It's hard to understate just how beautiful Japan's cherry blossom (or sakura) season is. During the last weeks of March or first weeks of April, a sea of pink and white washes across many mountains, rivers, towns, temples, and cities throughout the country. Tokyo and Kyoto receive the lion's share of attention, but there are plenty of other places to view the blooms. With that in mind, we've rounded up 10 of the best places for taking in the scenery, including some famous spots as well as under-the-radar gems. Just keep in mind that this is high season in Japan, and everything from flights to hotels can book up months in advance.
Ueno Park, Tokyo
Ueno Park might be the most famous place in Japan to spot the cherry blossoms in full effect. Here, over 1,000 trees come together in a synchronized bloom. Keep in mind that coming here to view the blossoms won't be a tranquil affair, though, as you'll be clamoring for space with thousands of other tourists and locals.
Mount Yoshino, Yoshino
Part of a UNESCO-designated national park, Mount Yoshino makes for one of the most stunning natural settings in which to spot Japan's iconic blossoms. Here, tucked into a valley that winds up from Yoshino Station, several routes pass by sprays of pink and white blossoms as you make your way up the mountain. In cherry blossom season, shuttle buses navigate the routes, making it easier for travelers to move from scenic vista to scenic vista. There are four main areas where the cherry trees are grouped, including Shimo Senbon around the station as well as Kami Senbon, where views across the entire mountain slope are breathtaking. This is another popular hanami (or flower-viewing) spot, so be sure to book hotel rooms well in advance (blooms generally occur in early to mid April).
Lake Kawaguchi (Fuji Five Lakes), Yamanashi
Few places in Japan combine such iconic scenery in one place like the northern shores of Lake Kawaguchi. Here, you'll find cherry blossom trees, all framing picture-perfect views of Mount Fuji. Part of the Five Lake region that sits at the base of Mount Fuji, the shores of Kawaguchi provide a great spot to take lazy, romantic strolls. Alternatively, you can head uphill from the lake to the newly built Chureito Pagoda, which adds just the right touch of classic Japanese architecture to the whole scene.
Philosopher's Path, Kyoto
Kyoto is no secret when it comes to beautiful scenery and classic Japanese culture. However, it's not just stunning sacred spaces and temples that make Kyoto famous. Its cherry blossom viewing points are also some of the most gorgeous found in Japan's major cities. For that iconic, only-in-Kyoto snapshot of sakura at its finest, head to the Philosopher's Path, a two-kilometer promenade that runs along a small canal. Is it a secret? Not at all. You'll be rubbing elbows with plenty of other visitors, but the image of densely packed cherry trees arcing over the canal isn't one you'll soon forget.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo
Visitors to Tokyo are certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to sakura viewing spots. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, another one of the city's major parks, makes for a prime spot to see cherry blossoms. The park sits right near busy Shinjuku Station in one of the city's most popular neighborhoods, and the scenery is a bit more varied than what you'll find in Ueno Park. Here, cherry trees cluster in spots throughout the park, but are perhaps at their most scenic next to the small lakes and ponds.
While a relatively modern, Western-style fort might not seem like a logical sakura spot, the Goryokaku fort is actually one of Japan's most spectacular places to view this annual ritual. You can stroll along the moat that outlines the star-shaped fort, where the paths are lined with hundreds of cherry trees. Alternatively, cross the water for views back to walls of pink. However, the most spectacular vantage can be had from up above. Opt to take the elevator up the relatively unattractive Goryokaku Tower for amazing views of the region, including the riot of pink hues surrounding the sharp angles of the fort itself.
Hirosaki Castle, Hirosaki
Tiered pagoda rooftops, tranquil waterways, and immaculately pruned gardens -- Hirosaki-koen feels like all things classically Japanese rolled up into one spectacular place. And it's all the more amazing during cherry blossom season, when pink flowers frame impossibly pretty vantages across these former castle grounds. Here, the cherry trees sit next to the castle's former moats, creating a scene that's tranquil and picturesque. What's more? With over 2,000 cherry trees and a somewhat remote location (by Japan standards, anyway), things tend to stay a bit less crowded here than in Kyoto's temples and Tokyo's parks.
Nanatanigawa River, Kameoka
To be fair, Kyoto has so many places to take in the cherry blossoms that it's tough to justify leaving, especially if you happen to be in town for the sakura. That said, it can be a crowded, hassle-filled affair. With that in mind, escaping the city for the charming towns that ring it offers a perfect alternative. Situated about an hour west of central Kyoto by train, the city of Kameoka is packed with heritage temples and buildings that make for a nice break from sometimes wildly touristy Kyoto. However, you'll have to head north of the actual city center by bus to reach the Nanatanigawa River, also called Yawaragi No Michi, and the Kameoka Seven Tanigawa Outdoor Activity Center, where cherry trees create seemingly endless pink and white vistas. With well over 1,000 cherry trees planted along just over half a mile of roadway -- parallel to the scenic Nanatani River -- it's a spectacular place to spend the day.
Takato Castle Ruins Park, Ina
It's perhaps no surprise that Japan's mountainous interior is bursting with awesome scenery. That's especially true in the Nagano region of Japan, which is so packed with beautiful landscapes that it can be hard to know where to begin looking. When it comes to cherry blossoms, the ruins of Takato Castle are the must-see spot in Nagano Prefecture. To the east of the city of Ina, the park encompassing the former castle is home to around 1,500 kohigan cherry trees, which fall on the lighter end of the pink spectrum. The hilly terrain, gracefully arcing bridges, and traditional Japanese buildings all come together to make one of the country's most popular spots to see cherry blossoms. The closest train stations with direct bus routes to the park are at Chino and Inashi.
Shingashi River, Kawagoe
About an hour away by train from Tokyo Station, the beautiful Shingashi River in Kawagoe is the stuff of cherry blossom dreams are made of. Here, the sakura are numerous and can be experienced in many different ways. You can stroll the pathways along the riverside, pause on one of the many bridges that cross the small river, or even opt for a scenic boat ride. Though it's a well-known area, it's certainly less crowded than more famous spots like Philosopher's Path in Kyoto or Tokyo's Meguro River. Tickets for the boat rides are limited per day, and you can pick them up for free at the Hikawa Shrine in town. At night, the town lights up the cherry trees, creating an even more atmospheric experience.
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