Spring is unofficially here (‘cept for those random snowstorms in the Northern part of the world), and if you’re chasing sakuras this year in Japan, here’s an itinerary of mine that you could possibly follow for your hanami trip.
We did a 10D9N trip from Fukuoka to Tokyo, passing through Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. It was in late March to early April, the time when it was supposedly the best period to catch these sakuras in full bloom. Fukuoka was our first port of entry for a few reasons: 1) it was our first time there & we wanted to spend more time exploring this city 2) sakuras bloom earlier in the southern part, so it only made sense to follow the blooming pattern if we want to see them all blooming nicely in the different areas and 3) so that we leave 7 days to explore the Honshu region, making full use of the JR pass (more on that below)
Prior to our trip, we purchased the JR 7-day Pass in advance* knowing that we’ll be travelling a lot in between the cities. Given the JR Pass allows us to take unlimited number of shinkansens (do check the timetables on which trains are allowed) between the destinations, take the subway JR lines in each of these cities we’ll be visiting, and using it for our trip back to the Narita Airport, this JR pass is definitely most value for money.
*From 8 March 2017 to 31 March 2018, JR Pass will be made available for foreigners to purchase within Japan at a higher price on a trial basis. These are available at selected stations only. However, it’s still cheaper to purchase it in advance in your home country. Read more here.
FUKUOKA: Day 1 to 4
We landed in Fukuoka on Day 1’s evening. The best thing about landing in Fukuoka is the close distance between the city and the airport. Airport express doesn’t exist here – take the subway and you’ll be in the city (Hakata / Gion) in less than 15 minutes. It was the weekend when we were there, so the parks were pretty crowded (but still not as crazy as Tokyo/ Osaka) with mostly locals enjoying their weekend picnic with friends and family. Sakuras were already in full bloom then!
The best thing about chasing sakuras in Fukuoka is the lack of photobombers. We were really amazed by the lack of tourists despite the city being in full blooms. It’s way too underrated now, and you should definitely check out before it gets crowded!
Chased sakuras at: Maizuru Park and Ōhori Park, Kushida Shrine
Read more: Quick Guide to Fukuoka
OSAKA: Day 4 – 8
On day 4, we activated our JR Pass so that we could start using it until the day we leave Japan. Activation (aka changing it to the real JR Pass with your receipt) can be done easily at the train station where you’ll be taking the Shinkansen. We had ours done at Hakata Station. Thereafter, we were good to depart for Osaka and explore the Honshu region!
Here’s a disclaimer: we didn’t chase any sakuras in Osaka because we had used it as a base to Kyoto and Nara (read more below!). Osaka Castle is probably the most famous one to visit, but we had given it a miss because we’ve been there before and had to prioritise places we haven’t been.
That being said, you could chase sakuras at: Osaka Castle, Kema Sakuranomiya Park, and Expo 70 Commemorative Park
KYOTO: Day 5 & 7
We had to go Kyoto on 2 separate days because we had too much that we wanted to cover despite being our 2nd trip to this historical city.
Read more: 2D1N in Kyoto (from my first trip to Kyoto)
Day 5 see us going to Fushimi Inari Shrine, Higashiyama district, and ended the day at Kiyomizu Temple for their sakura illumination.
Day 7 was spent exploring the Arashiyama region: the bamboo forest, and further down to Togetsukyo Bridge, where the magic happened. We had only intended to spend half a day at the bamboo forest and thought of turning back to Osaka by late afternoon, but we accidentally explored a bit further and saw what we didn’t know existed!
Chased sakuras at: Kiyomizu Temple, Arashiyama region
NARA: Day 6
Nara’s main attraction is the deer park, and we went there for just that. However, another unexpected discovery were the shrines around Nara. We were attracted to one from faraway when we saw the cherry blossoms and just had to go there.
One thing to note: if you’re heading there from Osaka, and if you’ve purchased the JR pass like we did, I highly suggest you to take the JR line heading to JR Nara Station.
Read more: Quick Guide to a Day Trip in Nara
Chased sakuras at: many little shrines around the Deer Park
TOKYO: Day 8 – 10
Ah, no trip to Japan ends without passing by Tokyo. That’s actually the case when you’re budget conscious and flights into/out of Tokyo are usually the cheapest. We hadn’t intended to go Tokyo for this because I’ve been to Tokyo 3 times prior and had really wanted to spend more time exploring the other areas, but limited time and budget brought me back again. Not complaining though, because I finally gotten the chance to photograph at the famed nake-meguro river!
Chased sakuras at: Naka-meguro River, random streets in Tokyo, and Jiyūgaoka
Other famous spots include: Shinjuku Gyoen, Ueno Park, and Chidorigafuchi
I hope you’ll enjoy hanami as much as we did. It was a great experience, and truly witnessing them in Japan is like no other.