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WHERE: Japan Mint in Osaka
WHEN: Mid-April

It’s variety rather than sheer abundance that distinguishes the cherry blossom experience at the Osaka Mint Bureau. Around 130 varieties are crammed into the 560m-long pathway that snakes through the pretty garden of the Japan Mint headquarters. While common cherry blossoms have only five petals, the Mint is famous for its double blossom varieties, which can have 20, 50, even 100 petals per flower, making for incredibly lush blooms that drip from the trees. The gates to the cherry garden are only opened to the general public for one week in mid-April, so the event is very popular. But even with the crowds, which last year surpassed 800,000 visitors, walking beneath a canopy of blossoms, with the stately brick Meiji-era Mint Museum on one side and the sparkling waters of the Yodo River on the other, is well worth it.

The dates for the event differ every year so check the Japan Mint website in mid-March for announcements.

WHERE: Yoshinoyama in Nara
WHEN: Late March to early April

It’s hard to find a cherry blossom “best list” that doesn’t have Mt Yoshino near the very top. This mountain range, in the heart of Nara Prefecture, has been Japan’s most famous cherry blossom viewing spot for centuries. What makes this site special is the geography: over 30,000 cherry trees are planted on a north-facing mountain slope that’s home to temples, parks, and a pretty village. This means that ascending the slope’s four areas—the Shimo Senbon (lower), Naka Senbon (middle), Kami Senbon (upper) and Oku Senbon (inner)—comes with interesting activities along the way. Like stopping in at Yoshimizu-jinja Shrine where it is said one can see 1,000 cherry trees at once, or enjoying a hanami picnic at the popular Naka Senbon Park. Those with enough stamina can make the journey up to Hanayagura Observatory (an hour’s hike up the mountain) to see the most famous panoramic view of Yoshinoyama.

WHERE: Ueno Park, Tokyo
WHEN: Late March to mid-April

If you’re going to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo, you may as well go all out and hit Ueno Park. Come spring, the 133-acre park in central Tokyo becomes the epicentre of a crowded, noisy and thoroughly wild hanami party. The central path is lined with some 800 cherry trees and both sides are filled with revellers on blue tarpaulins letting their hair down for their annual picnic under the blooms. (To guarantee your spot, get there early in the morning, lay out your tarp and make sure a person stays there until the group arrives.) Aside from picnicking, there’s plenty more to do in Japan’s first government-designated park: four major museums and a zoo are located on the grounds, as well as an expansive pond that offers boat rentals. All this will surely see you through until nightfall when 1,000 lanterns strung up throughout the park will light up the sky for magical yozakura – or night time sakura viewing.

WHERE: Kakunodate, Tohoku
WHEN: Late April to early May

See the unexpected collision of beautiful cherry blossoms with ancient samurai culture in this quiet riverside town. Today, Kakunodate is the best place in Japan to see samurai architecture, with a number of beautifully preserved residences open to the public. Indeed, it was the samurai families who originally brought cherry trees to the town from Kyoto, and towering weeping cherry blossoms can still be seen around the old samurai houses, most of which are surrounded by dark black fences with impressive gates. The Hinokinai River, bordering Kakunodate’s southern side, is another top blossom spot with 2km of cherry trees creating a tunnel of flowers along its banks. In addition to the trees, you can also check out the Sakura Matsuri festival, which features food stalls set up along the riverside and an evening illumination event in the Samurai District.

WHERE: Hirosaki Castle, Aomori
WHEN: Late April to early May

Cherry blossoms are good. Cherry blossoms plus a 17th-century castle is even better. Hirosaki Castle, on the tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu, is allegedly the nation’s most popular cherry blossom viewing spot, drawing over two million visitors every year. And it’s not hard to see why. The castle grounds pretty much cover the complete cherry blossom hit parade: thousands of trees (over 2,600), views of snow-capped mountains, cherry blossom tunnels, petal-filled moats, boats that can be rented to float romantically through said moats, and night illumination events. All this set against the stunning backdrop of a glorious white castle complete with gates, turrets and a fortified moat. And if that’s not enough, the castle park also boasts Japan’s oldest cherry tree (Somei Yoshino variety) and the cherry tree with the thickest trunk. A great time to visit is during the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival (April 23 to May 5) when volunteer guides are on hand to lead tours and over 200 food stalls are open to the public.

*While festival dates are usually fixed, dates can vary so check the festival website.

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