One of Japan’s most famous images is that of blooming sakura—cherry blossom—trees in the spring. It’s often one of the first things that foreign people think of when they imagine Japan and sakura are a beloved and important part of Japanese culture as well. In the spring, many people in Japan take part in hanami, which literally means looking at the flowers. This can take the form of a party or a picnic under the trees, or just walking around and enjoying them.
The problem is that sakura only bloom for about a week, and with how beautiful they are, the popular places for hanami can get incredibly crowded. But fear not; we are here with five amazing places you can see sakura around the Tokyo area that are not as frequently visited! You may have to travel a little more off the beaten path, but your reward is beautiful sakura without all the crowds.
Sakura Jingu Shrine - Setagaya City, Tokyo
Our first lesser-known spot for hanami around Tokyo is actually just outside the city centre. Just a short ride from Shibuya lies Sakurashinmachi Station. While most of the year it’s just a place that people live, in sakura season the local shrine near the station really comes alive - and lives up to its name! Sakura Jingu Shrine is home to a huge number of early-blooming, bright pink sakura trees. While many sakura around Tokyo are pale pink or white, these flowers stand apart with their beautiful colour. The trees are usually decorated with pink ribbons as well, which accent the flowers really nicely. You can take a lot of pictures of the sakura with the shrine in the background, and because they usually bloom first in Tokyo Sakura Jingu Shrine is the best way to kick off hanami season.
Mt. Takao 1000 Sakura - Hachioji, Tokyo
If Mt. Kobo sounds appealing but you’re also interested in Japanese history and culture, Mt. Takao is another great choice for hanami. It’s just an hour from Shinjuku, and one of Tokyo’s most famous mountains. The trail leading up the mountain has a few sakura trees to get you warmed up for the main event and there are a lot of temples and shrines to visit along the way. The true destination lies a short walk from the summit at an area called Takaosan Senbonzakura, or Mt. Takao’s 1000 Sakura. It’s a beautiful area with lots of trees as the name suggests. Because if it’s an easy-to-get-to location, it tends to get crowded but still has fewer people than the big parks in Tokyo! The sakura here also bloom later than they do in the city, so you can extend your hanami time or catch them if you missed them in Tokyo!
Mt Kobo - Kanagawa
If you’re willing to work to see some beautiful sakura and looking for somewhere a little more secluded, Mt. Kobo is the perfect destination. It’s only about an hour from central Tokyo to Hadano Station (and even less from Yokohama) and then a short walk to the base of the mountain. Don’t let the word mountain dissuade you too much; it’s not a very difficult hike. And if you’re willing to put in the effort, the reward is well worth it. Mt. Kobo has over two thousand sakura trees, including a tunnel of beautiful blossoms to walk under. The trees are usually adorned with lanterns as well, which are lit up from the end of April into early May. Plus in addition to the incredible trees, the views of the surrounding area are great, too! Mt. Kobo is an escape to a magical land of sakura that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi - Saitama
Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi is another location just outside of central Tokyo, about an hour away from Ikebukuro by train into Saitama. The sakura trees in Kumagaya are beautiful, of course, but they are everywhere. So what makes these ones special enough to be on our list of lesser-known places to have hanami? The sakura are all along a huge field of rapeseed flowers that bloom at the same time. This sea of yellow flowers contrasts in the most incredible way with the pink sakura flowers, making Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi a great place to take a walk and take some photographs! It’s also a great setting for a picnic if you are looking for a more traditional hanami experience, but with less crowds than you would have in central Tokyo.
Lake Kawaguchi - Yamanashi
If you’re looking for a great day trip from Tokyo to see sakura, check out Lake Kawaguchi. There are plenty of buses and even a few direct trains there from Tokyo, even though it’s in neighbouring Yamanashi Prefecture. Lake Kawaguchi is a picturesque lake at the foot of Mt. Fuji, which already makes it a great destination year round. But add in all of the blooming sakura trees in cherry blossom season and you’ve got something incredible. The sakura are reflected in the water’s surface, along with Mt. Fuji! You can walk all along the shore of the lake and enjoy the flowers, and there’s plenty of places to stay overnight in the area if you want to make a serious hanami trip.
Whether you’re headed out for hanami this year or planning a trip for the future, these are just a few great places to see sakura in and around Tokyo that you can enjoy with less crowds. Of course there is something to be said for partying in Ueno Park with so many other people, or enjoying the lanterns and night market along the river in Naka-Meguro. But if you’re looking for something off the beaten trail where you can experience the full beauty of sakura without another person in every photo, try one of these places for a start!
Have you ever done hanami in Japan (or your home country)? Would you like to someday? Which of these places would you love to visit? Let us know in the comments!