Plan ahead for the perfect cherry blossom season holiday in Japan

Tourists and residents flock to Tokyo's Ueno Park to catch a glimpse of the famed pink sakura flowers.VIDEO: REUTERS
 A view of cherry blossoms and Mt Tanigawa from Bettei Senjyuan onsen in Minakami, Gunma prefecture, Japan.
A view of cherry blossoms and Mt Tanigawa from Bettei Senjyuan onsen in Minakami, Gunma prefecture, Japan.PHOTO: ST FILE

(PHILIPPINE INQUIRER/ANN) - Cherry blossoms or sakura are one of the many things that are surely discussed when talking about a vacation in Japan. More than a tourist attraction, even the Japanese enjoy their time during cherry blossom season.

The earliest blossoms start coming out in southern Japan after mid-March and the latest can bloom well into May in the northern parts of Hokkaido, The Japan Times reports.

However, with tourism picking up steam, travel agent Duff Trimble of Wabi-Sabi Japan says: "These days, cherry blossom season is a zoo in Kyoto. There are tour buses everywhere, traffic jams and crowds everywhere. In my mind, it detracts from the experience of being in Kyoto."

Despite these hiccups, Kyoto remains to be a must-see destination for first-timers in Japan.

There are a several iconic temples that Trimble suggests visiting despite the crowds, and these are Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, Ryoan-ji, Sanjusangendo and Kiyomizu-dera.

For a more private experience, Kanazawa is the place to be for its Kenrokuen Gardens. It is a historic capital that is just a few hours north of Kyoto and is considered to have some of the most beautiful gardens and cherry blossoms in all of Japan.

When in Tokyo, Trimble suggests heading over to Ueno Park for the booze-fueled flower-viewing (hanami) picnics. Trimble says, “It’s one of the very few times all year that you’ll really see people letting their hair down.”

To get away from all the tourists, foreign and local, Japan specialist Lesa Clarkson from ATJ, suggests taking a four-hour train ride north to Aomori Prefecture. Here travelers can enjoy the view of Hirosaki Castle surrounded by 2,500 of Japan’s most perfect-looking cherry trees. Another bonus is the later blooming of the trees, because they are farther up north. This means fewer tourists will be visiting Japan by this time.

If you want to see the cherry blossoms, planning one year in advance will greatly help. This is because hotels will often be fully booked and talented guides will be in short supply. Once you get there, however, all the planning would be worth it.