As well as leading the way in robotics, sushi and skyscraper technology, the Japanese have long been celebrated as global leaders in the art of cherry blossom appreciation. From as early as the eighth century, elite imperial courtiers paused to appreciate the delicate pink cherry blossoms known as sakura before indulging in picnics and poetry sessions beneath the blooms. Fast-forward more than a millennium and the flowers that launched a thousand haiku are no less revered in modern-day Japan.
The Sakura Front
The nation prides itself on its devotion to the important task of forecasting the exact arrival of the first cherry blossoms. Since 1951, teams of meteorologists have been dispatched to monitor the advance of the cherry blossom front – sakura zensen in Japanese – as they burst into bloom across the country.
Today, it is a hi-tech affair, with forecasts and scientists undertaking complicated mathematical equations filling television screens in the build-up to their appearance.
When to Visit
Unlike the nation’s famed public transport system, the cherry blossoms are not as punctual as tourists might like. Some years they arrive early following a spell of warm weather; other years, chillier temperatures make them late or downpours bring an early demise.
But the first blossoms generally appear in Okinawa in January and slowly move up the archipelago, passing through Japan’s central islands (including Kyoto and Tokyo) in late March and early April, before progressing further north and hitting Hokkaido in early May.
Where to Visit
The capital is a good starting point. It may be famed for its concrete and skyscrapers but also excels at maximising its hanami nature spots. There are numerous picnic-friendly locations – in parks and alongside rivers – that have been planted with carefully choreographed clusters of cherry trees in recent centuries, to dramatic effect.
It all starts at the bottom – more precisely, the far-flung southernmost subtropical islands of Okinawa, home to Japan’s first cherry blossoms. The blooms – often bell-shaped and a deeper pink than other regions – arrive mid-January, with viewing spots including the wild forested Yanbaru area in the north of the main Okinawa island.
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