Seven Stunning Cherry Blossom Locations in Japan Without Crowds
You'll find Himeji Castle west of Kyoto, on the northern shores of Lake Kawaguchiko | © Prasit Rodphan / Alamy Stock Photo
From late February to May, cherry blossom season (sakura season) sees an explosion of colour around Japan. Culturally speaking, the vibrant phenomena is seen as a reminder of mortality and the fine balance of nature. Large crowds flock to popular hotspots, particularly around Tokyo, but we’ve found some other locations to explore if you would like to see the beauty of nature without the crowds.
The exact timing of the cherry blossom season is dependent on weather conditions. During mild winters, blossoms will open slightly earlier in the year, whereas cold snaps can postpone full bloom (known as mankai) for a few weeks. The season only runs for a short period of time, sometimes just a week in some places, so the key to capturing the awe-inspiring sight in person is careful planning.
Cherry blossoms can be enjoyed from all four main islands in Japan: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. To make the most of cherry blossom season, and enjoy the trees unspoilt by crowds, head out of the cities and off the beaten track. Here are our favourite spots to make the most of an essential travel bucket-list event.
Himeji Castle – Hyogo
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West of Kyoto in the Hyōgo prefecture you’ll find this hilltop castle on the northern shores of Lake Kawaguchiko. Mount Fuji is the most popular attraction in the area and is a sight that many come to see all year round, but time your trip just right and you can also see what many Japanese regards as the best cherry blossom spectacle in the world.
Mt Shiude – Kagawa
Mt Shiude looks over the Shōnai peninsula, which includes several islands in the Seto Inland Sea and the famous Great Seto Bridge. There are dedicated viewing platforms in operation here, with summer visits giving you a great chance to see hydrangeas in bloom. In the springtime, however, it’s all about the thousand cherry trees that burst into life.
Hitome Senbonzakura – Miyagi
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Miyagi is a relatively unassuming destination, but actually boasts two great cherry blossom locations. The pine-clad islands and coastline of Matsushima Bay are ideal if you want to enjoy the season from afar, but for the ultimate experience, head to Hitome Senbonzakura, where a sakura festival is held annually and those in the know gather for family picnics beneath the trees.
Handayama Botanical Garden – Okayama
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The hillsides of Okayama City turn a delightful shade of pink in the spring, thanks to the 45 different varieties of tree that exist here. The botanical garden here is already a popular attraction, especially at this time of year. There is also a wide selection of places to stay, whatever your travel needs.
Fukuyama Castle – Hiroshima
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Nowhere is the unique practice of cherry blossom viewing, or hanami, performed with such precision as in Hiroshima. The parks and the tree-lined streets are ideal for leisurely viewings, but if you want to experience something special, head to the iconic Fukuyama Castle. The white building provides a great backdrop for the intense cherry blossom colours, and you’re guaranteed an enviable photo to share on social media. Ready to book? Check out our handpicked selection of the best hotels in Hiroshima.
Tanesashi Coast – Hachinohe
This choice is probably the most challenging to find, but also the most rewarding. The jagged rock formations and lush pine trees along the coast in south Hachinohe can be accessed by hiking or biking the trails to an area of the Michinoku Coast, and here your journey will take you past the Tanesashi Natural Lawn. The mix of pines and cherry trees create an all-consuming environment that is worth the extra effort to see it up close.
Ritsurin Garden – Takamatsu
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A spring illumination festival is held here every year from the end of March to early April. Ritsurin Garden allows visitors to take a stroll beneath the trees, or jump in a boat to see the sakura trees from the northern lake. It’s a unique way of doing things, but also one that avoids large crowds.