By early spring the cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom. Late March and early April is a delightful time to visit Japan as school groups can enjoy the incredibly beautiful cherry blossom season and at the same time students can enjoy fun in the snow! My favourite and easiest places to visit for the blossoms are the traditional areas of Tokyo and Kyoto combined with a trip to the snow monkeys at Yudanaka and possibly skiing or snowboarding at a Nagano Prefecture ski resort such as Nozawa Onsen.
The map above indicates the dates for the current 2021 season and shows the timeline for the sakura trees bloom throughout Japan. Unfortunately at the moment we can't get to Japan however these dates usually only differ by a few days to a week annually so are a good indication of the 2022 season.
Therefore the best time for sakura cherry blossom viewing (hanami 花見) is towards the end of March and I think the best place to start is Tokyo ........ so many places to visit in Tokyo and so little time as the blooming is relatively short, lasting about one week from the first bloom until the petals begin to fall from the trees.
Where to start? Some of the most famous places for cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo include Ueno Park, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Yoyogi Park, Hamarikyu Gardens, Sumida Park and the Imperial Palace area.
For somewhere different close to Tokyo try Mt. Takao for another famous spot for cherry blossoms in spring. Easy to access this Tokyo mountain peak is popular due to its cherry tree lined hiking paths and mountain temple. From Shinjuku Station take the JR Chuo Line to Mt Takao where a cable car and ropeway will bring you to the peak.
From Tokyo, using a Japan Rail Pass, travel to Nagano. At Nagano I suggest you have a few choices. One is to travel from Nagano to Yudanaka to see the snow monkeys. The train from Nagano to Yudanaka is a private line not covered by the JR Pass. The Ltd Express Snow Monkey train departs regularly, takes 45 minutes and costs ¥1,190 each way.
We have a variety of accommodation choices in Yudanaka which includes complimentary transfers to the entrance of Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Park and the snow monkeys. You can see the snow monkeys year round however since they are called 'snow monkeys' most visitors like to see them in the depths of winter. Snow falls regularly from mid-December to about mid-March and the snow is still heavy on the ground through April.
An alternative choice is to use the Japan Rail Pass and travel from Tokyo to Nagano and then continue on to Nozawa Onsen. From Tokyo or Ueno Train Station you catch the Hokuriku Bullet Train (Hokuriku Shinkansen) directly to Iiyama Train Station (takes about 1 Hour 45 minutes) then transfer to the Nozawa Onsen Bus for the final leg of the trip - just 20 minutes and costs ¥600 each way. Nozawa Onsen is a traditional hot spring and ski resort, popular with Japanese being one of the oldest ski towns in Japan. We also have a variety of accommodation choices available at Nozawa Onsen from budget youth hostels, to traditional inns to hotels depending on your budget. School groups can book ski/snowboard lessons, ski/snowboard hire and even rental of ski pants and jackets. One of the highlights that we can organise is a day trip to visit Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Park and the snow monkeys.
Leaving the snow behind and using your Japan Rail Pass travel to Kyoto and enjoy the spectacle of cherry blossoms that Kyoto is especially famous for in spring. The sakura cherry blossom trees abound throughout Kyoto and if your timing is right you will be able to once again be in the middle of the sakura cherry blossom trees at the peak of their bloom.
As mentioned, there are cherry blossom trees all over Kyoto and one of my most favourite places to visit is Philosopher's Path. Other popular areas include Maruyama Park, Heian Shrine, Kiyomizudera, Kinkakuji and Gion.
For a budget tour you can fly into Tokyo for a few days, travel by shinkansen to Kyoto and then depart from Osaka's Kansai International Airport. If budget allows add Nagano for the monkeys and snow and you have a simple but fun filled tour to Japan in March or April.
Written by Rondell Herriot, Co-Managing Director Saizen Tours
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