Spring in Japan is a wondrous time, thanks to the fleeting sakura season that locals and tourists alike come in droves to see. This also makes it one of the busiest times of the year across the entire country! Japanese love coming together with friends and family to relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery, armed with a picnic blanket and yummy food in tow – an age old tradition called the Hanami.
Imagine your entire line of sight filled with the loveliest pink and white clouds of delicate sakura flowers. From the first bud that blooms til the last petal falls, it really is a sight to behold, before they disappear again for another year! 😍 It’s also a great reminder that this life is passing, so we need to make the most of it while we can 😊
1. First off, when’s the best time to go?
The advance of cherry blossoms across Japan is called the cherry blossom front. The front dates across the islands of Japan vary, usually beginning in the southern islands of Okinawa around January/February, while up north in Hokkaido, they can bloom as late as May. In major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka that lie in between, the season ordinarily takes place in early April. This gives you a window of around 3 months to fit in your trip to see the flowers!
Do note that the blooming period is generally short and differs from year to year depending on the weather – if the weather around the season is mild, blossoms open early and if it’s cold, they open later. If the seasons are always changing, how on earth can you start planning? A good way is to study previous years sakura seasons, so you can roughly gauge when the right dates will be.
This is why you need to plan your trip way in advance and give yourself at least a week at your chosen destination – just to make sure that you’ll be able to catch it in case of variations in bloom time. Always check Japanese weather services and media as they follow the cherry blossom front closely.
2. Now that you know when…where’s the best place to see the magic?
Tokyo and Kyoto are definitely popular locations, with ample parks and groves of trees that you can plonk yourself under. In Tokyo, some of the best viewing spots are at Shinjukugyoen National Garden or Ueno Park, while Kyoto enthusiasts can check out Maruyama Park and Heian Jingu.
Credit: The Boutique Traveller
Almost every city and town across Japan tends to have a famous spot or another, so don’t worry about finding a great spot for your picnic!
#HHWT Tip: Look out for our special sakura city guides soon, for an in-depth guide of the best spots for viewing sakura in Japan! We’ll cover any festivals or special events too 😉
3. You need a place to stay of course!
Since the spring season is an incredibly popular time to be in Japan for both foreign and domestic travellers, you definitely need to book your stay wayyy in advance if you want to get a good place that’s within your budget (We suggest doing it NOW!!). Hotels can have reasonable prices if you book early, while hostels or guesthouses can be cheaper, depending on your tastes. Some airbnb places offer good accommodation at decent prices too, but be sure to check out reviews thoroughly before deciding – one of us has been to an “interesting” one…thanks to last minute bookings 😅
Here are some useful links you can check out:
#HHWT Tip: Look at accommodation on the outskirts of the city or a little bit away to get cheaper prices – e.g. If you’re going to Kyoto, you might want to check out accommodation in Osaka which is only a short train ride away (between 15 minutes to 50 minutes away by train, depending on which line you choose to take – and on your budget of course!). Also think about booking mid-week periods as there are usually less domestic tourists during the week.
4. Getting around can be confusing, but we’re here to help!
There are a few ways to travel around Japan:
Credit: Inside Kyoto
If you’re planning to visit a few cities, your best bet to save on transportation is by purchasing the JR pass, which can only be purchased from outside of Japan by those who have foreign passports or hold short-term visas (Yay for us!). It might seem a tad pricey from the outset but you’ll be saving a whole lot more if you’re planning to really go around Japan to see the flowers in different locations. There are options for 7 days, 14 days or 21 days. You can find out more about the JR Pass here!
Getting a prepaid Suica card is a great option if buying tickets, calculating fares and looking at train maps confuse you (It really can get quite confusing!) – the right train fare will automatically be deducted from your card when you touch it to the ticket gate. It can be used for JR East trains, subways, and buses too! Check out more info about the card (like where to purchase and how much it would cost) here!
Another option you could take if you’re going to a few cities around Japan is by purchasing the Seishun 18. It’s only released during certain times of the year and thankfully the tickets are available during Spring! Although the tickets are 11,850 yen (for both adults and children), you get unlimited use for 5 days – that basically means you can travel pretty much anywhere for 2370 yen per day. The website to check out more information for the Seishun is here!
#HHWT Tip: A useful app that you should download to help you roam Japan easily is Hyperdia – it shows you how to get from place to place, travel times and ticket prices.
5. Of course we won’t forget about food! 😋
We’ve already listed several halal eateries around Japan which you can find in cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Hokkaido, but since you’ll be setting up for a picnic, what better way to blend in with the locals than by having halal bentos under cherry blossom trees! (Our tummies are rumbling already….)
There are a few halal bento services that deliver their sets all around Japan! Yeap, that’s right! You can get these babies delivered right to your door! Just let the hotel / guesthouse / ryokan / etc. know that you’ll be receiving them and they’ll be happy to keep them for you.
You can check out bentos from Halal Bento Tokyo or Halal Deli. Taste & Discover Japan is also a useful site that helps you book your bentos. Make sure that you contact them in advance to reserve your bentos! (We heard that bentos from Halal Bento Tokyo have a special heating function on their boxes so you can have your bento nice and warm, anytime anywhere! Perfect for a picnic under those gorgeous flowers don’t you think?
6. Sakura here, sakura there, sakura everywhere!
It’s pretty obvious that they’re crazy about these flowers, from having it printed on the Japanese currency, to having tonnes of sakura-inspired food and stuff!
You can eat it, drink it and even wear it! There’s a sakura edition of pretty much anything and everything in Japan. Get limited edition souvenirs during this season!
7. Other useful tips!
Credit: Our Kawaii Tokyo
- Make sure you have all the picnicking essentials with you, like food (of course), a picnic mat, portable chargers for all your gadgets, cutleries, wet wipes and most importantly garbage bags!
- Go early to your chosen spot – Popular places get full pretty quickly and since you’ve made the trip you definitely want to catch a good spot!
- Always check the weather. Here are some handy websites for you to keep tabs on the weather:
- Stay connected and post a million photos on Instagram! Portable wifi’s are super convenient to have on you, especially when you want to show your folks at home the beautiful view. You can find more information on pocket wifi’s here.
We hope you’ve found this guide useful! Remember to relax, enjoy yourself and snap lots of photos! Don’t forget to share your snaps with us on our Instagram @havehalalwilltravel by hashtagging your photos with #hhwt and #havehalalwilltravel 😄