Sakura 桜 (Cherry Blossom) are the iconic Japanese flower. They bloom for a short period (about a week) around the last week of April and first week of May in Tokyo. Although short-lived, they are prolific, and trees seem to be covered in masses of blooms which makes me think of pink snow.
No matter where you are in Japan, if you are here in Sakura season, a well-known and beautiful place to view the blossoms won’t be far away. Although this is only a short list, these places are my pick for Sakura in Tokyo and Saitama.
Ueno Park, Tokyo
One of the most famous places in Tokyo for Hanami (literally flower viewing) parties. Always busy during Sakura season, but with good reason! More than 1000 Sakura trees line the pathways through the park, and many groups reserve their spots under the trees from early in the day. Although I have never attended a Hanami party here, almost every season I go for a walk mid afternoon just to soak up the atmosphere. Not a place for quite contemplation of the blossoms, but perfect if you want to get a feel for the party side of the season.
From the JR Ueno Station, take the Park exit and walk straight ahead over the road into the park. Most of the blossoms are on the paths to the left, but all of Ueno Park is quite interesting, with shrines and museums, if you want to wander around (and don’t mind the crowds).
Chidorigafuchi is right in the middle of Tokyo with the Imperial Palace. In fact, part of this walk is through the Kitanomaru park, and other parts use the moat and other structures of the Imperial Palace as back drops, so it’s quite scenic. You can even hire a rowboat for 30 minutes and have a paddle in the moat under the blooming trees. From here it’s also just a short walk to Yasakuni Shrine, where the tree used to announce the official Sakura season start in Tokyo resides. Not really a place to go for Hanami parties, but a very nice afternoon stroll, even in other seasons, with a few places to stop, sit and admire the blossoms. A Sakura Festival and evening illumination is also held every year, see this page (in Japanese) for details.
From Kudanshita, on the Hanzomon, Shinjuku, and Mita Metro lines, take exit 1, and head towards Yasukuni Shrine. You can either turn left into the Kitanomaru park, or continue on to Yasukuni Shrine before doubling back to turn down Chidorigafuchi alongside the moat.
Kita Koshigaya, Saitama
And lastly, my favourite Sakura viewing place – Kita Koshigaya. There are a few reasons why this is my top pick. It’s really close to where I live (only a few stations), it isn’t nearly as crowded as anywhere in Tokyo even in its peak, you can easily find a spot to have a picnic on the grass, and the contrast with the green grass, blue river and pink blossoms is beautiful! The Sakura trees line the river for about 2km, and there are well over 300 trees. During the season there is also a festival on one of the weekends, and there are a few stalls set up selling food and drinks.
To get there, take the Tobu Isesaki Line to Kita Koshigaya, and head out the west exit. You can either turn right or left, and just follow the road next to the railway until you reach the river. From there just follow the path alongside the river under the trees.
More photos of Sakura coming soon!