Exploring Tokyo - 5 great spots to admire the cherry blossoms
Exploring Japan in 2018 was rich in many extraordinary moments for me, but one of the most memorable memories of this trip is without a doubt the fabulous sight of the cherry blossoms. At the beginning of spring, the entire country lives to the rythm of the Sakura season! It’s the tradition of “hanami”: huge crowds gather in parks to relax below these stunning white and pink flowers in a festive atmosphere. To help you enjoy this period as much as possible, here’s a list of my 5 favourite places in Tokyo to admire the cherry blossoms!
This article is part of a series of four articles about Tokyo. Here are the other ones:
The Imperial Palace
It might not be the most impressive in this list, but I decided to put it first anyway, in honour of the Japanese imperial family: it’s the oldest dinasty in the world, reigning over the country since twenty-six centuries! The current emperor (in 2023), Naruhito, was born in the Imperial Palace in 1960, and he suceeded to his father Akihito after he abdicated in 2019.
Apart from some very rare occasions, the Imperial Palace isn’t open to visitors, but it’s possible to walk along the moats and explore the gardens. There are many different access points to them: wherever you come from, appreciate how thick and strong the walls are on your way in. The gardens consist of a vast plain surrounded by trees including many sorts of cherry trees of different colours. I particularly enjoyed the contrast with the tall buildings nearby!
During my visit, I kind of felt like the large moats symbolised a barrier between two world: tradition on the inside, modernity on the outside. Anyway, walking around the Imperial Palace is very popular with Tokyoites and tourists and it deserves to be part of an itinerary in Tokyo!
I did this trip in Japan with Jeff, a former colleague from back when I lived in Switzerland. After a couple of days in Tokyo, we began to feel a bit tired of constantly trying new dishes, so we decided to have dinner in a pizzeria, in a high tower of the district of Shibuya. By chance, our waiter was a French expat and we spent a long time talking with him. Among other tips, he gave us a few recommandations of places where we needed to go to admire the cherry blossoms; the ultramodern complex of Tokyo Midtown was part of his list.
We went there as soon as our dinner was over. Following the advices of the waiter, we took a street to the left leading to a little park behind the commercial center. There, we bumped into a real crowd of people walking below gorgeous cherry blossoms, illuminated with pink and purple lights. Some drivers even pulled over on the side of the road to take pictures!
Shinjuku Gyoen Park
Located in the middle of a very busy district, this green lung of Tokyo is one of the most beautiful areas in the city to admire the cherry blossoms… and Tokyoites know it! It was packed when I went there, with hundreds of people taking pictures of these majestic trees reflecting in the peaceful stretches of water of the Park. I describe it with more details in my article dedicated to the district of Shinjuku!
Ueno Park and Yanaka
Slightly bigger than Shinjuku Gyoen, Ueno Park is its equivalent on the north-east of Tokyo. Our first accomodation for me and Jeff was in the same part of the city, and this is where we found out for the first time what was the tradition of “hanami”. This beautiful word which literally means “watching the flowers” describes pretty well what it consists in: hundreds of people gather below the trees, sitting on large tarpaulins to enjoy food and drinks together. It felt very festive and easy-going!
Next to Ueno Park, we kept walking through the little streets of Yanaka, an ancient district of Tokyo forgotten by tourists. The vast Yanaka cemetery is another great spot to admire the cherry blossoms, in a much quieter atmosphere though!
I’m ending this list with my favourite place in Tokyo for the observation of the cherry blossoms, also recommended by our waiter of Shibuya. He adviced us to take the Hibiya metro line until the last stop, Naka-Meguro. As soon as we exited the station, Jeff and I were caught by a giant wave of people heading to the Meguro river. The view that awaited us was simply breathtaking. On both sides of the water, hundreds of cherry blossoms trees lined up as far as we could see. The banks of the river were literally teeming with people and fairy lights hanging below the trees added even more beauty to this already gorgeous sight.
There were also countless short-lived bars on both sides, mostly offering glasses of “strawberry sparkling”. Once again, the atmosphere was very easy-going, but I still remember this poor policeman shouting and screaming to help cars go through the crowds at an intersection, without a lot of effect! We stayed there a very long time, wandering below the trees amazed by the beauty of the place, for what remains one of my best memories of Japan.
The peak of the blooming season in Tokyo is usually between the end of March and the beginning of April, but it can vary from one year to another depending on the climate. It also varies a lot within the country: the flowers appear in the south first, then progressively further north in the following weeks. It is quite a short period of time: the two pictures below have been taken at the same spot in Ueno Park respectively on the 27th of March and the 6th of April, ten days later only!
Do you know more good spots around Tokyo to admire the cherry blossoms? Share them in the comments!