Every year the cherry blossom season in Japan attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world. Social media is flooded with updates about when the cherry blossoms are expected to bloom and people plan their travels accordingly. This year I was fortunate enough to be a resident of Japan during this peak travelling season and so I decided to go on my own little hunt for the Sakura.
I went onto google and started my search. It wasn’t difficult to find a schedule predicting when the flowers will be in full bloom, but of course with nature it really is impossible to make accurate predictions. Most of the websites I visited were confident that the flowers will be in full bloom earlier than usual this year because the winter wasn’t nearly as cold as the previous years. I booked my flights to Osaka according to this information. Little did we know that the cold temperatures had no plan of leaving us early and so winter lingered on longer than expected.
By the time my trip to Osaka came up, Tokyo was in full bloom! This really excited me because Tokyo is further north than Osaka and usually the cherry blossoms start from the south and move their way up. I packed my backpack with the necessities for a quick weekend trip. This was my first time travelling completely alone and I was really excited for the experience.
Upon arriving in Osaka I realised that I was about a week too early for the cherry blossoms. As disappointing as this was, I decided to change my plans and embrace an exploration of the city. Wow – what an incredible place. Osaka is the definition of what I expected Japan to be like. The city was alive. People were embracing their individuality and it was refreshing to see a side of Japan that resemblance unique expression. I really thoroughly enjoyed my time in Osaka and decided on this trip to plan another one for the next weekend, when the cherry blossoms were expected to be in full bloom. This time I included a detour to Nara.
To make the most of this special season in Japan, I decided to also go check out a park in Kagoshima (my home city) that was recommended to me by a co-worker. I’ve never been to Yoshino Park before and after I was told that the cherry blossoms aren’t really that great in Kagoshima, I had low expectations. However, I immediately fell in love with this beautiful park with rows and rows of cherry blossoms; an underrated hidden gem in the heart of Kagoshima City. I spent most of my day walking around and enjoying the calming effect that Japanese parks have. I even went back after work a few days later to experience the magic that this park resonates during sunset.
By the time the next weekend came and it was time for more early morning flights and long days of exploring I suddenly didn’t feel as excited anymore. I have booked out every weekend for the next two months and suddenly it felt like I was going to burn myself out before my big trip to Nepal. However, after I saw the first cherry blossom tree in full bloom from the train on the way to Nara, feelings of exhaustion were quickly replaced by feelings of exhilaration! I finally got the timing right and couldn’t stop staring out the window at the beautiful pink and white trees.
If you go onto google and search for some of the most beautiful cherry blossom places in Japan, you will find a place called “Mount Yoshino” in Nara Prefecture. The pictures online are incredible and being the nature lover that I am, I couldn’t resist not planning my trip around visiting this mountain. So after seeing that the trees are indeed in full bloom I changed my direction and started the two hour train journey to Yoshino station.
I’ll be honest; there wasn’t a single sign along the way that could’ve prepared me for what was waiting at the other side of that station. I was confused and tired. It was 2 or 3 pm and I’ve been traveling since 7 o clock that morning only to come to the supposedly number 1 cherry blossom viewing spot with not a single tree in full bloom. Never mind full bloom, the trees barely started blooming. I’m not one to dismiss any natural scene but this was purely disappointing. I can see that it has the potential to be postcard pretty but I highly doubt that I will ever make the mission out there again.
Luckily, the following day in Nara Park made up for it all! Trees were blooming, deer were running around and it felt like I quickly teleported to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. (Just in case you’ve never been to the Kruger National Park, Nara Park is nothing like it – not even close, but the deer reminded me of the Kruger’s impala or the bush bucks that frequently visit the campsites.)
I ended my trip and Sakura hunt at Osaka castle. It was genuinely a magnificent sight. I have never seen so many cherry blossom trees but I have also never seen so many people at one place.
Was chasing the Sakura worth it? Yeah.
Will I do it again? Unlikely.
This truly is a beautiful season in Japan and I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting, but I personally think that there are better times to visit Japan. For me, autumn brought a unique sense of magic to this place and therefore it will always be my first choice!