15 Things To Do In Japan During Cherry Blossom Season
My trip to Japan was curated to see both the old, traditional Japan as much as modern day Japan. We spent 9 days exploring both the busy city and the quiet countryside. We started out in Tokyo, made our way to Kyoto, Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go, Hakone, and back to Tokyo. We travelled by subway, express trains, bullet trains, cabs, and most of all, by foot. Here's my list of top 15 things I recommend doing during the most beautiful time of year in Japan, sakura season.
1. Tokyo, Meguro-ku Bridge
Sakura season (hanami) means the canals are lined with shops and stalls selling cherry blossom themed cocktails, champagne, and snacks to sweeten your viewing experience. We hardly saw any other tourists, just locals, so it made the experience even more authentic.
2. Rent a kimono in Kyoto and explore Gion
The best way to fully immerse yourself in Kyoto and the geisha district of Gion is playing dress up in a traditional kimono or yukata. There are many kimono shops around town where you can rent a kimono for the day ( around 7000 yen) and get your hair and makeup done. Many locals and tourists do this during sakura season to get the most amazing photos.
3. Stay at an onsen Ryokan in the countryside
Staying at an onsen ryokan in the countryside is the best way to experience traditional Japanese hospitality. We stayed at a quiet ryokan in Kanazawa with tatami floors, futon beds and kaiseki meals. Its important to learn onsen etiquette so you don't offend your hosts and other guests using the public onsens.
4. Order a kaiseiki breakfast or dinner
Many times you can opt in for a Kaiseiki breakfast or dinner when booking your hotel or ryokan stay. Kaiseiki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner (13-15 courses) of exquisitely prepared dishes. The Japanese consider it a culinary expression of art. Chances are you won't love everything that is served but its always worth a taste!
5. Visit the small, remote, mountain village of Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO world heritage site and the most magical place in Japan you'll visit. We stayed in a traditional farmhouse and had home cooked country style meals with two other house guests. The village gets really quiet around 6pm when the tourists leave. It is a surreal and peaceful experience.
6. Stay at an onsen hotel in Hakone
An onsen hotel is the best place to experience self care, the Japanese way. Choose a room with a private outdoor bath to get the full experience. We had access to the YakoSato, a public hot springs. Keep in mind that public onsens require you to be in the nude - no bathing suits allowed.
7. Explore Tokyo nightlife
There are so many things to do in Tokyo at night! Arcades, bars, shopping - there's something for everyone. I loved visiting Golden Gai - the land of bars that can only fit 4-5 people.
8. Visit a cat, owl, or hedgehog cafe in Tokyo
Rules at the cat cafe I visited included: slippers only and no chasing or holding the cats. There are lockers for your shoes and a fancy slipper machine that disposes a fresh pair of slippers for you to wear before entering the cafe. You'll be charged by 10 minute increments and must purchase the all you can drink tea + coffee.
9. Visit the Hakone shrine
Although many people get caught up in getting their picture taken and not what the shrine represents, I do recommend visiting the shrine simply to witness its beauty. Don't be fooled by the serenity of the picture, there was a line of people and a 20 minute wait to step into the shrine and have your picture taken. When its your turn, take a moment to forget about getting a good photo and look around and see where you are - its magnificent.
10. Walk through Yoyogi Park
11. Take a stroll down Philosopher's PATH in Kyoto
Before you make your way down Philosopher's Path to see all the sakura trees, grab some green tea treats at the stalls outside of Ginkaku-Ji temple. I ordered a green tea pudding and green tea ice cream. It was by far the best matcha desserts I had on my trip. This is also the best place to pick up some matcha gifts to bring back home.
12. Enjoy dinner with a view in Gion
The canals of Gion are lined with two-story restaurants that overlook the water and the sakura trees which are lit up at night. We decided to take a break from Japanese food this night and discovered an Italian spot, Scorpione on our walk to scout for restaurants. I ordered a french onion soup and the spaghetti bolognese and unexpectedly, it was the best Italian meal I've ever had - both in presentation and taste. I highly recommend it.
13. Have a picnic under a sakura tree AT HIRANO SHRINE, KYOTO
One of Kyoto's famous hanami spots, Hirano Shrine is known for the different types of cherry blossoms found on its grounds. There are yatai food stalls set up here selling street food and desserts for the cherry blossom festival. Make your way here after visiting the Golden Pavillion - its a short 15 minute walk.
14. Order a drink and listen to live music at the Park Hyatt
You'll remember the Park Hyatt from the movie Lost in Translation. At the top floor is the swanky hotel bar featured in the scene where Scarlett Johanssen orders a drink for Bill Murray. The bar gives you a stunning 360 view of the city (including Tokyo Tower) and has live music throughout the night. To sit at the bar, you'll have to pay a 'live music fee' and order drinks. So worth it!
15. Stock up on J-Beauty items
Visit Don Quijote, Lawson's, or even 7-Eleven to stock up on J-Beauty goodies by popular brands like DHC, Shisheido, and Senka. I bought several travel sized versions of the popular 'Perfect Whip' facewash by Senka and DHC lip balms to bring back home as gifts.
For more on my trip, visit my 'Japan' Instagram stories. I'd love to hear your comments and recommendations for Japan as well! Let me know if you have any questions about visiting Japan. I'll be happy to answer.