It’s once again that highly-anticipated time of year in Japan, where the iconic pink and white cherry blossoms begin to bloom and dominate the local scenery. Ordinarily, millions of tourists from around the world would be flocking to Japan now to take in the sights and the season’s many sakura festivals. Unfortunately for us all, COVID-19 had other plans this year. Though your Japan vacation plans were most likely cancelled, on the plus side, plane tickets for next year can most likely be booked at a steep discount. In the meantime, here are five of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in Tokyo to help make your eventual visit even better.
1. Ueno Park
As the home of Japan’s oldest zoo (and the only place in the Kanto region where you can see giant pandas), Ueno Park is a popular spot year-round for locals and tourists alike. Come sakura season however, its status as one of the top cherry blossom viewing locations in Tokyo results in seemingly endless crowds of people, shoulder to shoulder, slowly making their way along the tree-lined paths.
While the sheer number of people may be a bit of a turnoff, Ueno Park makes up for it in the total experience it has to offer. In designated sections of the park, vendors sell popular Japanese festival foods like yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki and more. In the park’s southwest corner, a Buddhist shrine overlooks a large pond where visitors can rent rowboats. All along the pond’s perimeter, the gently falling pink and white petals cover the water’s surface for a “straight out of an anime” aesthetic. For those looking to cross many “quintessential Japanese experiences” off the list in one go, you can’t do much better than Ueno Park.
2. Inokashira Park
Located in Tokyo’s trendy Kichijoji neighborhood, Inokashira Park is a beautiful public green space that tends to be much quieter than the aforementioned Ueno Park. At the center of the park sits a small pond where visitors can rent row boats and swan boats. In the spring, the pond is encircled by delicate cherry blossoms. From out on the water, you can steer your boat under the sakura’s overhanging branches for a unique perspective.
While here, visitors can visit the Inokashira Park Zoo, or take a short walk to the nearby Ghibli Museum. The museum, dedicated to the legendary animation studio, Studio Ghibli, features works from Hayao Miyazaki; the studio’s creator, as well as a rotating collection of short films that cannot be seen anywhere else.
3. Meguro River
Not far from Tokyo’s iconic Shibuya neighborhood, Meguro is an area which many of the city’s young professionals call home. Packed with independently owned bars, restaurants, and stylish shops, it’s easy to understand why Meguro has become as popular as it has in recent years. Running right through the center of the ward, the Meguro River flows into the not so distant Tokyo Bay. Along its winding path, cherry blossoms create a tunnel of pink and white each spring. During peak sakura season, red lanterns are hung throughout the trees, making it one of Tokyo’s must-see spots.
4. Sumida Park
From across the banks of the Sumida River, visitors can find stunning views of the Tokyo skyline. Rising above it all, the Tokyo Skytree serves as a towering centerpiece. The view is made even more spectacular each spring when the river is lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Visitors can chose between walking along the river bank, or for a different view, ride the water taxi that connects nearby Asakusa to the man-made island of Odaiba.
5. Shinjuku Gyoen
While not the biggest park on this list, nor home to the most cherry blossoms, Shinjuku Gyoen is one of my favorite cherry blossom viewing spots in Tokyo due to its overall aesthetics. Home to both Japanese and English style gardens, water features, and two tea houses, Shinjuku Gyoen is a peaceful escape from the otherwise hectic Shinjuku neighborhood.
While the park does cost a few hundred yen to enter, one could easily spend an entire afternoon exploring the grounds, so it is money well spent. At either of the tea houses, you can also purchase freshly-whisked matcha and a small traditional sweet called wagashi. Despite the inexpensive entrance fee, it seems to be enough to keep the number of visitors relatively low, meaning it’s also one of the least crowded places where you can enjoy the cherry blossoms in Tokyo.
Get Ready for Tokyo 2021
While none of us were able to enjoy the cherry blossoms this year, rest assured that this Coronavirus can’t last forever. With any luck, you can rebook your vacation in Japan for next year at this time. With the information above, you’ll be able to make the best use of your time in Tokyo for the best cherry blossom viewing experience possible. While here, be sure to commemorate the event with a portrait session in Tokyo! Contact me for rates and availability.