Mid-April cherry blossom blooms in Kanazawa
Catching Japan’s cherry blossoms in their prime requires a bit of planning and a lot of luck: no matter how many reports you read or trends you follow, a sudden cold front or heat wave can throw things off by a week or more. In general, cherry blossoms in Japan’s most well-known spots around Tokyo and Kyoto are already finished in early April.
So if you arrive late to this petal party, you should think about heading north!
Cities in Japan’s northern regions like Sendai or Hakodate bloom later due to their colder climates. Another great choice for mid-April is Kanazawa, located northwest of Tokyo on the Sea of Japan. A modern city with several historical districts, Kanazawa’s main attractions are Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s three greatest gardens and a great spot for catching late cherry blossoms.
Getting to Kanazawa from Tokyo is simple enough for those taking the Shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train. Take the Joetsu Shinkansen and transfer to a limited express at Echigo-Yuzawa, with the entire trip taking around four hours. Kanazawa is even closer to Kyoto and Osaka, just over two hours by limited express train. Those on a budget from Tokyo can save money by taking a highway bus from Shinjuku or Ikebukuro, although travel times will increase as well.
Perhaps the most famous garden in Japan, Kenrokuen has existed in its current form since 1774. Beautiful in each season, spring’s cherry blossoms add a lively touch to the painstakingly maintained garden. The cluster of trees near the park’s entrance and near Kanazawa Castle provide lovely photo opportunities, but to do Japan’s cherry blossoms right, a hanami party is a must. On your way to the park, stop off at a Family Mart, Sunkus, or any other convenience store to stock up on Asahi Super Dry and snacks to take with you for an impromptu party in the park.
Besides the pink blossoms, Kenrokuen’s 25 acres contain all you could ever want in a Japanese garden. Stone lanterns, picturesque bridges, stately pagodas and more are all on display. Before undergoing significant expansion, Kenrokuen was originally the garden of Kanazawa Castle, and although the current building is a reconstruction, the castle is still nearby and an impressive sight.
Outside the garden Kanazawa still has a variety of attractions like the Nagamachi area, which has been rebuilt to display how Kanazawa’s samurai once lived. A few of the houses like the Nomura House are actually original articles, and the entire area is a scenic look at Japan’s past. The Higashi-Chaya area is another great spot, once the center of Kanazawa’s geisha world and now renovated into a romantic area for travelers to enjoy a cup of green tea. Modern attractions are available as well, with the architectural stylings of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and Kanazawa Station itself offering excellent contrast to Kanazawa’s historic areas.
Although Kanazawa could be done as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, those coming from Tokyo will want to stay overnight at least one night to make the most of their trip. In keeping with Kanazawa’s historical theme, a stay in a traditional Japanese-style inn like Nakayasu Ryokan could be a good choice, but budget favorites like the Dormy Inn and Toyoko Inn chains are represented as well. Our pick for Kanazawa hotels is the Kanazawa Excel Hotel Tokyu for its balance of price and comfort.
Other late bloomers
Sendai: Capital of Miyagi Prefecture and founded by the famous samurai warlord Date Masamune, also known as the “One-eyed Dragon,” Sendai’s cherry blossoms should be in bloom during the third week of April.
Hakodate: The blossoms of this port city on the southern tip of Hokkaido should reach their peak, along with Hokkaido’s largest city Sapporo in early May.
This 52 Weekender was contributed by Bryan Reynolds of Japanican.com, a travel and tour website operated by the JTB Group.