Japan comes alive in early April celebrating hanami (“flower viewing”), when thousands of cherry blossom trees bloom across the country. For a newcomer to Japan, the effect is startling – streets transform into fluffy pink wonderlands, and every light breeze leaves pedestrians dusted in a shower of petals.
Hanami parties are so ingrained in the culture that companies will often send their newest employees to the park in the morning to stake out a picnic area for the rest of the company, who join them in the afternoon for shared food and drinks. If you’re hosting a party, you’ll definitely want to claim your spot early – it’s not unusual to see people spending the night with nothing more than a tarp and sleeping bag just to get the best spots!
Chidorigafuchi and the Imperial Palace area
Chidorigafuchi is a classic for cherry blossom viewing. Rent a rowboat and float through the petal-filled waters, or just admire the view from above. On a warm, sunny day, it’s nothing short of magical. The nearby Yasukuni Shrine sells food and also boasts its own large grove of trees.
This national garden has lots of different varieties of trees, including some that bloom earlier or later than the average. This makes it an ideal destination if you’ve missed the main season (which typically only lasts about two weeks or so). The garden is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.
The downside to Shinjuku Gyoen is that no food or drinks are allowed inside the gates, so there’s no picnicking or partying.
Tokyo’s largest park offers some not-to-be-missed madness. On a Saturday or Sunday, you’ll be able to follow the crowds from Harajuku station into the park gates. You might like the (slightly) quieter atmosphere of the outer areas, but be sure to check out the main field behind the pond, where thousands upon thousands are playing music, wearing costumes, eating, drinking, and playing lawn games (if there’s room!).
If you’re at Yoyogi, be prepared for long bathroom lines; also be aware that due to the number of people in the park, you might not have mobile phone reception by the afternoon. Text your location to friends early in case you can’t get in touch later.
Showa Kinen Park
This park is a little out of the way (it’s about a 20-minute walk from Tachikawa Station, or just outside of the smaller Nishi-Tachikawa Station), and does charge an entrance fee. However, if you’re looking to escape the crowds of Yoyogi Park, Showa Kinen is an excellent alternative. Large and spacious, it has over 1,000 blooming trees and is a great spot for an outdoor party.
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji centers around a large pond where visitors can rent swan-shaped paddleboats. Enjoy a sunny afternoon admiring the view from the water – but think twice about bringing a date! Urban legend says that the jealous spirit of the goddess Benzaiten will break up any couple who rents a boat in Inokashira Pond.
The relative lack of grassy areas means that hanami partygoers are often sitting on hard ground for much of the day. However, this doesn’t stop thousands of them from pouring in every day!