Are you ready for the sakura season? Other than double-checking the technical details like the blooming period, the crowds, and weather, here are some other ways you can enjoy hanami.
Take a bird’s eye view of sakura if you are feeling adventurous. Hirosaki Park (弘前公園) in Aomori Prefecture has a helicopter service that allows you to enjoy sakura from the sky. The basic course starts at 5000 yen for adults and 4500 yen for children, travelling for 9km and lasting for 3 minutes. While this deal sounds a tad expensive, this is a chance to ride a helicopter while seeing a pretty sea of trees. One drawback to this deal is that you may need to know Japanese to book your trip. Check out their website here for further details (dates are not out yet).
Another option is riding the ropeway above the sakura. There are many places where you can do this, namely Minobusan Ropeway in Yamanashi, Sumaura Ropeway in Hyogo, or Senkoujiyama Ropeway in Hiroshima. This option is definitely cheaper than the helicopter, and you get to enjoy sakura-viewing with more friends for a longer time.
Other than aerial lifts, how about travelling through the sakura field on a steam locomotive? This trip is not only picturesque but also charmingly quaint, perfect for the hipster heart. Oigawa Railway in Shizuoka Prefecture takes you through a sakura tunnel while you enjoy the retro interior and your special sakura bento (can be bought on the train). You can also indulge your inner child by choosing to ride on the Thomas the Tank Engine train. Mooka Railway in Tochigi Prefecture shows a brilliant contrast between the sakura trees and flowerbeds.
You can also get up close and traditional with the sakura on a rickshaw. Ebisuya Richshaw in Arashiyama Prefecture has personalised tours where you can explore the best sakura spots of the season. To add to the historic effect, you can wear yukata while traveling on the rickshaw. If you prefer temples and shrines, Kamakura also has rickshaw services that allows you to explore in style.
After travelling around, perhaps it’s time to sit down and enjoy a picnic under the sakura tree. This is one of the most popular activities in Japan during springtime, so the best sakura spots may be taken. You may have to go early to book a spot of your choice. While some areas may have food stalls near the sakura trees, most people will pack lunches to share and enjoy. Of course, the lone traveller can also choose to visit a teahouse that overlooks the pretty blossoms.
You can also impress your friends by learning the different types of sakura trees before your trip. The Somei Yoshino, small, pale pink and has 5 petals, is the most widely seen variety in Japan. One popular spot is Hirosaki Park in Aomori Prefecture. However, the weeping cherry blossoms, or Shidarezakura, are very distinctive with its drooping branches. For a more detailed list of sakura species and where to find them, check out this website. You may also opt to learn some sakura vocabulary to describe the types of sakura. A personal favourite is definitely hanafubuki, meaning flower (hana) snow storm (fubuki). Doesn’t the word conjure the beautiful image of sakura petals swirling in the wind?
Saving the best method for the last, is to do some night viewing. This may just be one of the best methods to enjoy sakura. Sakura viewing at night is also called yozakura （夜桜）, or literally night sakura. Public parks often have light ups and are open until late for people to enjoy the magnificence of sakura illuminated by lights. Yozakura is also a romantic choice for a night stroll with your significant other. Taking pictures may be difficult because of the crowds and your camera may not capture the sakura in its entire beauty. Even so, you will not regret bumping shoulders with strangers.
- Learn how to hanami seriously here or here.
- Find out the history of the sakura.
- Understand the significance of the sakura.