Tokyo is right in the middle of its hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season, which officially opened this year on March 22nd (yes, of course there is an official date). There’s about a week left for prime viewing before the official end of the season on April 11th.
For the uninitiated, hanami season is quite possibly the best time to be in Japan. Ok, yes the flowers are beautiful and you’re sure to see many a camera-toting salaryman on his lunch break getting up close and personal with the blossoms. But, the flowers are not the real reason to be in Tokyo right now. No, the truth is that, for many Tokyo natives, the sakura are a rare excuse to get out into nature with friends and coworkers and, frankly, to get shamelessly drunk in public. So grab a tarp, a bento, and a lot of beer and head to one of Tokyo’s top sakura destinations.
- Shinjuku Gyoen: The garden’s wide open spaces are dotted with hundreds of sakura trees. This is possibly the best place to observe Japanese people in their element. Alcohol is officially forbidden in the park itself, but a blind eye is turned during hanami season. Admission: 200 yen.
- Inokashira Park: The sakura here line the pond in the middle of the park, drooping elegantly over the water. Don’t miss the opportunity to rent a paddle boat and lounge under the blossoms… if you can deal with the crowds. Show up very, very early to assure even a place to sit under the trees.
- Ueno Park: Some of the choicest sakura viewing spots in Tokyo, by day or by night, are in expansive Ueno Park. Night viewing – aided by lights illuminating the trees – is popular among the younger crowd, and you can expect a rowdy, boozy atmosphere to match.
- Yoyogi Park: Also popular with the younger crowd, day or night, Yoyogi probably offers the most space for stretching out or bigger parties. Proximity to Harajuku means lots of great people-watching opportunities.
- Meguro River: Take a stroll among 800 sakura along tranquil Meguro River, but don’t expect a bit of tranquility during hanami. The trees are lit up for night viewing during the Nakameguro Sakura Festival.