Time to celebrate sakura-lovers – Japan’s annual cherry blossom forecast for 2018 is out!
This is definitely one of the most anticipated forecasts for Japan and travel lovers – the one document that thousands of visitors to Japan plan their travel schedules on. Even while the mountains are still blanketed in snow and the locals and travelers are still bundled up in coats, the promise of the cherry blossoms’ eventual comeback is enough to warm us up.
And now the wait is over. The Japan Meteorological Agency just released the forecast for Spring 2018.
To help you plan your holidays, check out these one-week itineraries for spring in Japan – all centered around the blooming of the cherry trees. If you have more than a week (lucky you!), pair them up.
Even after the cherry blossom season, these itineraries are a good way to see the best of Japan. So make sure to bookmark this for future trips or send to all your Japan-loving friends.
Chasing cherry blossoms: One-week itineraries for spring in Japan
- March 25 to April 1 – Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Yamanashi
- March 30 to April 6 – Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Wakayama
- May 3 to 10 – Sapporo and around Hokkaido
- Map of all locations
- Planning your trip – essential information
- Further reading
Best time to visit: March 25 to April 1, 2018
If it’s your first time visiting, spend at least 3 days in Tokyo. Visit the parks and join in on the hanami (literally: flower-see / seeing flowers) parties, a centuries-old tradition of admiring and appreciating the transience of life and beauty underneath the canopy of pink blooms. Pack your own picnic lunch or try out the street food from the many stalls that are set up around the public parks.
If you only visit one park in Tokyo, make it the Shinjuku Gyoen. This is Tokyo’s most beautiful garden, even more beautiful when its thousand cherry trees are in bloom. Combine your visit to the garden with shopping and eating around Shinjuku, then visit the Meiji shrine.
From Shinjuku Gyoen, hop over to Yoyogi park. This is a great place to try out street food, and while you’re here, check out Takeshita-dori for a glimpse of Japanese pop culture.
Other prime spots for seeing the cherry blossoms in Tokyo are: Ueno park (great for people who love parties and crowds; convenient stop-over if you’re going to Akihabara and Asakusa); and Sumida park (a cruise along the cherry tree-lined Sumida river is the perfect romantic date; end the day with perfect views of the city from the Tokyo Sky Tree).
Once you’ve had your fill of Tokyo, take a day trip to Yokohama and go around the Minatomirai district. Walk to Kishamichi Promenade and Sakura-dori for amazing views of the city against the backdrop of cherry trees. Spend the afternoon at Rinko park, and if you have more time, visit the Sankeien garden and the Mitsuike park.
If you have more days to spend in the Kanto area or you’d rather escape the bustling city life of Tokyo, move on to Fujikawaguchiko in the Yamanashi prefecture and spend 1-2 days exploring the area around Mt. Fuji. This is a great spot for viewing the cherry blossoms as Mt. Fuji and the beautiful Lake Kawaguchi are nearby, and great hiking spots during summer and fall.
Hike around the surrounding areas while you’re there. The best spots for cherry blossoms are in the Chureito Pagoda, the Kawaguchiko Music Forest, Iyashi no Sato, Kanazakura shrine, and the Jiunji shrine.
Plan your trip to Tokyo – Here’s where to stay in Tokyo. You can easily get around the city using the subway (a subway pass will be your best friend) – use route planners like Jorudan, Hyperdia, or Google maps to get around. But if Tokyo is just one of your many stops on this trip, consider getting a JR Pass.
Plan your trip to Yokohama – From Tokyo, you can ride the train to Sakuragicho station, which will bring you to Minatomirai district. You can do this as a day trip from Tokyo.
Plan your trip to Fujikawaguchiko – From Tokyo, you can get to Fujikawaguchiko via a series of trains or a bus. Stay in Fujikawaguchiko Onsen Konanso (suites start at USD 500/night), Nishimiyasou (Japanese-style rooms start at USD 90), or for a budget option, check out K’s House Fuji View (beds start at USD 25).
Best time to visit: March 30 to April 6, 2018
For first-timers in the Kinki region, Kyoto and Osaka are both good bases from which to explore the surrounding areas. Kyoto can take about 2-3 days to explore, while Osaka has a more central location if you plan to visit the neighboring cities. Note, though, that tourism in Kyoto peaks during spring – either book your accommodations really early, or consider staying in Osaka instead. The Wakayama prefecture nearby also offers amazing cherry blossom spots and is worth at least a 2-day stay, especially if you love hiking.
Wear your most comfortable shoes and bring extra camera batteries when you visit Kyoto. This city is best explored slowly and on foot, although a bus or subway pass can come really handy. The best spots for the cherry blossoms include Arashiyama, and the the Ninna-ji and Daigoji temples. Don’t miss the star of spring in Kyoto: the Maruyama garden. In spring, 800 cherry trees bloom, the most famous one being the shidarekazura or weeping cherry tree. At night, the trees are illuminated, offering a wonderful night viewing experience.
The neighboring city of Osaka has its own share of cherry blossom-viewing spots. Spend the morning at the Osaka Castle Park, eat your way through Dotonbori in the afternoon, then head to the Osaka Mint Museum to see the tunnel of cherry blossoms illuminated by paper lanterns in the evening.
From Osaka or Kyoto, day trips to nearby cities are easy, especially with the shinkansen. Spend a day in Himeji castle, a national treasure and Japan’s most beautiful one. In spring, the cherry blossoms frame the white castle, making it one of the most beautiful sights in Japan.
Nara is another great day trip from Osaka. Nara park has over a thousand cherry trees and a great destination if you love learning about culture. The area houses several shrines and temples. For latecomers, a rare ancient cherry tree called the Narano-yaezakura blooms in the Nara Park from the end of April to early May.
Also in Nara, Yoshino mountain is considered a sacred place of cherry trees in Japan. With over 30,000 cherry trees, the blooms spring from bottom to the top of the mountain from early to late April, covering the mountain. As you can imagine, this makes for a pretty spectacular view.
If you have more time in Nara, visit Koriyama Castle Park to see a thousand cherry trees planted around the castle moats.
Plan your trip to Osaka/Kyoto – Osaka and Kyoto are the gateways to Kansai and both great bases when exploring the region for the first time. During spring, however, Kyoto absolutely bursts with local and foreign tourists, making Osaka the more relaxed and affordable base. Here’s where to stay in Osaka. From Osaka, you can get to Kyoto, Himeji, and Nara using the trains – use Jorudan, Hyperdia, or Google maps to find the best routes. A train pass like the Kintetsu pass or a JR Kansai Pass can save you time and money if you plan to visit plenty of destinations around Kansai.
From Osaka, move your sightseeing to Wakayama. You can find early-blooming cherry trees in the Kimiidera temple grounds, where the cherry blossoms announce the arrival of spring in the Kansai region. This is a good place to visit if you happen to come early (end of March to early April).
Also visit the Negoro-ji temple located in the southern foot of the Katsuragi Mountain Range. With around 7000 cherry trees bloom in spring, the temple grounds become covered in pink blossoms.
In southern Wakayama, the Shichikawa dam lake is a dream for photographers – during spring, 3000 cherry trees complement the views of the green mountains and the deep blue lake.
Plan your trip to Wakayama – Ride the commuter train or drive a rental car to Wakayama. Stay in Azumaya Seaside Hotel (twin rooms start at USD 150) or Dormy Inn (double rooms start at USD 120). For budget accommodations, check out Guesthouse Saika (beds start at USD 22).
Best time to visit: May 3 to 10, 2018
Hokkaido is the perfect destination for nature-lovers, especially those who want to join in on the cherry blossom craze but not particularly fond of jostling with the crowds. Beyond the cherry blossoms spots, Hokkaido has so much to offer in terms of scenery, road trip destinations, food, and culture, so I suggest you spend at least a full week in the area. Sapporo is the best base, especially if you plan to drive around.
There are plenty of spots to enjoy the cherry blossoms, even within Sapporo. Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Shrine are two adjacent locations perfect for picnics and taking part in hanami parties. In Nakajima Park, you can see a variety of cherry trees and ride a boat around the central pond. For those staying in downtown Sapporo, Odori park is the closest cherry blossom spot. For those late to the (hanami) party, Moerunuma Park has late-blooming trees.
Hokkaido is made for road trips and excursions outside the city, so make sure to allot a couple of days to visit these other spots. Visit Matsumae, a castle town in the southernmost part of Hokkaido with plenty of historical sites and landmarks. Make sure to feast on seafood while there. Visit also the Goryukaku Park in Hakodate, and the Noboribetsu Onsen Flower Tunnel – a flower tunnel stretching 8 kilometers, set in one of Japan’s hot spring resorts. It’s great for a driving trip, and of course, stay a while and dip in on one of the onsens (public baths).
Drive through the Shizunai Nijukken Road, a Hokkaido heritage site with cherry blossoms along the road said to be the best row of cherry trees in Japan. Expect a bit of a traffic jam when you do go here, so start early. The area is also home to many horse farms so you might want to check those out as well.
Lastly, visit the Seiryuji Temple in Nemuro if you’re coming late to Hokkaido. The cherry blossoms in Nemuro are the last to bloom in Japan, so it’s perfect for latecomers who would still like a glimpse of the ephemeral cherry blossoms (annual averages are May 16-22).
Plan your trip to Hokkaido – Three airports serve Hokkaido (New Chitose, Asahikawa, Sapporo Okadama) so look into air travel as an option to get to the area. Otherwise, you can reach Sapporo by shinkansen as well. While it’s possible to go around Hokkaido using the public transportation, it’s much more comfortable and convenient to travel around by car. Here’s a great guide to driving in Hokkaido.
Stay in Sapporo – Due to its central location in Hokkaido, Sapporo is the best base for traveling around the prefecture, especially if you will be renting a car. Stay in Hotel Mystays Sapporo Aspen (double rooms start at USD 80) or Sapporo Grand Hotel (twin rooms start at USD 100). For a budget option, check out Social Hostel 365 (beds start at USD 22).
When is the best time to see the cherry blossoms in Japan?
Blooming dates vary slightly every year. To catch the cherry blossoms at their peak, use this cherry blossom forecast (2018) to guide your trip dates. Note that the forecast dates can change as we draw closer to spring so make sure to check back before finalizing your trip. Here’s a summary showing the most popular cherry blossoms spots across Japan.
|Prefecture (Cities)||Forecasted flowering date||Forecasted full bloom date|
|Kanto-Koushin (Tokyo)||March 20||March 28|
|Kanto-Koushin (Yokohama)||March 24||April 1|
|Kanto-Koushin (Yamanashi)||March 25||April 2|
|Kinki (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara)||March 26-29||April 3-6|
|Tohoku (Fukushima)||April 9||April 13|
|Hokkaido (Sapporo)||May 3||May 6|
- Timing is everything! While staying for a week or two and really waiting for the blooms is a good way to catch the cherry blossoms, this is not always feasible. The next best thing is to arrive at just the right moment to see the cherry trees in full bloom. Plan to be at the city of your choice at least 1-2 days before the forecasted full bloom date.
- Plan ahead. Unfortunately, you won’t be having the cherry blossoms to yourself. Every spring, a million tourists flock to Japan’s parks to see the beautiful sakura (1.7 million, in fact!). So it’s best to reserve those hotels ASAP, or consider choosing slightly less popular bases – like Osaka instead of Kyoto when visiting Kansai.
- Public transportation. It’s easy and convenient to get around Japan using the public transportation. My favorite route finders are Jorudan and Hyperdia, although Google Maps also does the job.
- Train passes. You can save a lot of time and money by getting a train pass before entering Japan. This is especially important when you’re planning to buy a JR Pass – you cannot buy it once inside Japan. You can get it online here, or check out this comprehensive guide to choosing and using the Japan Rail Pass.
- Pre-book your trip essentials. There’s so much to see and do in Japan, so it’s best to pre-book as much travel essentials as possible. You can book almost everything online: from pocket wifi, to airport transfers, transportation cards, and tickets to popular attractions.
- Cherry blossoms in Japanese cultural history – When you join this year’s hanami, you will become part of a centuries-old tradition of finding beauty – and the meaning of life – amidst the pink blooms. Here are various works of art documenting the sakura.
- Japan Travel Guides – Here are more travel guides around Japan. You’ll find a good mix of accommodation guides (Tokyo and Osaka) as well as offbeat destinations (Koyasan)
- Spring in South Korea – Japan’s not the only one that’s pretty in pink. Here’s another spring destination you shouldn’t miss.
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Gear up, sakura-lovers! It’s going to be a fun month-long hanami party around Japan. I hope this guide helps you plan your trip – and catch those pretty cherry blossoms in Japan.
I’d suggest planning and booking your trip as early as right now. Japan gets pretty crowded during the cherry blossoms season as everyone wants to witness the pretty pink blooms.
If you have any comments or questions, let me know in the comments or contact me! Happy travels!
Post first published: January 23, 2017
Last updated: February 4, 2018 – updated forecast to 2018 dates, updated information on spring destinations and added trip-planning tips