Cherry blossoms are the symbol of spring in Japan. “Sakura”, as the cherry blossoms are called in Japan, is celebrated and the Sakura season is coming up soon.
For Tokyo, the forecast for cherry blossoms’ first bloom is currently 24 March. After the flowers start to open the Sakura season lasts for about two weeks. In most years the best time for viewing cherry blossoms in Tokyo is at the end of March and the beginning of April. The exact timing depends on the weather in the next weeks. February to May the forecasts for Sakura are continuously updated and are even included in the regular weather news.
There are special Sakura weather forecasts for the whole country and for each local area. The Japan National Tourism Organization keeps this updated calendar in English. The “Cherry blossom blooming forecast (date of first bloom) - 2018 Season” http://www.jnto.go.jp/sakura/eng/index.php gives a good overview of Sakura in Japan and is based on forecasts by the Japan Weather Association.
Famous Hanami spots and specific old Sakura trees are main destinations for trips in the spring. When the cherry trees are in full bloom, places like Ueno Park, Sumida Park, and Yanaka Cemetery are popular Sakura spots in Tokyo. Many shrines and temples also have beautiful Sakura trees in their gardens, Gokoku-in Temple in Ueno for example is such a small local cherry blossom spot.
Hanami is the Japanese word for seeing the cherry blossoms. It is literally written with the characters for flower and to see. A Hanami outing can be a walk or a picnic party with friends or colleagues. In the evening many places light up the Sakura trees. Going out to see the cherry blossoms at night is called Yozakura, literally meaning night Sakura.
There are many good places to enjoy Sakura in the spring. In Asakusa you can take a walk under the cherry trees along Sumida River. You can take pictures of the cherry blossoms with Tokyo Skytree in the background there. If you take a rickshaw ride, the driver will be your guide and help you take pictures. For another special Hanami experience you can go on a Yakatabune cruise on Sumida River.
A Yakatabune cruise is a typical Japanese experience. This is not just a trip on a boat. A cruise includes a traditional Japanese meal with Sashimi or Tempura while you take in the sights of the city. Yakatabune are a special combination of fine dining and sightseeing, like a floating restaurant. The Tokyo Yakatabune Association can help you reserve a spot on a boat for an afternoon or night cruise. The special Cherry Blossom Cruises in March and April are very popular, so make sure to reserve in advance. Please see http://www.yakatabune-kumiai.jp/en/ for details.
If you are in Japan later and miss Sakura in Tokyo, you can take a short trip from Tokyo further north or into the mountains and still see cherry blossoms. Nikko for example is a good destination. You can take a direct train there from Asakusa and see the cherry blossoms a little later than in Tokyo, because in the mountains of Nikko it is usually colder than in Tokyo.
Enjoy Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms!