Every year, the Japanese cherry tree in my backyard produces beautiful white blossoms usually beginning in early March. It has become the annual first sign that spring is just around the corner. I’d heard of but didn’t know anything about cherry blossom season in Japan. The Japanese cherry tree in my yard was the sum of my knowledge of and experience with cherry blossoms.
Actually, the primary motivation for going to Japan was taking advantage of one of the best deals in travel – round trip in first class on ANA from the United States to Japan for only 120,000 ANA miles (posts upcoming). Sakura season seemed like the ideal time to go.
I arrived in Tokyo on March 30 and departed for a quick trip to Okinawa (posts upcoming) on April 5. I had to book the ANA flights from and to the U.S. several months in advance. That time frame coincided with normal prime sakura viewing in Tokyo.
Exact timing and duration of each sakura season depends on temperatures over several months as well as other factors. Blooms typically last two weeks. Colder than normal temperatures extend the blooms, and warmer temperatures shorten the season.
To enjoy sakura season all it takes is getting outside and walking around. There’s no charge for that. I stayed in hotels in the Akasaka and Roppongi Districts of Tokyo. Cherry trees line many of the streets there and throughout Tokyo.
Initially, I worried that taking photos would make me stand out as the inexperienced tourist that I was. That notion was dispelled the first time I took a walk. Japanese from young students to businessmen to the geriatric crowd were all taking photos and selfies like it was going out of style. Not taking pictures would have looked weird.
Many trees are illuminated for night viewing. The streets near the hotel in Roppongi were popular for nighttime viewing.
Seeing the joy, amazement, and wonder on the faces of the locals, it didn’t take long to realize that I was witnessing some kind of spiritual experience. Sakura seem to be embedded in the soul of the Japanese nation. Something compels people to do this every year.
Even though sakura viewing is free, I decided to take an advertised cycling tour with a local guide. The tour was inexpensive. I’d get some exercise. It would be my first time on an E-bike. Last but not least, bike tours and walking tours are great ways to learn from locals and see sights at a slower pace.
The tour was billed as a small group tour. It turned out to be just me and the guide, Kenta Kawahata. He rented the bike and supplied a helmet and riding gloves for the chilly weather. After a five-minute lesson in E-bikes we were off to see sakura trees and some of the sights of central Tokyo.
Riding the bike was easy. I just had to remember to check periodically that the electric assist was on. It would shut off automatically after 10 minutes or so. The assist was really only noticeable when climbing a hill or accelerating quickly. We stayed off the busiest streets so traffic was no problem.
Kenta told me that hanami is the name for sakura viewing and picnicking. The term encompases the whole gamut of the celebration of the arrival of spring
The bike tour ended after three hours and Kenta and I parted ways near Tokyo Tower.
There’s a ton of information about the history of sakura season and the best places to view it. In my opinion, you don’t need to spend a lot of time planning and analyzing. Just experience it. Get out and walk or bike around and see the effect these spectacular blossoms have on the Japanese. That effect is contagious. I’m already full of anticipation for the mini sakura season in my backyard next year. It will have more meaning after getting a taste of sakura season in Japan.
Have you experienced sakura season in Japan or elsewhere? How did you feel about it? Do you have plans to visit?