One of the main goals of the trip was to see beautiful phenomenon known as sakura or cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms are found in many countries of the world but only Japan is so crazy about them – there are thousands of thousands of trees around the country, there are sakura parties (known as hanami), there are sakura-flavored icecream, sakura Coca Cola. Even one of the shinkansen trains is called sakura. Yes, cherry trees are important for Japan.
As planning trip for the sakura might be a bit difficult, here are some tips on how to increase your chances of photographing and seeing this beautiful phenomenon.
BTW if you’re interested in travelling to Japan you will find more useful tips on travelling through this amazing country here.
Sakura season usually starts in the late March (e.g. in Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka) or early April (e.g. in Kyoto). But there are some regions like Hokkaido island where it can start in late April or early May due to much cooler weather.
Sakura lasts for only about two weeks in a given place but there is one issue. There are just a couple of days when most of the blossoms are opened at the same time (what’s called full bloom) and when observing and photographing sakura is the most rewarding experience.
There are over 600 varieties of cherry trees and some begin blooming much earlier while other bloom later. So even if you miss full bloom you can still see some trees blooming.
2. Check sakura forecast often
When will sakura begin exactly in the given year? No one knows, but based on historical data as well as current and forecasted weather some predictions are being made.
One of the best sites to check sakura forecast is https://www.jnto.go.jp/sakura/eng/index.php – it shows current predictions for each of the major regions in Japan (as well as historical averages). And the closer it gets to the spring, the more precise the forecasts become.
Right now there is still no forecast for 2017 season but I guess it will appear soon UPDATE: forecast for 2017 is already available there.
When I was in Japan I checked current forecast at least once a day, planning next days based on it. This resulted in cancelling some hotel reservations or travelling to some distant cities just to see this phenomenon in full.
As sakura is highly unpredictable, you need to be very flexible as mentioned above. Even with good forecasts something might go wrong – it might become too warm (and sakura will begin earlier than expected), it can be too cold (what can slow opening of the blossoms), it can get rainy or windy (what can blow the blossoms off the trees much earlier).
And in case of my trip all of that happened. At first it got very warm so the blossoms started to open. But then temperature dropped suddenly what greatly slowed the process. And once cherry trees reached full bloom strong wind and rain blew a lot of blossoms off the trees.
4. Prepare for the crowds
Most of the tourist spots get really crowded during sakura with a lot of Japanese and foreign travellers trying to see cherry blossom. So if you have an idea for a photo, make sure to be there either very early in the morning or well before sunset (if you plan on shooting it).
Also what I noticed is that even though a lot of trains were crowded during that time, usually there wasn’t problem with finding a sitting place.