One of the most difficult aspects of photographing cherry blossoms is the timing. This isn’t about the best light just before sunset or mid-morning, mind you. Because the full bloom is so ephemeral and the start is slightly different each year, it’s difficult to plan international travel (or even domestic travel) around the sakura season.
While Okinawa experiences blooms as early as February, the best idea is usually to start in the south of Japan, on the island of Kyushu around mid-March. From there, traveling east and north to follow the bloom leaves those seeking incredible photos with a variety of backgrounds from snow-capped mountains in eastern Honshu to urban oasis in Tokyo.
The Best Places for Photographing Japan Cherry blossoms
To anyone who’s ever traveled to Japan in the spring, you’ve been a witness to more than simply flowers blooming. While cherry blossoms are widely represented in Japanese art and poetry, usually as the impermanence of life–only blooming for a few weeks out of the year–they are the embodiment of fleeting beauty. They are also the centerpiece for gatherings across the country in late March through April. Here are our top places for photographing Japan cherry blossoms.
1. Yoshino Park, Kagoshima
There are a few contenders for the best place for photographing cherry blossoms around Kagoshima. Even during the warm summer months when the pink flowers are absent, Sakurajima Dinosaur Park is a popular attraction for families and shutterbugs looking for a view of Kinko Bay.
Although this park provides some amazing sakura viewing, it leaves out the most prominent attraction in the Kagoshima area: the volcano itself. Even its namesake, “sakura”-jima (桜島), tells visitors this is truly cherry blossom territory. Besides that, Yoshino Park is a bit more accessible from the city and offers some exceptional opportunities for pictures. Both are some of the first places to experience full bloom in Japan around late March and early April.
How to get there: From the east, either take a domestic flight into Kagoshima or the appropriately named shinkansen sakura from Tokyo Station all the way to Kagoshima-Chuo Station. From there, take a local train to Kagoshima Station or a tram to Suizokukan-guchi and walk to the ferry terminal. The ferry only takes 15 minutes to cross the bay, and it’s a short walk to Dinosaur Park uphill. To Yoshino Park, take a bus from the east #3 stop at Kagoshima-Chuo for 310 yen.
2. Kintai-kyo Bridge, Iwakuni
Yamaguchi Prefecture doesn’t usually attract travel photographers visiting Japan, but Iwakuni has always been lively around the Kintai-kyo bridge. Toss some cherry blossoms into the mix and you get a pretty good crowd of locals, photographers, and foreigners. Moreover, the path on the northern side is completely lined with sakura for at least three kilometers. These trees usually see full bloom in early April.
How to get there: Buses travel from both Iwakuni Station and Shin-Iwakuni Station to Kintai-kyo bus stop. The trip takes 20 minutes and costs 300 yen from Iwakuni Station (buses every 5 to 15 minutes), or 15 minutes and 350 yen from Shin-Iwakuni Station (1 to 2 buses per hour).
As one of the premier places to view cherry blossoms in Western Japan, the island of Miyajima is home to the floating shrine featured on nearly every campaign designed to drive tourists to the country. While there are certainly sights to take outside of early April when the trees reach full bloom like docile deer and maple leaf cakes. Besides that, Miyajima is worthwhile as the first stop for any photographer looking for more than just the pink flowers and surrounding landscape.
How to get there: Coming from the east, take the Sanyo Shinkansen line to Hiroshima and transfer to a local train heading west to Miyajimaguchi. The station is a short walk to the ferry terminal, which gets travelers to the scenic island in ten minutes for 180 yen.
4. Himeji Castle
Very few Japanese castles have survived the test of time and the bombing around World War II. Himeji stands out not only as a popular gathering place during sakura season, but its original architecture makes it a perfect place for filming movies and photographing cherry blossoms in early-mid April.
How to get there: From Tokyo or Osaka, take any train on the Sanyo Shinkansen line west until you reach Himeji Station; it should be a stop for nearly all trains. The grounds in front of the castle are just a 15-minute walk due north. Most foot traffic will be headed that direction anyway during cherry blossom season.
5. Yoshinoyama, Nara
So, you can’t find the right shot in Western Japan? No problem. Yoshino Mountain near Nara has an astonishing 30,000 cherry blossom trees all blooming at roughly the same time. At the peak of the season in early April, there are a few buses in addition to the ropeway to ascend the mountain. The mountain is divided into four main areas, each with thousands of trees. The higher areas (Kami Senbon) are best for appreciating just how many trees are in the area and photographing cherry blossoms, but the middle areas (Naka Senbon) are more lively, with temples, picnic spots, and restaurants.
How to get there: From Kyoto, take the Kintetsu line to Yoshinoguchi and switch trains to Yoshino.
6. Maruyama Park, Kyoto
As one of the major three stops for tourists to Japan, Kyoto has more to offer than kimono-clad geisha silently walking through the ancient streets of Gion. In fact, the city is generally more popular not for photographers seeking daytime shots of sakura adjacent to golden temples, but rather for evening views of the pride of Maruyama Park. Kyoto’s shidarezakura, or “weeping” cherry blossom, sits in the center of the activity during the early April. Japanese lift yakiniku and sake to their lips while the pink flowers of the mighty tree illuminate the park.
How to get there: From Kyoto Station, take the #100 or #206 bus to Gion. The park is just behind Yasaka Shrine.
7. Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido
If you manage to make your way north to Hokkaido in mid-May, you might as well combine two uniquely Japanese activities into one trip: soaking in hot springs and viewing cherry blossoms. Noboribetsu Onsen is Hokkaido’s most famous hot spring resort, and its sakura forms a large flower tunnel along the main road.
How to get there: It’s easier and faster to fly from Tokyo to Sapporo. From New Chitose Airport, take a train to Minami-Chitose Station and transfer to a limited express train heading to Hakodate. Noboribetsu Station is about a 40-minutes trip, costing 3000 yen. From Noboribetsu Station, the hot springs area can be reached in a 15-minute bus ride for 340 yen.
Do you have any locations for photographing cherry blossoms you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments! Please be sure to check out talented photographer Yoshiki Fujiwara who generously provided some of the photos in this post.