Warmer temperatures are expected but sakura will be blooming about the same time as usual, with some areas seeing blossoms a few days earlier.
Japan is still in the thick of winter. In fact, based on weather reports collected between 1985 to 2015, January is the coldest month of the year in the Land of the Rising Sun, with an average temperature of 7°C.
But the Japan Meteorological Corporation (JMC) seems to be excited for the coming of spring—well, who isn’t?—as it releases its first official cherry blossom forecast of 2024 for approximately 1,000 viewing locations.
The past autumn season was warmer than average, pushing back the bitter cold of winter for at least a week which is crucial for the cherry blossom trees. But no worries, dear reader, as the expected warmer temperatures in the coming weeks leading to cherry blossom season is expected to have higher temperatures as well, offsetting the delay and hastening the sakura’s (cherry blossom) growth stage.
If you’re thinking of enjoying the cherry blossom season in Tokyo, sakura are predicted to start blooming on March 23, reaching full bloom by March 30, both a day earlier than average. Nearby Yokohama, Kamakura, and Nikko have great viewing spots, too, making them excellent day trips from Tokyo.
If the old-world charm of Kyoto is your preferred backdrop for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) the first blossoms are expected on March 23 as well, which is three days sooner than usual. Peak bloom, meanwhile, is about the first of April.
Osaka, Japan’s gastronomic capital, will most probably see its first sakura blooms at about March 25. Full bloom is expected to coincide with Kyoto on April 1, so you can perhaps do a tour of Kansai and enjoy the ethereal blossoms in both cities and nearby areas such as Nara, Kobe, and Himeji.
Hokkaido is just as magical in spring as it is in wintertime. The northernmost prefecture of Japan, as usual, will be the last to enjoy hanami. Its capital, Sapporo, will see the start of the sakura season on May 2, while full bloom will be on its usual schedule on May 6.
Worth mentioning is how cherry blossoms are fleeting—a reminder of life’s and beauty’s impermanence—the flowers are short-lived, blooming for only a few weeks before gently falling to the ground and withering away. That’s why in Japan, the sakura is the embodiment of beauty and mortality.
Peak bloom or mankai usually happens within a week after the opening of the first blossoms (kaika). As the sakura move past their peak, the blossoms become even more fragile. If weather conditions are cool, calm, and dry, you can hope for the sakura to hang on for about a week or two if you’re lucky.
Pro-tip: You may want to bottle your excitement first and keep yourself from booking that plane ticket for now. It would be wiser to wait a few more weeks until the next update from the JMC which is scheduled for Jan. 25. This will give you a clearer picture of when the sakura will be in full bloom in the places you plan to visit.
The beauty of the sakura draws throngs of tourists to places like Japan, South Korea, and even parts of the US, which usually drives the cost of accommodations and plane tickets through the roof. In Japan, as much as you want to have a peaceful hanami far from the madding crowds, that’s near impossible, especially in more touristy areas such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.
Not many people may know of this, but there are actually many varieties of cherry blossoms in Japan. The most common one, and the one which pervades our imagination when we hear the word “sakura,” is the Somei Yoshino, for which the forecast is. This variety is known best for its pale pink petals.
If you want to see cherry blossoms with fewer tourists, there is the Kawazu Zakura, a type of cherry blossoms that bloom in late winter—from early February to early March—which is the off-peak season in Japan. While it may not have the same dainty beauty of the Somei Yoshino kind, it has its own charm, with its deeper, more vibrant pink hue and larger petals. It also has a longer blooming period which lasts about a month.
The best place to enjoy this kind of cherry blossom is in Shizuoka Prefecture. The name “ Kawazu Zakura” is taken from the town called Kawazu on the Izu Peninsula Shizuoka which is the top Kawazu Zakura viewing spot in Japan, boasting about 8,000 cherry trees, with 850 stretching for 4km along the Kawazu River. Every year, between February and March, this small town hosts the Kawazu Sakura Festival.
If you’re in Tokyo during this period, you can also see these so-called “winter cherry blossoms” in Yoyogi Park, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Rinshi no Mori Park, and Kiba Park. In Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward along the Kyunaka River, there are about 50 cherry trees and a view of the Tokyo Skytree.