You know cherry blossom viewing is important to the nation of Japan if only because they have a name especially for it – hanami. Although indigenous to the Himalayas and found throughout Northeast Asia, cherry blossoms, or sakura in Japanese, come in an especially wide variety in Japan.

It is perhaps part of the quintessential Japanese experience for locals and international tourists alike. Sitting in the park under the sakura trees, enjoying good company and perhaps a few drinks. Others may visualise the backdrop of a castle, shrine, temple or cobblestone street with various hues of pink in the foreground. Either way, cherry blossoms have almost become as synonymous with Japan as sushi and snow.

When do cherry blossoms bloom?

The window for such an experience is fleeting, however. Cherry blossoms bloom for a mere couple of weeks. Then, they’re done until the next spring. Perhaps if they lasted longer they wouldn’t be so special. The good news for skiers and boarders is that you can plan a trip to Japan to coincide with hanami season and get in a few turns on the mountain.

It’s worth remembering that the winds need to turn a little warmer for the cherry blossoms to show themselves. This probably means that you won’t be enjoying too much of the country’s famous powder snow unless you’re lucky. But owing to Japan’s landscape diversity and generous north-to-south, you can ski Japan during cherry blossom season. Sakura spring skiing here we come!

Where can I find blooming info?

The Japan Meteorological Corporation annually brings out their updated forecast for cherry blossom blooming dates. The 2024 hanami season is expected to start at roughly the same time it has over the last few years, and with a number of ski resorts expected to stay open into late April and early May, the opportunity to indulge in two activities at the heart of Japanese culture may well present itself.

2024 cherry blossom forecast

2024 cherry blossom forecast

Said opportunities look set to arrive between the end of March and end of April, depending on your location. For example, blossoms are expected to arrive in Tokyo by around March 21, while at Matsumoto Castle, a famous viewing spot in Nagano prefecture (roughly 40 minutes from Hakuba), blooms are tipped for April 2 with a full blossom by April 9.

As one heads further north, the season arrives later and later. The forecasted date for the first flowers to show themselves in Sapporo’s Maruyama Park is not until the 30th of April, with the date of full blooming glory not until the 3rd of May. Those planning ahead may like to consider the fact that the Japan Meteorological Corporation lists the average flowering date for Sapporo as the 1st of May.

It is interesting to note that sakura buds, like many flowers, form during the summer and stay dormant until the following spring. The blooming dates can then be predicted by monitoring the temperatures during autumn and winter. Those skiing some Honshu resorts during the 2022/23 ski season may remember a few days of very low temperatures – arctic-like lows of the frozen pipe variety that might be expected further north or in other parts of the world. Fast forward to March, however, and temperatures certainly speak of spring having sprung.

Where are the best places to see cherry blossoms?

What this all amounts to is the opportunity to get some skiing with your sakura. Let’s check out some of the best places to see cherry blossoms both in Tokyo and closer to ski resorts in both Honshu and Hokkaido.

A few of the best spots in and around Tokyo

Ueno Park – Anyone who has ever taken the Keisei Skyliner from Narita Airport to Ueno Station to catch a shinkansen to the ski resorts of Niigata and Nagano might be familiar with this area. A literal stone’s throw from the station, Ueno Park just happens to be one of the most popular hanami areas in all of Japan. This is owing to the 1000-plus trees leading toward the National Museum and around Shinobazu Pond. Beware, if crowds aren’t your thing, this is not your spot – there’s a party atmosphere throughout the sakura season.

Ueno Park, Tokyo

Ueno Park, Tokyo

Chidori-ga-fuchi Moat – This is a 700-metre walk along the moat of the Imperial Palace. Like Ueno Park, this area gets busy during cherry blossom viewing season but there are options other than strolling under the pink canopy. Visitors can rent a rowboat for a different perspective or come during the evening when the trees are illuminated.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park – Many will be familiar with Shinjuku for boasting the world’s busiest train station. If you can navigate yourself through the dauntingly large scrum of comers and goers, a mere five minutes’ walk will find you in one of Tokyo’s largest and most popular parks. Aside from being home to spacious lawns upon which to stage a hanami party, this park is also home to various species, some of which bloom early and others that bloom a little later.

Sankei-en Gardens – While not technically in Tokyo city, Yokohama’s Sankei-en Gardens are within the greater metropolis and easily accessible from the main stations of the 13 wards. Although very popular during the season, little bridges, streams, bamboo groves, and ponds offer an element of escapism that you may not find elsewhere.

A few of the best spots near the ski resorts in Honshu

Mount Kobo and Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture – Mount Kobo in Nagano Prefecture is home to an impressive 4,000 sakura trees which bloom atop a centuries-old burial mound at the base of Mount Kobo (inside Matsumoto city). While in Matsumoto, it would be a crime not to visit the famed “Crow Castle” or more correctly, Matsumoto Castle. This already hugely Instagrammable monument is even more impressive with a foreground of sakura. Matsumoto is less than 60km from Hakuba.


Matsumotojo, Matsumoto

Ueda Castle, Ueda, Nagano Prefecture – All that remains of Ueda Castle is its main gate and watchtowers and yet, it remains a very popular hanami site. The Ueda Castle Senbon Sakura Festival is held each year to coincide with the blooming flowers, including many food stalls and illuminations at night to create a unique hanami experience. Ueda is about 80km from both Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen.

Takada Castle, Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture – Takada Castle and its park are included on the list of Japan’s Top 100 hanami spots. The site boasts over 2000 trees situated around the well-preserved castle, its moat and the park with Mount Myoko towering in the distance. During the full bloom, the trees are illuminated at night to provide a romantic atmosphere to soak in. Takada Castle is about 20km from Lotte Arai and 30km from Myoko Kogen.

Best spots in Hokkaido that can be seen en route to popular ski resorts

Lan Lan Park – Of the handful of spots close to Niseko is Lan Lan Park – perhaps the pick of the bunch owing to the beauty of the park along the Shiribetsu River. This park boasts a lot of space so makes a great location for a hanami party.

Asahigaoka Park – Within Furano city, Asahigaoka Park is home to more than 3,000 cherry blossom trees and has long been included in best-of lists among Japanese people when “sakura” and “Hokkaido” find themselves in the sentence. The backdrop of white mountains means the best of both worlds may truly be found here.

Matsumae Park – This makes the list (and most other lists) owing not to simply the sheer number of trees (an impressive 10,000 or so) but also its variety. From early, to middle and late-blooming sakura species, the flowers ensure the hanami season stretches out to around a month or so, giving more visitors the opportunity to see them in full bloom.

Goryokaku Park and Tower

Goryokaku Park and Tower

Goryokaku Park and Tower – You will have no doubt seen this image from above if you have ever googled the words “cherry blossoms Hokkaido”. The 107m-high Goryokaku Tower affords a view from above of this iconic and highly Insta-worthy cherry blossom viewing spot.

There are plenty of other sakura spots

The list above is by no means complete and exhaustive but merely some of the places around Japan where it is possible to take in hanami before or after some spring skiing. While this time of year may not offer a great deal of Japow, it certainly does make for a truly unique dose of culture and nature – two things for which Japan is constantly renowned.


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