Spring really bursts into life in April as the brief period of blossoming cherry trees gives way to pleasing green foliage and milder temperatures. It's an easygoing time when you can make do with light jackets and long sleeved shirts. Research is a must when planning a trip to see the cherry blossom since peak periods vary significantly by location as well as year to year.
Japan's fiscal year ends in a flurry of activity on March 31, leaving much of the population in the mood to kick back. "Hanami" parties provide the leisure activity par excellence, as revelers stretch out on tarps to spend time with friends and family. While most cities have a go to spot, you can enjoy the hanami experience in any park or public space where the cherry trees are in bloom.
When planning your visit, please keep in mind that the cherry blossom period is brief in any given place but rather long on a national scale. Beginning in January in Okinawa, it lasts well into May in Hokkaido and mountainous areas.
Takada Park in Niigata and Hirosaki Park in Aomori both rank among Japan’s top spots for nighttime blossom viewing. Much thought goes into illuminating large numbers of trees with impressive results. Takada Park deserves special mention for its spacious castle grounds and impressive blossom corridor. Plan your trip to Takada in mid-April and Hirosaki, later, at the end of the month.
Lake Kawaguchi and Fujiyoshida may not be household names outside Japan, but both are iconic places for viewing blossoms near Mt. Fuji. The former offers an attractive lakeside setting while the latter has a famous pagoda, often photographed and featured in promotional material. The blossoms in these areas are usually at their best between early and mid-April.
From mid-April to early May, northern Tohoku and mountainous regions in the Japan Alps, namely Nagano, Niigata and Toyama, present a number of sound options. Perhaps the single most famous tree in the country blooms in Fukushima's Mihara Park from mid to late April.
Further north, Hirosaki holds a festival from April 22 to May 7 each year. With picturesque castle grounds and row boat rental nearby, the Hirosaki Park Cherry Blossom Festival has a reputation as one of the Japan's top sakura spots.
For blooms of a different kind, head to Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture for its famed wisteria-viewing event held from April 18 to May 20. Elsewhere, the Tonami Tulip Fair (mid-April to early may) in Toyama Prefecture puts on an unforgettable display with 2.5 million tulips of various colors.
April isn't all about cherry blossoms-it also brings the opening of popular mountainous locations which are closed during the winter months.
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route fully opens on April 15, granting access to the famous snow corridor at Murodo. At the southern end of the Northern Japan Alps, Kamikochi's opening ceremony is held on April 27 with transportation into the park running from the 17th.
April as with other months sees festivals of one kind or another, but if you only have time for one, make it the Takayama Spring Festival. With a dazzling array of antique floats colorfully illuminated by night, the main procession is pure art in motion.