It’s the most wonderful time of the year. For a brief time, the city is bathed in hues of pink as locals and tourists alike come out in droves to witness Mother Nature showing off. Why Sakura season is highly anticipated in Japan needs no explanation. A more relevant question to ask, however, is this: Where in Tokyo should you be when blooming period starts?

Chidorigafuchi

Chidorigafuchi is an area that lies in the outside northwest section of the Imperial Palace grounds. It features a moat and a 700-meter pedestrian path lined with different species of cherry trees. The walkway is a highly coveted space for hanami parties, but a more popular activity is to paddle boat around its moat. The view of sakura from the water is needless to say, romantic. Hence, it is a must-try experience for couples.

Address: 1-1 Kitanomarukoen, Chiyoda, Tokyo

Price: Free, ¥800 (30-minute boat rental during sakura season, ¥500 during regular season)

Zojoji Temple

Weeping cherry trees, the contrast of old and new, and Tokyo’s iconic landmark all together in one frame – this is the reason why Zojoji Temple is among the best places to go come sakura season. The interplay of these elements is a postcard-worthy shot waiting to be taken.

Address: 4-7-35 Shibakoen, Minato, Tokyo

Price: Free

Website: http://www.zojoji.or.jp/en/

Ueno Park

Food stall set-up for sakura viewing at Ueno Park.

Food stall set-up for sakura viewing at Ueno Park. From Flickr

Cherry blossom viewing at Ueno Park is a party, sightseeing activity, and cultural immersion all rolled into one. It is the representative spot for hanami parties, where you will likely witness first-hand just how passionate the Japanese are when it comes to celebrating these flowers.

There are about a thousand cherry trees planted in this area, and perhaps it’s also safe to say that you can expect at least that many people when the flowers start to make an appearance here. Braving crowds might be a hassle and claiming a picnic spot will definitely prove challenging, but then again, this is cherry blossom love at a fever pitch. The food stalls, the booze, the good company, the crowd’s energy, and of course, the beautiful surroundings will make it worth the trouble. If you’re the type to crave authentic local experiences, this is a real opportunity to have it.

Address: 5-20 Ueno Park, Taito, Tokyo

Price: Free

Yasukuni Shrine

Cherry blossoms at Yasukuni Shrine.

Cherry blossoms at Yasukuni Shrine. From Flickr

Tokyo’s representative cherry tree stands on Yasukuni Shrine’s grounds. It is the tree used to signal the start of the sakura season in Tokyo. When five or six buds have opened, then it’s considered official.

Located in the heart of the city, mere minutes walk from the Imperial Palace and Chidorigafuchi, Yasukuni Shrine is another great place to experience sakura because of its 400 or so trees and its celebration of the Sakura Festival. During this time, the path leading to the shrine is lined with food stalls where people enjoy eating and drinking. There’s an event program too; wherein a stage is set-up for song and dance performances.

Address: 3-1-1 Kudankita, Chiyoda, Tokyo

Price: Free

Website: http://www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park

Cherry blossoms with Shinjuku’s skyscrapers in the background at Shinjuku Gyoen National Park.

Cherry blossoms with Shinjuku’s skyscrapers in the background at Shinjuku Gyoen National Park. From Flickr

Why come here? The answer is simple. It is the most beautiful park in the city during the most beautiful time of the year.

Tokyo may be a dense concrete jungle, but Shinjuku Gyoen National Park proves that there’s plenty of nature to enjoy in the city – if you know where to look. In fact, this one sits side by side Shinjuku’s skyscraper district, but because of its sprawling lawns and thousands of towering trees, it feels like a world removed from all the hustle and bustle Tokyo is most known for. Its sakura population alone is estimated to amount to as many as 1300 trees. There are about 65 varieties, which usually means different blooming periods. Hence, this park enjoys the longest cherry blossom season among all the spots in Tokyo. Feel free to bring a mat, some food, and non-alcoholic refreshments to savor with the view.

Address: 11 Naito-cho, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Price: ¥200 (Adults), ¥50 (Elementary to junior high school students)

Website: https://www.env.go.jp/garden/shinjukugyoen/english/index.html

Rikugien

Rikugien's 70-year old Shidarezakura.

Rikugien’s 70-year old Shidarezakura. From Flickr

Sometimes, one cherry tree is enough to take your breath away; like for instance, Rikugien’s lone Shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree). It is at least 70 years old, 15 meters tall, and 20 meters wide. Its long drooping branches are covered in pale pink blossoms; the sight of which feels like a scene from a fairytale. This tree’s presence adds to the already enchanting beauty of Rikugien – a garden inspired by 88 scenes from Japanese Waka poetry.

Address: 6-16-3 Hon-komagome, Bunkyo, Tokyo

Price: ¥300 (Adults), ¥150 (65 years and over), Free (Infants, primary school children, and junior high school students living in Tokyo)

Website: http://teien.tokyo-park.or.jp/en/rikugien/

Sumida Park

Cherry blossoms at the riverside promenade of Sumida Park.

Cherry blossoms at the riverside promenade of Sumida Park. From Flickr

The best thing about this area is that cherry trees on both sides of the Sumida River go for a long distance that you can enjoy a nice riverside stroll before settling on a spot in the actual park grounds. Like in Ueno Park, food stalls are set-up during this season. The trees are also illuminated come sundown to extend the hanami celebrations at night.

Address: 1-1- Hanakawado, Taito, Tokyo

Price: Free

Koishikawa Korakuen

Weeping sakura tree at Koishikawa Korakuen.

Weeping sakura tree at Koishikawa Korakuen. From Wikipedia

A park built in Edo-period Japan and considered as one of the most beautiful landscape gardens, Koishikawa Korakuen is a must-visit sightseeing attraction whatever time of the year. Of course, it goes without saying that one of its more shining moments is during sakura season. It is home to a few dozen cherry trees, but like in Rikugien, a prominently positioned weeping cherry tree is its scene stealer. While you’re roaming around the park premises, do also check out its other famous attractions – in particular, the replica of Kyoto’s Tsutenkyo Bridge and the Engetsu-kyo or the Full Moon Bridge, named as such because the bridge and its reflection on the water resemble a full moon.

Address: 1-6-6 Koraku, Bunkyo, Tokyo

Price: ¥300 (Adults), ¥150 (65 years and over), Free (Infants, primary school children, and junior high school students living in Tokyo)

Website: http://teien.tokyo-park.or.jp/en/koishikawa/

Yoyogi Park / Meiji jingu

Hanami parties at Yoyogi Park.

Hanami parties at Yoyogi Park. From Flickr

Yoyogi Park is a people’s park where many Tokyoites gather for picnics and outdoor activities. Regardless of the season, it’s an interesting place to go people watching as it’s always crowded with interesting characters: musicians having a jam session, locals exercising, kids playing around, teenagers wearing individualistic attires, and so on. Come springtime, its over 600 cherry blossom trees join in on the fun. Its addition makes hanging out in the park a more vibrant experience.

Outside Yoyogi Park, there are several nearby cherry blossom viewing spots to visit as well. Just a short distance from it is the Meiji Jingu Gaien. It is a large cultural and community complex that houses several athletic facilities, a children’s park, a museum, and a soon to rise national stadium, which is to be the main venue for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Yoyogi Park

Address: 2-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo

Price: Free

Meiji Jingu Gaien

Address: 1-1 Kasumigaokamachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Price: Free but separate entrance fees apply for different facilities

Website: http://www.meijijingugaien.jp/english/access-map.html

Meguro River

The cherry tree-lined part of the Meguro River canal stretches at least 3 kilometers long. If you follow it upstream, it becomes narrower making the branches meet in the middle while forming a ceiling of sakura flowers. This picturesque stroll usually starts from Nakameguro Station and heads towards the direction of Ikejiri neighborhood in Setagaya. Unlike in other sakura viewing spots, the areas around Meguro River are not as conducive for hanami parties. There are, however, numerous restaurants and charming cafés from which to relax in between meanderings.

Shibarikyu Onshi Teien

Shibarikyu Onshi Teien may not be as expansive as most of the parks mentioned in this list, but its charm lies in its design. Set against the backdrop of buildings, this urban oasis is a piece of Edo period beauty with its classic Japanese garden layout. Its landscape features islands, elevations, rocks, bridges, and a large central pond. It is large enough to satisfy one’s longing for open spaces but small enough to feel intimate. During cherry blossom season, some sections of the park where the sakura trees stand are blanketed in pink and white, adding to Shibarikyu Onshi Teien’s timeless elegance.

Address: 1-4-1 Kaigan, Minato, Tokyo

Price: ¥150 (Adults), ¥70 (65 years and over), Free (Infants, primary school children, and junior high school students living in Tokyo)

Website: http://teien.tokyo-park.or.jp/en/kyu-shiba/outline.html

Inokashira Park

Cherry blossoms viewing from a boat at Inokashira Park.

Cherry blossoms viewing from a boat at Inokashira Park. From Flickr

Another place to paddle boat while viewing cherry blossoms is this public park located just a few stops from Shinjuku Station. An estimated 250 trees surround Inokashira Park’s central lake, and the contrast of colors between the blooms and the water makes this scene one of the best in the city. There is a bridge that spans the center of the pond from which many gorgeous photographs are taken, while its spacious grounds are of course, perfect for hanami parties.

Address: 1 Chome-18-31 Gotenyama, Musashino, Tokyo

Price: Free

Showa Kinen Park

If you prefer a less frenzied experience of cherry blossom viewing, you might want to consider traveling a little farther, about 30 minutes by train from central Tokyo to Tachikawa. Covering a land area of over 160 hectares, Showa Kinen Park surely has plenty of space for everyone – no matter how many visitors it gets; and on top of this, it offers not just cherry blossoms, but a bunch of other seasonal flowers too. During springtime, it has lovely flowerbeds of tulips, rapeseed, and azaleas. It also boasts of a Flower Hill carpeted with poppies in the park’s northeastern corner.

Address: 3173 Midoricho, Tachikawa, Tokyo

Price: ¥410 (Adults), ¥80 (Children ages 6 – 14), ¥210 (65 years and over), Free (Children under 6)

Website: http://www.showakinen-koen.jp/guide-english/schedule-english/

Tokyo Midtown

For a more urban take on the sakura viewing experience, there is Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi. Cherry blossoms break the sharp lines of modern buildings and soften an environment predominantly made of steel and concrete. At night, the trees are brightly illuminated to match the bustling city’s glow. As to be expected, no hanami parties are held in this stylish district; but there are cafés and restaurants nearby enough to soak in the view.

Address: 9 Chome-7-1 Akasaka, Minato, Tokyo

Price: Free

Website: http://www.tokyo-midtown.com/en/

Cherry blossom boat cruise

Cherry blossoms viewing from a traditional Yakatabune boat.

Cherry blossoms viewing from a traditional Yakatabune boat. From Wikimedia

There are many kinds of boat tours offered in Tokyo, but if you want to combine culture with sightseeing, go for the Yakatabune ones. Yakatabune is an old-school pleasure boat popular among aristocrats in pre-modern Japan, particularly used for special occasions like sakura viewing, fireworks festivals, and moon viewing parties. On board the Yakatabune cruise, guests can expect to be served traditional food and entertainment while plying Tokyo’s waterways and passing by its iconic landmarks. For the sakura tour, the route follows the Sumida River, where hundreds of sakura line its banks.

Address: 3-1-1 Harumi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Price: ¥10,000 net of tax (per person – scheduled cruise)

Website: http://yakatabune-tokyo.com/index.html

All price information in this article is as of March 2017.

Thumbnail image is from Flickr