Hanami or “cherry blossom viewing” in Japan was truly a dream come true. For a few short weeks in March and April the otherwise ordinary streets and riverbanks are transformed into an artists impressionist dream. Hues of pink punctuate the gray asphalt, flashes of white catches ones eye as one zips past a park on the train. The countryside and mountains become a rich pallet of greens and pinks and white. I felt like a child, endlessly thrilled at the sight of a tree in bloom. I would pause and gasp, excitedly pointing out each new tree we see around every corner. It’s like the world is under their spell, and we all slow down to look and appreciate the renewal of life, the coming of spring.
I had some reservations about going during the short but extremely peaky tourist season when the cherry trees are in full bloom, but for the most part it was absolutely worth it. Cherry blossoms in Japan are the famous for a good reason. There are more types of cherry trees in Japan than anywhere in the world, and you can find them blooming on every street and alley. Temples and palaces are planted with exquisite varieties of cherry blossoms. Entire hillsides are covered with wild cherry trees. Symbolic of new beginnings and the brevity of life, cherry blossoms permeate Japanese culture new and old. I loved being able to find a cherry blossom themed item, anything from a pastry bun to an exquisite looking hair pin. I’ve never been to a place where everyone seems so intent on the pursuit of beauty, and in trying to capture such an ephemeral beauty, as Japan.
Tokyo really pleasantly surprised me on how many great places there are for cherry blossom viewing. I had expected a completely urban landscape with lots of neon lights and concrete, but there are actually a lot of nice green spaces, many of which we discovered by accident.
1. Meguro River – this is my favorite place for cherry blossom viewing in all of Tokyo. Cherry trees grow densely along the Meguro River for miles and miles. There are many bridges where you can get a perfect view of the all cherry branches reaching down towards the water. There are pink lanterns strung along the entire bank that accentuate the pinkness of the blossoms at night. There are fewer spots for actually laying down a blanket and picnicking, but it’s has a great atmosphere for hanami nonetheless. Just join the stream of people strolling along river, everyone seems happy and content to be there.
2. Inokashira Park – What started off as disappointment when we couldn’t get tickets to the Ghibli Museum turned into delight when we realized that there’s a large park filled with cherry blossoms and a lake full of swan boats! This place is extremely popular for hanami and people watching as well. Picnickers spread their blue tarps spread all over the grass underneath tall cherry blossoms with big pink canopies. The lake is filled with couples and families on paddle boats. There are festival treats like freshly roasted dango, of which we can’t get enough of! When you think of cherry blossoms in Japan, you think of Inokashira Park.
3. Yanaka Cemetery – This is one of Tokyo’s oldest neighborhoods, filled with quiet streets and little houses with cats on their porches. There are more Shinto shrines per block than anywhere else in Tokyo, each one looking like a portal to a mysterious spirit world. The cemetery is filled with giant and ancient cherry trees. Even though we went on a drizzly day, there is nothing gloomy at all after the cemetery. The cherry blossom branches reach down towards the old tombs like caressing fingers, their falling petals a soft reminder of the briefness of life.
4. Sotobori Park – This is another park that we discovered while passing by on the train. It’s another riverside park lined with cherry trees. When in full bloom, you’ll find some of the best blossoms here. I’m amazed by how heavy and laden with blossoms one tree can be. It’s really like cherry blossoms on steroids to put it less romantically. It’s also a great spot to watch the trains, which are highly photogenic when passing underneath the cherry blossoms.
5. Chidorigafuchi – This park is along the moat of the Imperial Palace, so it looks pretty similar to Inokashira Park and Sotobori Park. There are picturesque cherry trees lining the banks and reaching down towards the water. It’s another great spot for viewing the cherry blossoms by boat if you don’t mind the line. However, I don’t recommend actually going into the Imperial Palace grounds. We went in with a massive amount with people and were shoulder to shoulder the whole time. We had to follow the road and can’t go exploring on our own off the path. It is the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had in a crowd that size though, so in that sense it was culturally enlightening. Only in Japan can you be walking in a crowd of people and never once have someone bump into you or push you, there are no drunk people, no loud talking–it was anxiety free and mildly pleasant for what it was.