Every Spring, thousands of travellers flock to Japan to view the spectacular cherry blossom, or sakura, in full bloom. The act of viewing these flowers bloom is known in Japan as hanami; with both hanami and sakura ingrained in Japanese culture. This period signifies a time of renewal, and is a celebration of the beauty and fragility of life.
Cherry blossom season is relatively short - and blooming times differ depending on geographical location and weather patterns. Knowing when to catch the flowers in all their glory can be a bit of a guessing game, with weather forecasters and news outlets closely following blooming patterns each year.
The cultural significance, beauty, and tight time period of sakura blooms inevitably means that hanami hot spots can be packed with tourists and locals alike, all hoping to catch a glimpse of these beautiful flowers.
So how can you experience one of Japan’s most iconic events without having to push your way through hordes armed with selfie sticks? We’ve shared our top picks for some of the best lesser-known places to see cherry blossoms in Japan and avoid the crowds.
Best Cherry Blossom Spots in Tokyo to Avoid the Crowds
1. Shingashi River, Kawagoe
Located just 20 minutes from Shinjuku Station by express train, the town of Kawagoe is a great day-trip destination from Tokyo. An Edo-period castle town, Kawagoe is home to Kitain Temple, which is one of the most important temples in the greater Tokyo area.
This tends to be a quieter spot for hanami outside of Tokyo due to the abundance of blossoming sakura that stretch 500 metres along the Shingashi River.
2. Zenpukuji River
The Zenpukuji River is located in Tokyo’s Suginami ward, and is home to the Zenpukuji River green space. The green space is a quiet park located in the river’s 4km basin. This local cherry blossom viewing spot is a closely kept secret, and for good reason.
Around 400 sakura trees can be found between the Kamidori and Ozaki bridges, spanning a distance of about 1.5kms. During the season, small food vendors line up along the river, making it a quaint blossom viewing location. You can access the park by foot from both Shin-Koenji Station and Eifukucho Station.
3. Aoyama Cemetery
For a unique twist to hanami, the Aoyama Cemetery offers a spectacular cherry blossom viewing experience. Because it’s a cemetery, you won’t find the typical food stalls that accompany most hanami locations. This also means there are fewer crowds than the more traditional parks in the city.
The Aoyama Cemetery is one of Japan’s oldest public graveyards, so viewing the blossoms quietly and with respect is a must. Located on the Ginza subway line, it’s easily accessible from locations in central Tokyo.
Best Cherry Blossom Spots in Kyoto to Avoid the Crowds
1. Shinyo-do Temple
If you find yourself in Kyoto during cherry blossom season, the Shinyo-do temple offers a quiet, off-the-beaten-track alternative to some of the city’s more popular viewing locations. The temple’s lack of bus parking means that it’s usually not included on group tours.
Admire the trees outside the temple gates, and around the hall of the temple. Entrance to the inner chamber and gardens will set you back around 500 yen – just remember many of the temples in Japan don’t accept card so it’s recommended to take some cash with you when visiting. You can reach the site from Kyoto station by city bus number 5 in about half an hour.
2. Kyoto Botanical Gardens
The Kyoto Botanical Gardens are frequented by local families, and are generally not a feature on sakura tourist-trails. The gardens remain fairly quiet mid-week, and contain around 500 sakura trees.
The botanical gardens also boast magnificent tulip beds, daffodils, bluebells, and a greenhouse. Its central Kyoto location make it easily accessible from Kitayama Station and entrance is around 200 yen.
3. Sagano Romantic Train
For a more unusual Kyoto sakura experience, consider taking a trip on the Sagano Romantic Train. The train is located in Kameoka City, 20 minutes outside of Kyoto City. It runs between the towns of Arashiyama and Kameoka, and provides passengers a scenic view of mountain ranges and cherry blossom tunnels. Tickets cost around 620 yen for adults and around 310 yen for children.
Less-Crowded Hanami Spots Beyond the Major Cities
1. Miyajima Island
Miyajima Island is located in the Hiroshima prefecture. Despite it’s off-the-beaten-track location, it’s considered one of Japan’s most beautiful spots to view cherry blossoms. The best sakura on Miyajima centre around the Itsukushima Shrine, which you can access for an entry fee of around 300 yen.
There’s no accommodation on the island, so it’s perfect for a day trip from Hiroshima. A boat ride there from Hiroshima Peace Park takes approximately 45 minutes and costs approximately 2000 yen.
Known for its beaches, Okinawa is an island in Southern Japan. Hanami in Okinawa begins as early as mid-January, and is often the first place in Japan where cherry blossoms bloom. The island is home to a variety of sakura not commonly found in the rest of the country, called Kanhizakura.
A great place to view sakura in Okinawa is at UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Nakijin Castle Ruins. The ruins are found on the Motobu Peninsula in Northern Okinawa, with entrance costing around 400 yen to view the castle and museum.
Planning to visit Japan to do your own hanami? Many of the quieter places to view blossoming cherry trees do not accept card so it’s recommended to take some cash with you so you don’t miss out!