I have a habit of accidentally stumbling across festivals, however arriving in Japan for Cherry Blossom Season (Sakura) was no coincidence, and it needs planning. The mixture of pink and white tones covering every inch of Japan’s green spaces transforms the country for 3 weeks a year, making it a photogenic wonder of the world, which while a worthy winner, is an award I have entirely made up.
Sakura is a phenomenon in Japan, dominating the news and weather coverage leading up to it, and it is also the country’s national flower. For a nation where people often relax in solitude, socialising with friends and family for picnics in the park during cherry blossom is an important Japanese tradition that is all about celebrating the changing of seasons.
The exact timing of the blossoming prunus serrulata tree (Japanese cherry blossom, Sakura) cannot be predicted exactly and is entirely dependent on the local weather, but usually occurs around late March or early April, with the blossom slowly migrating its way up the country from South to North.
It is not quite as idyllic as it looks, with tourists and photographers all around the world having cottoned on to the stunning transformation that takes place. While the parks can be busy at lunchtimes and weekends, it makes being a tourist in some of the world’s busiest cities a relatively relaxing and stress-free experience. Cities like Tokyo can sometimes be tiring to explore, constantly requiring a plan of action, but the warming weather that accompanies the cherry blossom makes your decision very simple: which park shall we take our book to today?
However, if you’re anything like me, your book will not get a look in, as you’ll spend your day in a daydream taking photos of blossoming pink petals, certain that your next photo is infinitely better than the previous thousand you’ve already taken.
While there are many stunning parks in the cities, it is well worth getting away from the Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka triangle, and exploring the cherry blossom in peace and quiet. There is stunning hiking in the Kiso-ji valley between two picturesque post towns Tsumago and Magome, beautiful castles in Hikone to rival any the neighbouring juggernauts in the big cities, and proper peace and quiet and tiny fishing villages such as Ine.
While the bright lights and futuristic mayhem of the cities is perhaps the country’s biggest fascination, the beautiful surrounding scenery of the countryside is an essential balance needed on any visit, and should not be missed, especially during cherry blossom.
Michael Sheridan is a photographer who loves to travel and has worked for Stories for Good to produce photography case studies for charities in India and Nepal. His work has been exhibited at WOMAD festival and he has won awards in National Geographic Traveller magazine and The Telegraph.