“But memories are time beings, too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves; for a while they are beautiful, and then they fade and die.”
Ruth Ozeki from A Tale for the Time Being
While the weather may still have a nip in it and rains are likely, April is the best time to visit Japan to see the cherry blossoms. (Alternatively, plum blossoms peak in March and are arguably even better for color and fragrance.) Plan in advance, however, because the local tourists are quite serious about cherry blossom viewing or hanami and are out in droves as well during these times, especially on weekends and holidays. Kyoto, Osaka (and nearby Nara), Nagoya and Tokyo are excellent choices to stroll amid the blossoms and picnic with the locals beneath them, this year I made the most of my Japan Rail Pass (I always get the Ordinary 2nd Class pass) to hit a few new places for the sakura festival: Fukuoka, Hiroshima, and Miyajima Island. Here are a few shots and tips from my trip:
I arrived in Fukuoka (also known as Hakata) by ferry from Busan, South Korea. Checked in at Nishitetsu Hotel CROOM Hakata, which I chose for good reviews, a good rate, and its location just steps from JR Hakata Station and the Shinkansen trains. Breakfast was lousy but plenty of great eats around there. While some rain seemed like bad luck, the flowers under gray skies were consolation. While Uminonakamichi Seaside Park and Fukuoka Castle are two of the best, even Tenjin Central Park is great downtown near the Naka River and a canal that feeds into it. Be sure to try an Ichiran location for some incredible ramen. The blossoms start a bit earlier here, late March and can be finished in early April.
Peace Park and the Hiroshima Castle Area are fantastic. I arrived at Hiroshima Station and walked a block to get to APA Hotel Hiroshima-Ekimae. Check-in is 3pm typically and only supreme begging can get you in early. I dumped my bags and headed to the park. Luggage storage is also available at Hiroshima Station. Be sure to eat okonomiyaki, sushi, and Shiru-nashi Ramen (soupless ramen, oh so good!) while in the city. On special nights the Shukkeien Garden opens up after dark and light up the trees.
This island and its famous “floating” torii (the bright orange gate rising up out of the water) is located southwest of Hiroshima, reachable by Japan Rail and a Japan Rail ferry — both included in a rail pass. This is a recommended day trip though you can certainly get there and back in a half day if limiting yourself to the UNESCO-listed Itsukushima Shinto Shrine and the immediate area. Others prefer to stroll and hike the island. There are hotels on Miyajima Island as well.
See more cherry blossom photos from Osaka