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The Ultimate guide to Cherry Blossom Season in Kyoto 2021

By Machi Miyagi The girl who’s crazy about Japan’s crazy cafe culture and tea ceremonies.
28 February 2020
The Ultimate guide to Cherry Blossom Season in Kyoto 2019

Edited by Lesley Marchant

While travel within Japan is permitted, the COVID-19 restrictions for foreign nationals remain stringent (Sep 25,  2020) with all leisure travel currently barred and business travel expected to resume relatively soon. But there’s reason to be optimistic. A partial reopening of the country’s borders to foreign travelers is predicted for the end of 2020 – which means it’s likely travel will resume just in time for the 2021 cherry blossom season!

If you’re hoping to plan a trip to Kyoto for early 2021, be sure to stay up-to-date with the current regulations before booking any travel. And if everything goes according to plan and you’re lucky enough to book a trip that coincides with Japan’s most magical time of the year, read on for all the information you need about sakura season in Kyoto.

The magical season of cherry blossoms, or sakura, as they’re called in Japan, is one of the most important annual events in the country. Each spring, Kyoto is transformed into a fairytale by the explosion of pastel pink sakura blossoms appearing everywhere, from river banks to temple gardens. Cherry blossom viewing is such a unique and anticipated tradition that there is even a word, hanami, used to describe it. But when is cherry blossom season in Kyoto? And where are the best cherry blossom viewing spots? Is there a cherry blossom festival in Kyoto? Check out my local guide to hanami and discover the best sakura spots to enjoy the 2021 Kyoto cherry blossom season like a local!


The magic of "hanami"

Hanami is much more than just looking at the most beautiful trees – it’s getting together with your friends and loved ones, sharing food and drinks together under the blossoms as the petals drift down, and enjoying this fleeting but magical time of the year together. During the cherry viewing season, even local TV news and newspapers track the "cherry blossom front”, and let people know the top spots and the best timing so that they can organise hanami events and make the most of this brief but beautiful season. 

For us, these enchanting flowers are a part of our culture for what they represent: vitality, renewal and beauty. But I think they become even more magical purely because they’re here so fleetingly. Every year when the buds begin to fold open, we’re all reminded how we should enjoy being present, as such beauty doesn’t last forever. And for me, I always feel thankful to be spending cherry blossom season in Kyoto. 

When is the Japan cherry blossom forecast 2021?

The best time to visit Japan for our cherry blossoms is, of course, in spring, from the end of March to the middle of April, but this varies between cities. In Kyoto, our sakura usually bloom from the last week of March to mid-April. In 2021, we expect the trees to start flowering on the 22nd of March, and be in full bloom by the 30th of April. The further north you go, the later they start to bloom – so you could even plan a whole trip in spring and see the best cherry blossoms in Japan in every part of the country if you start in the south, in Fukuoka. In Kyoto, we have an earlier period, from the end of autumn until the beginning of spring, when you can view fudan-sakura, or winter sakura. The best place to view these flowers is at the Jikko-in Temple, which is rarely visited by tourists, and since the trees here bloom outside of the main sakura season, you’ll be able to enjoy a much quieter experience in this tranquil Zen garden. 

How to enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan like a local

How to enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan like a local

Popular hamani spots can get very busy, and people even line up early in the morning to get a good spot to put their mat under the blossoms. The country becomes a cherry blossom festival, in Kyoto and every other Japanese city. Sakura are symbols of renewal and beauty, so it’s not only about getting together to see them, but to appreciate their meaning and the significance in the calendar. 


It’s permitted to drink in public in Japan, so locals gather with their friends and family, enjoy some beers or sake, and share plates of tasty traditional dishes together, whether it’s a picnic brought from home or traditional sweets and street food picked up on the way. For the most authentic taste of sakura season, you have to try mochi, a sort of rice cake which during spring becomes sakura mochi. These traditional spring sweets are beautifully pink and wrapped in a sakura leaf, and you’ll find them at almost every wagashi (Japanese sweet) shop in Kyoto at this time of year.

Head to a "hanami" party

But the best way to enjoy sakura season is to head to a hanami party! You can take part in an organised cherry blossom festival in Kyoto, but it’s more common for locals to bring a mat, a picnic and even a karaoke system and set up camp for the day or night under the most beautiful tree they can find. Viewing the cherry blossoms at night is called yozakura, and you’ll be able to enjoy a unique experience when they are transformed into other-wordly, magical spectacles that look as though they’re floating. 

The most festive hanami parties take place over the weekends and in the evening, and if you’re lucky you might be invited to join the locals as they celebrate. I think the best place to see cherry blossoms in Japan is, of course, in Kyoto! But we have so many beautiful gardens, parks and even just walks that I always find it hard to choose. 

I think these are some of the best Kyoto hanami spots – you’ll fall in love with any one of them that you visit.

Haratanien Garden

This private garden is virtually unknown to foreigners, but the locals know it to be one of the best sakura spots in the city. Haratanien is a paradise of the most beautiful and even the best cherry blossoms in Japan, and although it can sometimes get a little crowded, the variety of cherry trees make the visit worthwhile. You can actually see both early and late blooming varieties of sakura, as well as one of the most magnificent shidare sakura (weeping cherry trees) in the whole city, which is a well kept local secret. 

Maruyama-koen Park

This is the most famous yozakura (night time sakura viewing) spot in Kyoto. The oldest garden in the city, it’s not surprising that the 800 cherry trees who call the park home make for a truly spectacular experience. You’ll also hear it called “Gion’s Night-time Sakura”, and it’s renowned in particular for its hauntingly beautiful weeping cherry trees, which look, when they’re lit up at night, like ethereal, floating trees. But even during the day, the park is always packed with people hosting cherry blossom viewing parties, so if you’re looking for a cherry blossom festival in Kyoto, get here early and stay until after dark!

Kamo-gawa

Kyoto’s river, Kamo-gawa, is also a popular hanami spot – this place really feels like a cherry blossom festival. Along its banks are hundreds of trees, and the best thing about the sakura along the river is that you can see the different blooming stages of the sakura in each season. Spring is undoubtedly the best time, but the trees along the southern stretches are often the first in Kyoto to bloom, whilst the northern end is popular because during the peak season, the blossoms are even more spectacular thanks to the huge size of the trees. Strolling along the river and seeing the beautiful sakura trees, you won’t notice the distance or time passing, and it’s a great way to discover the city as well as see the blossoms.

The Path of Philosophy

Also known as the Philosopher’s Walk, it’s not hard to see why this path along a beautiful stretch of canal got its name. Head here at dusk, as the crowds are leaving and the sakura are starting to be illuminated for the night, and enjoy a peaceful stroll along the canal. If you manage to time it right, when the trees are in full bloom the branches from each side touch, creating a magical tunnel that cocoons you in a pastel pink and a flurry of petals when the wind blows. 


Hirano-jinja Shrine

If anywhere in Kyoto will express what sakura symbolically represent, it’s the Hironjo-jinja shrine, where the trees were planted during the Heian period of 794 – 1185. Important as a symbol of new life, vitality and beauty, the sheer variety of species here – there are between 50 and 60 – means you can see even the rarest sakura come to life one after another in an endless display of blossoms. People here will even tell you that this is where the cherry blossom season in Kyoto begins – there is one tree which is said to be the first, and once it blooms, sakura season has begun. 

Make it a real life experience!

Make it a real life experience!

Make it a real life experience!

Experience the annual "hanami" celebrations with a local to welcome the spring in Japan's most magical city

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