Cherry blossom itself is an iconic symbol in Japanese culture - it's a representation of the fleeting nature of life. The beauty of these pink flowers peaks for around 2 weeks before they start to fall off. I personally enjoy seeing the world and learning about different cultures, so naturally, catching these flowers in full bloom was definitely something on my bucket list!
[P.S. If you're visiting Tokyo for cherry blossoms, make sure you keep our 5D4N Muslim-friendly itinerary handy!]
The first time
My first cherry blossoms experience was in 2017 and I was a student at that time. Cherry blossoms usually bloom in April and it's an extremely inconvenient time for university students since it’s in the middle of the school term. I figured out that the only way I could catch these flowers without missing classes would be to attend school in Japan. The most convenient way to go around doing it was to go on an exchange program. Thankfully, my home university has affiliations with several universities in Japan and I chose a university in Tokyo for my semester-long exchange program ?
Since classes only start in April, I had a few days to wander around Tokyo. To maximise my time, I researched the different cherry blossom spots in Tokyo before planning my trip!
My first hanami (flower viewing in Japanese) experience was at Shinjuku Gyoen. My friend and I had a mini picnic with a sushi set we bought from a store. As much as we had a really wonderful view of the flowers, our pants got pretty dirty as we forgot to bring a mat along and we had to sit on plastic bags instead. So, please remember to bring a mat along if you're thinking of having a picnic!
#HHWT Tip: You're going to get hungry while chasing cherry blossoms, so here are 10 halal places to dine at in Tokyo!
But despite the mess that we got ourselves into, we still had a good time catching up ☺️ After the really nice lunch and catch-up session, we went to explore the park and it was then that I realised how beautiful the cherry blossoms were. The flowers came in a myriad of colours - from white to pale pink to dark shades of pink. That image is still etched in my mind till today ?
Fast forward to my second cherry blossom viewing experience (on the same trip!) - this time, it was with the friends I made on exchange. We headed to Yoyogi Park, another popular spot for cherry blossom viewing. It was really crowded so we settled for a not-so-prime area. But it was during this time that I observed what was happening around me.
An interesting sight I could remember was Japanese men in suits who just sat around enjoying themselves. They were probably colleagues who were out for a company lunch. The atmosphere was really lively and you could hear groups of people chatting away. There were instances where random strangers approached us casually to say hi, or attempted to strike up a conversation. It was really great talking to other locals and travellers and finding out about each others’ culture. It was really amazing how the shared experience of viewing cherry blossoms had brought complete strangers together. My friends and I had so much fun that we only left Yoyogi Park when the sun was about to set!
Viewing cherry blossoms is not just a group activityApart from these mini picnics, I also went to several other cherry blossom spots on my own - Meguro River and Sumida Park. Although it's a nice and warm feeling to experience cherry blossoms with a group of people, going alone was a therapeutic and refreshing experience.
I started noticing even the smallest things around me - like how the beautiful the sakura petals look as they hang charmingly over the canal. And when the wind blew and the petals start falling, one by one, into the canal - that was the most magical sight ever ? Even though there were hordes of people here, it somehow didn't bother me at all because the view made up for it!
If you're looking for somewhere quieter, I'd recommend heading to Sumida Park instead! It has a really relaxing and chill vibe - perfect if all you want to do is to sit and watch the world go by ?
What I really loved about Sumida Park was its festival vibe. There were traditional music and dance performances and the performers even had their masks on so it was really interesting! There were also street vendors selling Japanese snacks like takoyaki, okonomiyaki and more. While it's a nice experience to feast on some of these snacks, the locals would usually buy food from the convenience stores and have a picnic instead.
#HHWT Tip: Buying snacks from the convenience store? Then you'd need our guide to the Muslim-friendly snacks you can find in Japanese convenience stores!
Fulfilling my cherry blossom dreamAlthough I had already seen a lot of cherry blossoms at this point, there was 1 place which I had yet to visit - the Philosopher's Path in Kyoto. This was THE place which inspired me to experience cherry blossoms in Japan. I had seen gorgeous pictures of this place and I had wanted to visit it all along. So, I made it a point to visit the Philosopher's Path during exchange in hopes of recreating the same picture.
Truth be told, no words could describe the excitement and joy when I finally set foot on the place after years of yearning. The sight, the smell, the atmosphere - everything was perfect. If happiness had a form, it'll be strolling down the path under the fully bloomed cherry blossoms.
[P.S. Visiting Kyoto? Make sure you fill your tummy at these 12 amazing halal restaurants!]
But perhaps, what made the experience memorable was the fact that I made the effort to come here earlier at around 6am! I had learnt from previous experiences so this time I had to get it right. Needless to say, it was incredible. There was barely anyone there other than a couple of photographers and some tourists. The view was so breathtaking that I was almost in tears when I had to leave (no, I’m not exaggerating?) to catch the bus back to Tokyo. I made a promise to myself that I’d definitely revisit the place in future to catch the cherry blossoms again.
#HHWT Tip: If you plan to visit the Philosopher’s Path during the cherry blossom season, do try to make your way there early as it will get really crowded in the afternoon since tour buses will start to arrive between 9-10am.
Going back to Japan for cherry blossoms
I returned to Japan for my graduation trip with several other friends. Since we went in early May, we weren’t expecting to see any cherry blossoms. But boy were we pleasantly surprised when we saw that there were still remnants of cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Park (Aomori Prefecture) ?
I could still remember a sense of nostalgia when I saw the cherry blossoms in Hirosaki - it reminded me of the days I spent in Tokyo as an exchange student and the fun I had, travelling and exploring the city! Most of the flowers had fallen and the bed of grass was filled with pink petals - it was a really magnificent sight ?
Since the park was relatively empty, we spent quite a fair bit of time trying out different poses and taking pictures. This was definitely something that none of us would’ve done if the park was packed!
Tips for cherry blossom sightingSince I've viewed cherry blossoms several times, here's a list of tips to help you have a better experience:
1. Visit the place earlier if you don’t want to be shoved around (especially in Meguro Park!) or don’t want anyone in your picture. 2. Plan your trip early! It's important to know where you want to go and how to get there. 3. Try to visit the cherry blossom spots on a weekday as most places will be packed on weekends. If possible, try to head over earlier as it tends to get crowded in the evening. 4. Bring extra snacks and bottles of water if you plan to stay there for a prolonged period of time!5. For amateur photographers (like myself!), it might be difficult for you to get that perfect picture of cherry blossoms but don't beat yourself up about it. Instead of trying so hard to get the best shots, just live in the moment and enjoy the view ?
[P.S. Here are more tips to guide you on your cherry blossom chase in Japan!]
Is it really worth it?Many of you must be wondering if the reality of viewing cherry blossoms will meet your expectations. To that, I'd say that it really depends on the location. The cherry blossom spots in Tokyo were really packed when I was there and if I'm being really honest, sometimes it can get a little disappointing when you have to jostle through large crowds and hordes of people just to see the flowers. But like I mentioned earlier, after seeing the marvellous sight, nothing else seems to matter.
Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to catch the cherry blossoms. Whether it’s because you've been captivated by pictures of the flowers, roped in by your friends or just like myself, you're inspired by Japanese dramas and animes that you’ve watched - as long as you have a reason for wanting to catch these flowers, trust me, the trip WILL be worth it. The bonds forged with the people whom you travel with and the dream (of seeing the flowers) that you’ve fulfilled can't be described in words.
As for me - ask me if I'd experience it again and my answer is a resounding yes! I'd go through the experience all over again and catch these cherry blossoms in full bloom. But my goal for my next trip is to visit other prefectures because Japan is so huge and there must be other spots waiting to be discovered ?
So, if you've been contemplating that cherry blossom trip, I'd say, go for it. And if you're already planning your trip, all the best and enjoy the trip of a lifetime!
Disclaimer: Do note that the views expressed in this article are purely those of the writer's and do not necessarily represent or reflect HHWT's views.