The cold of winter has lifted and our great city is slowly switching gears into spring. In other words, Tokyo sakura season is just around the corner – the Meteorological Agency’s latest cherry blossom forecast sets the opening date for March 21, while ‘peak bloom’ is expected at around March 28.
Although these divinations tend to change frequently the closer we get to the end of this month, there’s still no harm in planning ahead for your hanami. Here’s our pick of sakura-related events taking place in and around Tokyo, from lit-up gardens to full-on spring festivals, plus a few suggestions for your picnic basket.
Top hanami spots
Hotel Chinzanso: Spring Rejuvenation
The magnificent Hotel Chinzanso in Bunkyo is one of the top hidden cherry blossom-viewing spots in Tokyo. Boasting around 20 kinds and a total of 120 cherry trees, the Japanese garden here is usually bursting with colors from the end of February to the middle of April, and is best experienced with a hot drink in hand. Free to enter for all hotel guests and restaurant customers, the garden's sakura trees are lit up rather spectacularly from sunset to around 11pm daily. The hotel also offers special room deals, buffet menus and sakura sweets during this period, so look no further if you want to get away from the rowdy hanami parties going on all over the city in spring.Location: Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, Meijidori Until Sunday April 10
Jindai Cherry Blossom Festival
Jindai Botanical Garden hosts 65 different kinds (around 770 in total) of cherry trees, all of which burst into bloom around the end of March. See the spectacular colors and welcome spring during this festival, which features free guided tours of the park, displays of Camellia flowers, special concerts and much more.Location: Jindai Botanical Garden, Chofu Until Sunday, April 10
Ueno: Hanami at the Museum
The National Museum in Ueno opens its beautiful garden for cherry blossom viewing in March and April, while there will also be a special sakura-related exhibition, music performances and workshops going on. Don't miss this chance to visit the museum gardens at their best.
Note that the garden will be open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. between March 15 and April 17, except for March 25, April 1 and April 8, when it stays open until 7.30 p.m.Location: Tokyo National Museum, Ueno Until Sunday, April 10
Rikugien: Cherry Blossom Lightup
Rikugien's annual spring celebration will be back again for 2016, which means that both the park's huge cherry trees and the rest of the beautiful Japanese garden will be lit up in the evening, creating a magical atmosphere for sakura flower viewing. The park stays open until 9pm for the duration of the event, making after-work hanami parties possible even on weekdays.Location: Rikugien, Komagome Until Sunday, April 3
Nihonbashi: Sakura Festival
One of the more successful redevelopment experiments in Tokyo recently, the revitalized Nihonbashi area celebrates sakura season with a packed program of events. Although actual cherry trees here are scarce and limited to the newly re-planted ones along Edo Sakura-dori, hanami-themed light-ups will be arranged to make up for the deficit: every day after sunset, major landmarks like the Mitsui Building and Coredo Muromachi will be illuminated in pink, while the recently renovated street leading to Fukutoku Shrine will be beautified by sakura decorations, LEDs and traditional lanterns.
There's also something to look forward to for foodies: restaurants inside and around the Coredo complex are putting on bar-hopping events between April 4 and 10, while food stalls will be set up in the same area on March 26 and 27 (12noon-6pm).Location: Coredo Muromachi, Nihonbashi Until Sunday, April 10
Gotenyama: Marriott Spring Delight
The Marriott at Gotenyama invites you to taste sakura sweets in the stylish surrounds of the hotel's Lounge & Dining G, which boasts enviable views of the Japanese garden nearby. This urban oasis has been popular as a hanami spot since the Edo era, and retains a refined vibe that should match nicely with the selection of cherry blossom treats offered as part of the Marriott's spring afternoon tea serving (3,600 yen).
Alternatively, you can take a seat on the open-air Sakura Terrace, where special hanami boxes (3,900 yen) and pink bubbly are available to groups of two or more. As seems to be the custom among Tokyo's 'international' hotels, the exact details for all this fun are only provided in Japanese.Location: Tokyo Marriott Hotel, Shinagawa Until Tuesday, May 31
Roppongi: Midtown Blossom
For an urban hanami experience, Tokyo Midtown is one of the best spots: its gardens feature eight different kinds of cherry trees and 150 in total, many of which will be lit up at night over the duration of this event, while the open-air lounge area is where to sit down for some rosé bubbly under the blossoms. You'll also find flower art and spring-themed decorations all around the facility, which celebrates its ninth birthday on March 30. On that day, the first 500 visitors will be treated to a free glass of sparkling wine.Location: Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi Until Sunday, April 17
Chidorigafuchi: Chiyoda Sakura Matsuri
For a hanami experience combining urban style, history and – unfortunately – suffocating crowds, the Chiyoda Sakura Matsuri is hard to beat. The more than 250 trees along the Chidorigafuchi moat are lit up with LEDs at night, while the park's boathouse extends its opening hours for the occasion. On March 26 and 27, the ward operates a free shuttle bus that runs from Marunouchi to Kudanshita, Jinbocho, Akihabara and Nihonbashi before heading back to Marunouchi, while spring-themed stalls are set up inside the Yasukuni shrine grounds.Location: Chidorigafuchi Ryokudo, Kudanshita Friday, March 25 - Sunday, April 3
Yokohama: Sankeien Sakura Evenings
Yokohama's Sankeien, a pretty and spacious Japanese garden, gets even more beautiful when the cherry blossoms burst into bloom. Opening hours are extended for the occasion, and the sakura trees are lit up at night, creating a spectacular scene that rivals all of the famed flower-viewing spots in the Tokyo area.Location: Sankeien, Yokohama Saturday, March 20 - Sunday, April 3
Roppongi: Roppongi Hills Sakura Festival
Always one of the most popular happenings on the spring calendar at Roppongi Hills, this 'urban hanami experience' sees 14 of the complex's restaurants set up food stalls around the Arena, where traditional (and less traditional) music performances also take place throughout the weekend.Location: Roppongi Hills Arena, Roppongi Saturday March 19 - Sunday, April 10
Shinagawa: Takanawa Sakura Festival
The Japanese garden between Takanawa's three major hotels, the Prince Sakura Tower, the Grand Prince Hotel and the Grand Prince New Takanawa, is full of cherry trees that usually burst into bloom in late March. A total of more than 200 trees and 19 different kinds of sakura, lit up every evening between 5:30 p.m. and 12.30 a.m., will be coloring the garden until May.
Held to mark the occasion, the Prince group's month-long festival also includes special menus at hotel restaurants, sales of limited-edition sweets, and cultural events like a kimono show, an incense workshop and koto performances, plus the opportunity to spend the night in a room decorated just for the occasion. Full details are listed on the event's official bilingual website.Location: Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa, Takanawa Saturday, March 19 - Sunday, April 10
Toranomon: hanami Garden
The award for Tokyo's highest hanami goes to the Andaz at Toranomon Hills, where the 52nd-floor terrace will be opened as a 'Hanami Garden' in the evenings and decorated with lit-up cherry blossoms. Look out over the city and the bay with a glass of pink bubbly in hand, nibble on some sakura sweets, or go all out and book a table for Hanami Brunch or Hanami Afternoon Tea on April 2 or 3.Location: Rooftop Bar (Andaz Tokyo), Toranomon Saturday, March 26 - Sunday, April 10
Yasukuni Shrine: Yozakura Noh
Held annually since 1992, Yasukuni's sakura season special sees traditional plays performed under the shrine's blooming cherry trees. In addition to Noh, the program includes kyogen (comedic spoken drama) plays and maibayashi (an abbreviated style of Noh with music), with top performers like Mansai Nomura set to take the stage. Tickets can be purchased through ePlus or via the event's official website – in Japanese only, unfortunately.Location: Yasukuni Shrine, Kudanshita Monday April 4 - Wednesday, April 6
Jingu Gaien: Sakura Terrace Plan
If you're tired of fighting over a tiny piece of park dirt or not in the mood for dodging inebriated revelers this year, opt for an upscale hanami experience instead and book a terrace seat at Aoyama's Kihachi. Here, 5,000 yen will get you a blossom-themed five-course dinner, plus superb views of the lit-up cherry trees at Jingu Gaien. Reservations are taken through this site for groups of two or more – best move quickly to secure your spot.Location: Kihachi, Gaienmae Until Saturday, April 30
Roppongi: Ark Hills Sakura Festival
The 'cherry blossom street' at Ark Hills is a minor Roppongi institution, reaching 700m around the area and featuring around 150 sakura trees, all of which are lit up after dark (5pm-10pm) from late March to mid-April. Ducking into the flower tunnel will be particularly rewarding on the first weekend of April (1-3), as that's when the local spring festival is taking place. Visitors can look forward to food stalls run by local restaurants, workshops exhibiting traditional Japanese crafts, a free concert at Suntory Hall, and a special edition of the Ark Hills farmers' market.Location: Ark Hills, Roppongi Friday, April 1 - Sunday, April 3
Tama: Tama Hills Sakura Festival
Held simultaneously at two parks out in western Tokyo, this annual one-day festival celebrates the sakura bloom with open-air concerts, performances and plentiful food stalls. Head out to either Oyama Dairi or Sakuragaoka park on the first Sunday of April for a fun and relaxing hanami experience far from the hustle and bustle of the city.Location: Oyama Dairi Park, Machida Sunday, April 3
Mt. Fuji: Fuji Shibazakura Festival
Great views of majestic Mount Fuji and seemingly endless fields of shibazakura ('pink moss') – it's no wonder that this annual spring festival out at Lake Motosu in Yamanashi attracts hordes of Tokyoites over Golden Week. In addition to strolling around the immense flowery growth, you can buy your own shibazakura pot to take home or bite into a wide range of local delicacies. The food stall selection has been further expanded for this year, with festival grub from all over the region available throughout the event period.Location: Fuji Motosuko Resort Saturday, April 16 - Sunday, May 29
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