Sakura - cherry blossom - it's one of the iconic images of Japan, and spring, or haru, is a perfect time of year to travel in the country.
Across large parts of the archipelago the weather is bright, sunny and generally free of rain.
It is also the only season in which you can catch the famous cherry blossom in its full glory.
Sakura Beautiful Cherry Blossom Festivals in Japan
by Rob Dyer
The latest sakura cherry blossom forecast
Weather forecasting company Japan Meteorological Corporation (JMC) release their forecast for the year's sakura (cherry blossom) season in January each year.
This initial forecast is then updated a number of times as more current data is collected. The latest 2023 prediction was released by JMC on 2nd March. It shows the forecast of dates when cherry blossoms will start to flower (kaika) and reach full bloom (mankai).
JMC has estimated the flowering and full bloom dates for Somei Yoshino (Yoshino Cherry) trees in approximately 1,000 cherry blossom viewing locations in cities from Hokkaido to Kagoshima.
Tokyo will be among the first cities to see the sakura, with JMC predicting the blooms to open around the 16th March. This is six days earlier than originally stated in their first forecast of the year on 11th January. This reflects the general trend this year (and seen in recent years) of the cherry blossom blooming earlier than it has historically.
For comparison, here's the original 11th January forecast map:
Japan Meteorological Corporation's forecasting method
There's a lot of pressure every year on the JMC to get their predictions as accurate as possible. There are a lot of travel plans dependent upon their forecasts!
Explaining their method for forecasting this natural annual spectacle, here's what JMC say about their methodology: "The flowering and full bloom dates of cherry blossoms depend on the temperature patterns from autumn of the preceding year. The buds of cherry blossoms are formed during the summer of the preceding year. Before they flower, they must go through two processes: dormancy and growth."
They continue: "After breaking dormancy, the buds enter the growth stage, and grow as the temperatures increase to flowering. During this stage, the higher the temperature is, the better the growth rate will be."
The Flowering Meter: from Awakening to Full Bloom
JMC also produce a chart they call the 'Flowering Meter'.
Providing a quantitative measure of the cherry trees' progress toward flowering and onto the iconic full bloom, this 'meter' predicts the blossom development by major cities.
It places the flower development into three main stages: Awakening, Growth and Full Bloom, allowing millions of sakura chasers to enjoy not only the actual flowering and full bloom of cherry blossoms but also the run-up to the flowering.
The chart helps with trip planning for optimum views of the annual spectacle. More information can be found at the JMC website HERE.
It's important when travelling across Japan to view the annual sakura that you take care to travel in a sustainable a fashion. Doing so will help ensure this spectacle of nature will continue long into the future.
Sakura-matsuri: Cherry blossom festivals
There are hundreds of regional sakura-matsuri (cherry blossom festivals) to celebrate this, which incorporate picnicking and drinking beneath the iconic, pink-flowered trees.
If you are staying in a hotel at a sakura resort at this time, they helpfully provide daily updates to the cherry blossom viewing potential - so you do not miss the best viewing opportunities.
The viewing season
The viewing season really begins on the main sub-tropical southern island of Okinawa. Because the climate is so much warmer here than the north of Japan, the blossom begins appearing from as early as mid January.
A little further up is the island of Kyushu – and its capital Nagasaki. Here the blossom begins to emerge in the latter half of March. Moving onto the main and biggest island Honshu, in Kyoto it typically appears in late March. Similarly in Osaka, sometimes nudging into early April. Late March is the time to see it in the capital Tokyo.
In the northern region of Honshu, Aomori it tends to be around late April. Finally, in the northern most island of Hokkaido and its capital Sapporo it is early May before the cherry blossom first blooms.
In the autumn there is an equally spectacular display by nature when leaves across the country turn red.
15-Day Sakura Cherry Blossom & Garden Tour of Japan
Visit Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Takayama, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka & Hiroshima
Start in Tokyo and end in Osaka! With the In-depth Cultural tour Cherry Blossom & Garden, you have a 15 days tour package taking you through Tokyo, Japan and 14 other destinations in Japan. Cherry Blossom & Garden includes accommodation, an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
If this all sounds appealing, you could do a lot worse than experience Hirosaki's beautiful sakura-matsuri festival in Aomori prefecture on the northern most tip of (the main island) Honshu.
There's an extensive park surrounding Hirosaki castle, and it is here where the extensive and lively celebrations take place.
You can easily spend a half, or even a full day here, wending your way around the thousands of trees laden heavy with blossom. It is worth joining the queue to go inside the castle to get superb panoramic views over both the park and the city.
There are cherry trees surrounding Hirosaki Castle - so it makes for a stunning backdrop to the viewing. And, as the blossom starts to fall, the moat around the castle turns pink with all the fallen blossom. It's beautiful.
SEE ALSO: Discover Honshu (Island Guide)
Planning your cherry blossom viewing
Blossom viewing is a major annual activity throughout Japan, and popular viewing locations are flooded by millions of Japanese families all seeking to gain the optimum vantage point and to soak up the carnival atmosphere.
Some foreign tourists even use the Japan Rail Pass to travel across the country following the blossom as it opens throughout the regions.
Therefore, if you're planning to visit Japan in the spring, I thoroughly recommend planning to take in some cherry blossom viewing. An essential part of The Real Japan experience.
Cherry Blossom Viewing Tips
Book key travel and any accommodation in any destinations in advance if possible to avoid disappointment. It's not unheard of for the Japanese to book their cherry blossom viewing accommodation a year in advance. The sooner you can reserve your accommodation the better.
Every year, the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) website helpfully lists dates when the blossom is expected to be in full bloom as it tracks its way south to north.
JR Rail (and others) offer special priced train packages to the most popular blossom viewing festival locations.
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Japan National Tourism Organisation Cherry Blossom Guide:
Things To Do In Japan: Cherry Blossom