10 Best Ways to View Sakura in Tokyo

Don’t just snap photos. Take a stroll, enjoy a hanami party and even row a boat out to get up close with these delicate pink and white flowers.

It’s sakura season again in Japan, a time where the entire country erupts in an explosion of pink and white blooms and visitors from around the world flock to witness and photograph these exquisite flowers. In Tokyo, you’ll find myriad varieties of cherry blossoms, the most common being the lighter-coloured Somei Yoshino (Yoshino Cherry) and Yamazakura. But if you can catch them contrasted against a darker pink variety like the Kawazuzakura, you can consider yourself luckier than a maneki-neko waving cat!

But why is the world so fascinated with sakura?

To the Japanese, the delicate cherry blossom represents the transience of life, lasting for just two short weeks from the moment of flowering (kaika) to full bloom (mankai). For the tourist, sakura is the ultimate cultural jackpot – a hedging of bets on the perfect time to be in Tokyo to indulge in hanami, the custom of viewing these spectacularly ephemeral flowers. In 2020, the first flowers are forecast to open on March 19, with mankai following about a week later from March 27.

Wondering where to see sakura in Tokyo? To guide you along, here are 10 of the best places and ways to view the sakura in Japan’s capital.

1. Row a boat at Kitanomaru

Just across the road from Yasukuni Shrine is the expansive Kitanomaru National Garden. Lush and inviting compared to Yasukuni’s austere formality, this is one of the few places which offers a magical lake view, with long branches of cherry blossoms hanging over the water.

You can even rent a little boat and row up to the most flower-laden branch of your choice. Enjoy a private sakura session for as long as you like without other people crowding your personal space. Only drawback? Expect queues at the boat rental especially at this time of the year.

How to get there: The shrine is a 4-minute walk away from Kudanshita metro station, or a 10-minute drive from Fraser Suites Akasaka.

2. Stroll along the Imperial moat at Chidorigafuchi

Chidorigafuchi Park, whose name means “plovers’ pool” because of its unusual shape, traces the western moat of the Imperial Palace. In the evening, the setting is especially tranquil, with sprays of somei yoshino framing the view of the water and people picnicking under a cherry tree.

For a full-on, continuous view, you can walk an almost 3-kilometre (2 miles) route that starts from Hibiya Park all the way to the promenade at the top of the hill. But if that’s too much flora for you, start in the middle of the park by getting there from Hanzomon station.

How to get there: The park is accessible via a short stroll from Hanzomon, Sakuradamon and Hibiya metro stations. It is also under a 10-minute drive away from Fraser Suites Akasaka.

3. See Tokyo’s most famous tree at Yasukuni Shrine

Viewing sakura at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

Yasukuni Shrine is a curious combination of controversy and cherry blossoms, where the war dead and a very important somei yoshino tree spark intense interest, although for very different reasons. 

The latter is Tokyo’s representative cherry tree used by the Meteorological Agency to indicate the arrival of sakura season – think of it as the botanical equivalent of Punxsutawney Phil, the famous weather-predicting groundhog of Pennsylvania. Only when more than five of its blossoms open is then the official start of sakura season declared. 

How to get there: The shrine is a 4-minute walk away from Kudanshita metro station, or a 10-minute drive from Fraser Suites Akasaka. 

4. Pay-per-view at Shinjuku Gyoen

There is an entrance fee of ¥500 (USD$4.55) for Shinjuku Gyoen but it hardly deters the thousands of locals and tourists who descend on the sprawling gardens to loll under the canopy of sakura and hanami all day – even if alcohol is not allowed. 

With its huge grounds, it is possible to find a quiet bench to gaze at a solitary cherry tree without being jostled by someone trying to take a photo. If you’re lucky, loose petals might also float slowly to the ground for that perfect Instagram moment. 

Botanical buffs will also find the rest of the national garden interesting; Shinjuku Gyoen is, after all, one of the most important gardens from the Meiji era. It consists of three distinct gardens, each with its own style, design and flora.

How to get there: A quick 3-minute stroll from Shinjuku-gyoenmae metro station will bring you to the entrance of the park. Alternatively, the metro will take you from Akasaka metro station to the park in under 15 minutes.

5. Party at Ueno Park

Boating to see sakura at Ueno Park

Next to transport hub Ueno Station is Ueno Park, well-known for its zoo and museums. As a large public park, Ueno is famous for its proliferation of cherry blossom trees – an eye-popping 1,000 to be exact!

Little wonder then that it is considered one of the most fun spots in Tokyo during sakura season, with large and lively hanami parties, creating a very distinct atmosphere during this time of the year. Don’t leave without visiting the many temples and shrines in the park, as well as the oldest and largest museum in Japan, the Tokyo National Museum.

How to get there: A five-minute walk from Ueno Metro Station will bring you to the entrance of the park. Otherwise, a car from Fraser Suites Akasaka will take you there in 25 minutes.

6. Escape the tourist hordes at Ark Hills 

In the vicinity of Fraser Suites Akasaka is the upscale Ark Hills development. It is a massive office complex with nice restaurants and cafes but just behind it in the quiet undulating streets are foreign embassies, luxury apartments and 150 cherry trees stretching over a kilometre long. Their verdant blooms are illuminated at night to stunning effect, creating a sakura wonderland of charming winding roads. 

One particularly great spot for photos is the tree arch at Izumi-dori, a cherry blossom “tunnel” where there are more selfie-takers on the road than cars. Since few tourists know about this area, it is more pleasant than most sakura spots. One note of caution though: don’t get there too late as the lights go out at about 10pm. 

How to get there: Ark Hills is a 3-minute walk from Roppongi-itchome metro station. Alternatively, a car from Fraser Suites Akasaka will take you there in just over 5 minutes.

7. Walk on sakura at Meiji Jingu Gaien

Another popular sakura spot close to Fraser Suites Akasaka is Meiji Jingu Gaien. The park is named after the nearby Meiji Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, modern Japan’s first emperor who presided over that transformative era in Japanese history.

Home to around 500 cherry trees, the ground is usually covered in sakura petals, which makes walking around the garden a unique experience. The park is also home to a number of sporting facilities, including a golf driving range, ice skating rink, a kids’ park and a stadium where one can catch pro-league baseball games. For appreciators of art, a Meiji-era picture gallery sits here as well.

How to get there: The park is a 3 or 5-minute walk from Gaienmae and Aoyama-itchome metro stations respectively. A car will also take you to the park from Fraser Suites Akasaka in just 5 minutes.

8. Discover a different side of Meguro River 

Sakura flowers over Meguro River in Tokyo, Japan

If there are crowds at Shinjuku Gyoen, be prepared for an even larger crowd at Meguro. This usually happens in the evening near Naka-meguro station, when the lanterns under the trees are lit and where the river is narrower so that the cherry blossoms on opposite banks brush against one another like shy lovers. 

It is a mesmerising scene attracting so many people that wardens are required for crowd control! Wardens also carry signs to guide the throng on a Sakura Route, which winds around a short stretch of the river with cafes and food stalls on both sides. 

If you prefer a more pleasant experience without the crowds, walk south along the roughly 3-kilometre-long Meguro River Cherry Blossom Promenade. The river may be wider and there’s no verdant archway for photos, but it is still beautiful and infinitely more peaceful. 

How to get there: A 10-minute stroll from Naka-meguro metro station will take you to the cherry blossom promenade. Alternatively, it is a 20-minute drive from Fraser Suites Akasaka.

9. Dine with a view at Tokyo Midtown

Also near Fraser Suites Akasaka is Tokyo Midtown, an upmarket complex with offices, shops and restaurants. Many of the eateries are perfectly positioned for a good view of the 150 or so cherry trees that line the streets around the complex.

Dining at a restaurant here has to be the ideal hanami, with table service and not a single groundsheet in sight. Take your pick from either indoors or al fresco dining under the trees here. Other spots to visit in this ‘city within a city’ are the Galleria shopping mall, adjacent Hinokicho Park and Suntory Museum of Art, due to reopen in May following renovations.

How to get there: Tokyo Midtown is a 10-minute walk from Roppongi and Nogizaka metro stations. A car will also take you there from Fraser Suites Akasaka in 8 minutes.

10. Hop on a special sakura guided tour 

For the ultimate experience, how about a sakura tour by car? Nihon Kotsu is a taxi and limousine company that also offers sightseeing tours with an English-speaking driver. 

In spring, a special sakura package includes a guide which will take you and your company to view some of the most popular sakura spots – an exclusive service with maximum comfort and convenience!

 

While Tokyo is awash with prime hanami spots, Fraser Suites Akasaka’s location in the heart of town is perfect for you to go sakura-hunting and enjoy the luxury of space the brand new serviced apartment provides in the bustling, sophisticated neighbourhood of Akasaka.

If you’re staying in Japan for long, don’t miss the chance to visit Osaka, just under a 3-hour bullet train ride away from Tokyo. Known for its historic attractions, modern architecture and gourmet options, you can catch the blooms here while feasting on both history and its myriad of culinary delights.

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