Springtime in Japan is a magical time of year, when the country comes alive with the pink and white blossoms of cherry trees. After the pandemic kept visitors away in 2020 and 2021, travelers are eager to once again experience the tradition of hanami, or flower viewing. With mild temperatures and a host of festivals and events celebrating spring and traditional culture, there’s never been a better time to visit Japan.
One of the most unique ways to view cherry blossoms is at the Nakameguro Sakura Festival in Tokyo Prefecture, which runs from March 18 to April 9, 2023. This charming district is just a five-minute train ride from Shibuya, but feels like a world away from the bustle of the city. Stroll along the cherry blossom-lined streets and enjoy local seasonal food and beverages. For an even more enchanting experience, escape the crowds at Meguro River Park during nighttime, where more than 1,000 cherry blossom trees are illuminated by lantern light.
For a different perspective on cherry blossoms, head to Toyama Prefecture for a special cruise along the Matsukawa River. This popular attraction offers travelers the chance to enjoy cherry blossoms against the stunning landscapes of Toyama Prefecture. Enjoy a leisurely ride along the tranquil Matsukawa River and pass through charming tunnels of blooming cherry blossom trees. After the peaceful afternoon of hanami, the cruise ends at the Matsukawa Tea House, where visitors can savor a cup of tea and reflect on their scenic journey.
Another unforgettable way to view cherry blossoms is on the Moka Railway in Tochigi Prefecture. The scenic railway has been in operation for more than a century and offers a truly unique hanami experience, as it is almost entirely surrounded by cherry blossoms and rape flowers in April. Travelers can book a trip between Mogi station and Shimodate station to enjoy this picturesque ride.
In addition to cherry blossom viewing, Japan’s Golden Week offers a wealth of festivals and events to experience. One of the highlights is the Tendo Sakura Matsuri in Yamagata Prefecture, which takes place on April 15-16, 2023. Tendo is known for producing 90% of the shogi, or Japanese chess, pieces in Japan, and during the festival, locals and visitors gather to watch a human chess match, or shogi battle, in Maizuru Park. The festival involves a shogi battle between two professional chess players, where humans dressed as samurai and servants replace the chess pieces. The event also showcases taiko performances and an array of delectable festival foods.
Every year on May 15, the Aoi Matsuri, also known as the Hollyhock Festival, takes place in the heart of Kyoto. This spring festival is one of Kyoto’s three major festivals, alongside the Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri. The festival provides an opportunity to witness locals dressed in ancient costumes and take a step back in time to experience the golden days of Kyoto’s history. The procession features hundreds of people dressed in traditional Heian-period costumes, including nobles on horseback, and a stunning display of flowers.
Considered one of the most beautiful flower parks in Japan, the Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture hosts a month-long Great Wisteria Festival from mid-April to mid-May. The festival showcases the park’s 160-year-old wisteria trees in full bloom, which are illuminated at night for added effect. Within easy reach of Tokyo, it’s the perfect way to spend a leisurely night in the springtime.
Finally, the Sanja Festival in Tokyo takes place on May 19-21, 2023. During the festival, a hundred portable mikoshi (palanquin-like Shinto shrines) come together on a stately parade through the Senso-ji Temple and out through Asakusa’s Kaminarimon Gate. For more information on visiting Japan, visit the Japan National Tourism Organization’s website.