’t end up coinciding with this brief period, as there are other amazing sights to look forward to from mid-April!
Once the blossoms have passed their peak their dainty petals slowly flutter towards the ground like soft raindrops before coming to rest, resembling a sakura no jitan (pink carpet). When dancing on the wind, this can also lead to sakurafubuki (a cherry blossom petal snowstorm).
If you’re nearby a river, don’t forget to look down as you may be fortunate enough to witness hana ikada – flower rafts carrying onlookers as they glide through pink petals settling on a river’s surface.
Finally, one of the later spring flowers to grace us with their presence are yaezakura. This catch-all term is used to describe varieties of multi-layered cherry blossoms, featuring more than five frilly, fluffy petals. Yaezakura are known to have one hundred petals in some varieties!
Where to go for late cherry blossom viewing in Japan
From mid-April until early May:
For other kinds of flowers
Okay, so far we’ve covered where to see different types of ume, sakura and yaezakura blossoms during spring in Japan. But we’re not quite done yet!
Mid-April to mid-May brings its own kind of colourful beauty in the form of blue, purple and deep red hues in different locations throughout Japan. Imagine magical wisteria tunnels in gradients of purple and white, a blue flower carpet blending into the sky above and meticulously-pruned red flower bushes dotted throughout temple grounds.
Keep in mind some locations charge different entry fees depending on the intensity of the flowers’ bloom for that day. For instance, at Kawachi Fujien I mention below, it’s not possible to buy tickets at the entrance as they need to be booked in advance to secure your place in a queue, before you’re charged the varying fee on entry. This entry cost will be cheaper on days where the flowers aren’t at full bloom.
TIP: I’d suggest having a flexible itinerary so you can choose a day with ideal weather conditions during your visit.
NOTE: Beware of visiting these locations during Golden Week, a national holiday occurring the last week of April – first week of May. Most locals take this opportunity to travel throughout the country, meaning it’s exceptionally busy on trains and at leisure attractions. Avoid this week if you can!
Some of the below locations are a little off the beaten track but are sure to be very rewarding.
Where to go for other spring flowers in Japan
In late March 2020, the Tokyo region was blessed with a fascinating and rare sight – yukizakura. This is the term given to the uncommon phenomenon of snow falling on sakura. It had been 32 years since this previously happened in Tokyo, so it’s a very special treat if you get to experience this!
Yukizakura are a more common scene in alpine locations such as Nagano and Utsunomiya (near Nikko). Lisa was incredibly fortunate to capture these incredible shots in Tokyo during the cold snap!
Spring festivals in Japan
Get to know the traditional Japanese celebrations of this season! Do any of the below matsuri festivals during spring in Japan align with when you’re planning to visit?
|Hanegi Park Setagaya Ume Matsuri, Tokyo||Mid-February to early March|| Official website
|Suzuka Forest Garden Weeping Plum Blossoms, Mie||Late February to mid-March||Official website|
|Ueno Sakura Matsuri, Tokyo||Late March to early April||JNTO|
|Bunkyo Tsutsuji Matsuri at Nezu-jinja, Tokyo||Early April to early May||Japan.Travel|
|Fuji Shibazakura Festival||Mid-April to early June|| Japan-Guide.com
Packing tips for spring in Japan
It’s a good idea to wear layers so you can take off something as the weather warms during the day, and re-wear it again as the sun starts to set and the temperature drops. Merino wool items are great because they are all natural, and can absorb moisture to keep you warm and dry.
TIP: My detailed guide to what to pack for Japan includes tips for being “invisible” and a free Japan packing checklist!
Spring in Japan temperature: How cold is it?
The climate during spring in Japan is moderate, ranging from a maximum temperature around 13 degrees celsius to about 5 degrees celsius in the mornings and nighttime.
I personally never felt overly cold during my visit, but I did need to account for rainy weather. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere you’ll probably already be familiar with most of these items, but for my fellow Aussies where we mostly don’t experience a similar climate, here are some ideas for what to pack for a spring trip to Japan:
- A puffer jacket to wear in mornings, evenings or if visiting colder alpine areas
- A woollen mid-length coat for sunny days when a puffer jacket may get too hot
- A warm woollen scarf to keep your neck cozy
- Merino jumpers (sweaters) to regulate your body temperature
- Comfortable walking shoes as you’ll be on your feet a lot
- Water-proof boots for rainy days (or slushy snow in alpine regions)
- Leather gloves so you can still use your smartphone without taking them off
- Optional: Rain jacket (or purchase a beautiful umbrella as a souvenir from Japan!)
TIP: Create a “capsule wardrobe” – where each item of clothing can be mixed and matched easily with others to avoid overpacking. I do this by selecting tops and bottoms of similar tones on the colour wheel so I don’t need to worry about how to put together an outfit. No matter what I select for the day, everything will go together nicely.
How to plan for visiting Japan in spring
As mentioned previously, the cherry blossom season is one of the busiest times of year to visit so it helps to be on top of your game. Here are my best tips and things to know for planning a spring trip to Japan:
- The full bloom dates for flowers vary each year depending on weather conditions. Take a look at sakura reports on japan-guide.com and average the dates of previous years’ peak blooms for places you’re planning to visit
- Once you have your dates, book your accommodation WELL in advance. By this I mean at least six months if possible to secure the hotels you really want. Some people even book up to one year ahead!
- Try and avoid booking during Golden Week as discussed earlier. Prices drastically increase during this time, as well as overcrowding in popular locations and public transport
- As spring approaches, be sure to check the sakura forecasts on japan-guide.com. There are several in the lead up to the blooms, with the first usually at the end of January.
- Allow extra time to get to and from popular viewing locations and plan to visit lesser-known spots to help ease the burden of overcrowding
- Once at your location, bring some kind of picnic blanket or tarp to sit beneath the blossoms (don’t forget the hanami etiquette I mentioned earlier!) and dispose of your rubbish in the dedicated bins or take it with you.
Concluding what to expect visiting Japan in spring
That’s a wrap for this detailed guide to visiting Japan in springtime! Now it’s no longer a secret that spring blossoms throughout Japan can be enjoyed from as early as mid-February until late April. It’s good to know how to avoid the main crowds and visit during a less busy time for a more intimate experience.
I hope you’ve learnt some new cherry blossom terminology, the best places to visit in Japan in spring, discovered some alternatives to popular sights, and where to view other spring flowers. I hope I’ve also given you an idea for how to dress for spring in Japan, too!
Are you looking for ideas for planning a Japan itinerary for the first time? My Japan travel blog has free itineraries to follow, travel tips, where to buy the Japan Rail Pass, how to learn Japanese for travel, the do’s and don’ts of Japanese etiquette and much more. Take a look once you’re done here for everything you need to know before you go!
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Until next time,
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All photographs are copyright to Lisa in Japan and used with permission.
This guide to spring in Japan contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!
Thank you for a really good article, Cherry blossom are my favorite so I really like the content. My dream is to visit Japan during spring time.
So glad you enjoyed this article, Lilly! I can’t wait to revisit Japan during springtime as well. Thanks for your comment!