March 16, 2015 | Inside Japan Tours
For thousands of years, sakura (cherry blossom) has been the unofficial national flower of Japan. Each year, when the trees turn various shades of pink, the Japanese grab their picnic baskets and rush to the parks to take photos, drink saké and relax under the branches, in a custom known as hanami (seeing flowers). The cherry blossom also strikes a deep chord in the Japanese psyche; in the days of the samurai, sakura represented the short life of a warrior, often cut off in his prime. Today, the Japanese still see sakura as a reminder of the power of nature, the changing of seasons, and the fact that life could be all too short.
No longer alone in their admiration of the cherry blossom, the Japanese are now joined by thousands of visitors every year, keen to see the delicate and fragrant flowers in a medley of pinks, creams and whites. But how do you make the most of the cherry blossom? InsideJapan Tours has some tips…
Check out the new cherry blossom infographic
On 4 February, the Japan Weather Association released its first cherry blossom forecast, predicting the blossom this year will arrive towards the end of March, and could still be around in May. Following this, InsideJapan Tours has created an interactive ‘Japan Blossom’ infographic – the first of its kind – to predict when and where in Japan the blossom will be at its best. Scroll through the months and watch the map of Japan light up, detailing the cherry blossom cycle – from buds to full bloom. Although Mother Nature is never fully reliable, the infographic uses the average blossom dates from the last 10 years – a pretty good indicator for those planning their trips in 2015 and beyond.
Book in advance – 2016 dates available now.
Although all of InsideJapan’s small-group blossom-timed tours have sold out for this year, the 2016 departures have just been released. Join the revellers gathered in parks across the country to make the most of the natural splendour. And, while in Japan, why not visit the Fuji-Hakone-Izumi National Park – not far from Tokyo – with beautiful views of Mount Fuji, soak in the hot volcanic springs, or glimpse the incredibly well-preserved traditional city of Kanazawa, meeting a maiko (apprentice geisha) too?
A 2016 ‘Spring Elegance’ small-group tailor-made tour, which showcases the many cherry blossom festivals across Japan, costs from £2,650 pp (two sharing) and includes 13 nights’ B&B accommodation, all domestic transport, private guiding and admission to Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo. International flights extra.
Avoid the crowds – head north
Tokyo and Kyoto are well-known as wonderful destinations to view the cherry blossom, and with good reason. Situated in the southern half of Japan, they are the first to welcome the flowers and Kyoto is renowned for its weeping-willow blossom trees, a truly spectacular sight. But, if you are willing to leave the road well-travelled, there are many other wonderful sakura alternatives in Japan. Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost island) and Tohoku (the northern part of Honshu main island) welcome the cherry blossom approximately a month after the regions surrounding Tokyo and Kyoto, and also boast some impressive hanami spots. The northerly cities in Tohoku are likely to see the cherry blossom in full bloom from mid-to-late April. Similarly, in Sapporo (Hokkaido’s capital city) expect the blossom to emerge at the beginning of May, with the optimum viewing time around 7 to 14 May.
A ‘Hokkaido Fly-Drive’ self-guided adventure tour, with 13 days’ car hire in Hokkaido, costs from £2,260 pp (two sharing) and includes 15 nights’ B&B accommodation, most domestic transport and some private guiding. International flights extra.
A budding new romance – plum blossom
Travelling to – and around – Japan in the midst of the cherry blossom season is rewarding, but busy. So why not chase a different type of blossom instead? Ume (plum blossom) has played an important role in Japanese culture for many centuries. Associated with the start of spring – because the flowers are some of the first to open during the year – the event is celebrated with Ume Matsuri (plum festivals) in public parks, shrines and temples across the country. Although the temperature is cooler in Japan at this time of year, with the flowers first emerging in early March, flights are often cheaper, and the major tourist sites, such as Kyoto, are empty compared with the cherry blossom season.
A ‘Best of Japan’ self-guided tailor-made tour, which stops off in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hakone, costs from £1,200 pp (two sharing) and includes 14 nights’ B&B accommodation, most domestic transport and some private guiding. International flights extra.
‘Leaf’ the blossom behind – Autumn offers an excellent alternative
Although Japanese cherry blossom is a beautiful sight to behold, it is not the only natural spectacle to enjoy. Why not travel in the autumn for a different natural attraction: leaf peeping? Towards the end of September, koyo (colourful leaves) begins to creep down the length of Japan – from north to south – and the leaves on various trees, such as the maple and gingko, plus vines, shrubs and even grasses, turn a fiery array of reds, oranges and yellows. The autumn leaves usually last for two weeks in any given spot, moving south gradually, before finishing in Tokyo and Kyoto in early December.
A ‘Pilgrim’s Paths’ self-guided tailor-made tour, which takes you deep into the forest and provides access to the sacred Kumano Sanzan shrines, costs from £2,220 pp (two sharing) and includes 14 night’s B&B accommodation, seven evening meals, and some private guiding. International flights extra.
For further information about InsideJapan Tours, please go to insidejapantours.com or speak to an expert on 0117 370 9733.
ENDS: 5 March 2015
NOTE TO EDITORS: Launched in 2000, InsideJapan Tours is a small, dedicated team of specialists, all of whom have first-hand experience of living, working and travelling in Japan. The company offers a range of original, affordable packages for small groups and independent travellers. InsideJapan Tours has offices in the UK, Japan and America. It is a member of AITO, and is fully bonded via ABTOT and ATOL. InsideJapan is part of InsideAsia Tours Ltd, an award-winning travel company offering group tours, tailored travel and cultural experiences across Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma. Also within the group are InsideVietnam Tours (insidevietnamtours.com) and InsideBurma Tours (insideburmatours.com).
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