It is about that time again, Tokyo lovers—the most gorgeous time of the year, the time when you pull your picnic blanket out of your closet, dig out your cooler, charge up your camera and smartphone, and start inviting your friends out to sit under the nearest cherry trees and take photo after photo while you consume more and more alchohol. The city fills up with large tour groups walking through train stations and the number of non-Japanese people seems to suddenly multiply. This is cherry blossom season in Japan, and as someone who has never missed a cherry blossom season in Tokyo since first moving to Japan back in 2004, I feel that it is my duty to provide you with my ultimate list of favorite cherry blossom places. Having personally spent time in each of these places during cherry blossom season, I can say that these are my favorites!
For directions on all of the below, just put the names of the parks or train stations into Google Maps. Google Maps is essential for Tokyo life.
The Most Romantic Cherry Blossom Experience
Closest station: Kudanshita/Hanzomon stations
The first time that I learned about Chidorigafuchi was from a picture that my Tokyo tour guide friend posted on Facebook. I was so impressed by the photo that I ran to the very same spot less than 24 hours later to see if the gorgeous photo that I had seen could possibly be real. Chidorigafuchi is definitely well-known by Tokyoites for its picture-perfect views of the cherry blossom trees leaning their branches over the moat and the unique experience of getting into rowing a boat in said moat with your friends and family under the blossoms. If you do want to get a rowboat, please come as early in the day as possible and get in line, as this is a very popular experience. Another special bonus with Chidorigafuchi is that the area gets lit up at night to allow visitors to get special night views of the cherry blossoms, upping the romantic factor even more!
Trust me, this is a cherry blossom experience not to be missed when visiting Tokyo and might just be my favorite cherry blossom spot!
Please note: cherry blossom viewing at Chidorigafuchi is a walking experience and there is no space to sit on picnic blankets along the Chidorigafuchi area itself.
About Those Boats:
The Boathouse is open from 11am-5:30pm and is closed on Mondays. Boat rental is 800 yen for 30 minutes during the cherry blossom viewing (known as hanami) season.
The Most Delicious Cherry Blossom Experience
Where: Naka Meguro, along the Meguro Gawa
Closest station: Naka Meguro
Like Chidorigafuchi, the Naka Meguro area in western Tokyo offers a wonderful walking experience along the water with the cherry blossoms also beautifully lit up at night. While there are a few places to sit along the river, space is also extremely limited in Naka Meguro for picnics under the cherry blossoms. However, Naka Meguro knows how to throw a street party, offering visitors several blocks of food stalls serving up sake, beer, wine, a large amount of Turkish kebabs, and a large variety of different local foods. There are also several restaurants both on and off the main river walk, making the Meguro River walk here the best place in Tokyo for checking out cherry blossoms and seeing the beautiful lanterns in the evening, while also feeding your stomach and getting plenty to drink along the way! The foodie in me loves this cherry blossom experience year after year.
One thing to note is that the weekends can be especially crowded in Naka Meguro during cherry blossom week. The food and drink stalls also close down between 9-10pm on the weeknights and may be open no later than 10pm on the weekends. To have a less crowded experience, it may be best to visit on a weeknight if you can. The weekdays are especially pleasant for seeing the gorgeous trees and stopping in a nice cafe with less crowds.
The Wildest Cherry Blossom Experience
Where: Yoyogi Park
Closest station: Meijijingumae or Harajuku
Throughout the year, Yoyogi Park is Tokyo’s wildest park, attracting the most diverse group of visitors and performers chilling out under its numerous trees, in its large field, or around its central pond. Any hobby that you can think of can be seen in Yoyogi Park, and these energetic parkgoers do not skip cherry blossom week just because it’s more crowded. Instead, they bring the booze, park themselves under trees at dawn to claim their picnic spots, and let the drinking begin under their favorite cherry blossoms. Alcohol is sold in a few stands around the park and just outside the front gates, but it’s best to do as the rest of Tokyo does and BYOB. You are allowed to bring all the alcohol that you can carry.
I have not only seen people having lightsaber battles in trees, naked old men riding their bicycles through the pond, and company employees all wearing suits while sitting on their own picnic blankets in Yoyogi Park, I’ve also had the chance to see drunken drum circles, heard national anthems being sung in four languages, and witnessed too many guitar sing-alongs to count. Bring the blanket, BYOB, and get ready to make friends in a place where the entire park is one huge party! My advice is to stop in the nearest 100 yen shop (there is a large Daiso on Takeshita Dori street) and buy couple of tarps and get ready for the fun. Make sure that you’re also wearing socks, as Tokyoites take off their shoes to sit on their blankets in the parks. Slip-on shoes are the best for this occasion.
These days, the police do try to encourage most cherry blossom revelers to leave Yoyogi Park after dark, but many tend to hang around and you may find yourself with more great stories to take home if you do stay after dark.
Note to ladies: the lines to use the restrooms in Yoyogi Park are insanely long during cherry blossom season. I recommend that you either leave the park entirely if you can make it that far to use the bathroom in a café nearby, or even brave your way into the men’s room. Do so at your own risk, but just know: it’s crazy.
The Classic Tokyo Cherry Blossom Experience
Where: Ueno Park
Closest station: Ueno
If you ask a Japanese person where to go and see cherry blossoms, Ueno Park is one of the first places that they will name. This is because Ueno is famous for having 1,000 cherry blossom trees (a number of special significance in Japan) and a large number of food stalls to satiate anyone who forgot to bring their own dish to the picnic. Even more than Yoyogi Park, Ueno Park is a place where you can see lots of companies celebrating their first chance to enjoy the spring and officially welcome their new recruits to the company. Stake a nice spot near one of the large ponds in Ueno and once it gets later in the day, take a stroll through the park and check out all the crazy antics of these drunk employees! You never know what you’re going to see!
A little backstory: in traditional Japanese companies, almost all new employees start on April 1st each year and it is the newest employees’ duties to claim the picnic spot for the company picnic during cherry blossom season. It is not uncommon to see young employees dressed in suits sleeping on top of blue tarps and food coolers early in the morning in different parks throughout Tokyo during the entire cherry blossom season. It is a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it!
The Elegant Cherry Blossom Experience
Where: Shinjuku Park
Closest station: Shinjuku
If Yoyogi Park is the crazy younger brother that will try and get away with anything, Shinjuku Park is the elegant mother, who considers herself so fancy that she even charges a fee (200 yen) for entering. On top of the fee, Shinjuku Park also has a no alcohol and a no pets policy. Say what? Park attendants will search your bags as you pass through the park gates and will attempt to prevent you from bringing in any booze they find, but a big scarf and an innocent glance should be enough to get your bottle of wine in without any hassle. Just be careful when imbibing. Shinjuku Park also has, in my opinion, the most beautiful cherry trees in Tokyo, with their generous branches stretching out over the manicured lawns, gently flowing creek and quaint stone bridges. You might also want to stop by the teahouse in Shinjuku Park for a chance to experience sipping carefully prepared green tea while staring out at the cherry blossoms (open from 10am-4pm). If you’re looking for more laidback cherry blossom vibes, Shinjuku Park might just be your thing.
Shinjuku Park is open from 9am-4pm throughout the cherry blossom season. The gates close at 4:30pm.
The Hippest Cherry Blossom Experience
Where: Inokashira Park
Closest station: Inokashira Koen or Kichijoji
For being about 20 minutes by express train from central Tokyo, Inokashira Park is one happening place. Not only is it home to one of greater Tokyo’s most popular museums (the Studio Ghibli Museum–put it on your list right now!) and one of Tokyo’s more famous urban myths (if you get in one of those swan boats with your boyfriend/girlfriend, legend has it that you will break up), it is also offers plenty of picnic space and is right next to the neighborhood of Kichijoji, which is often voted as the #1 place to live in Tokyo. Enjoy a full day of blossoms and street performers throughout the park. If you’re really lucky, you may even see “Manga Guy,” who has been giving dramatic readings of Japanese comic books in the park for years. Look for the bandana, wild hair, and black wire-frame glasses.
The Perfect Suburban Tokyo Cherry Blossom Experience
Where: Kinuta Park
Closest station: Yoga
Kinuta Park is about a 15 minute walk from Yoga Station in Western Tokyo, and because it’s a bit of a walk from the station, it feels like you really earn your cherry blossom time inside this beautiful park. The vibe in Kinuta Park feels like the neighbors just came out to enjoy themselves and bring their pets and children along for the fun. The cherry blossom parties are less touristy or company-oriented here, and it feels more like this secret place that everyone knows has some of the best cherry blossoms around but isn’t so crowded that you feel overwhelmed. Because the park is quite big, it’s also easy to feel as if you’re truly escaping the city. One special thing to note about Kinuta Koen is that there is only one supermarket close to the station if you plan to wait on buying food there, and the last time that I went there, it didn’t offer bags. It’s best to prepare your food ahead of time and be ready for a bit of a hike out to the park from the station. It is definitely worth the journey!
The Sneaking on to Campus Cherry Blossom Experience
Where: Komaba Park
Closest station: Komabatodaimae (three stations from Shibuya)
I call this the “Sneaking on to Campus” cherry blossom experience because this gorgeous little park also happens to be right behind the branch campus of Tokyo’s most famous university–the University of Tokyo–but also does not have any obvious entrances and many of its entrances are just openings in the wall down side streets. This park also has quite a famous history, as it used to be owned by the Marquis Maeda Toshinari, a descendant of the powerful Kaga Clan Samurai family that once ruled the Kanazawa area. Komaba Park also offers a chance to visit the Maeda family’s Western style mansion (built in 1929 for foreign visitors) along with the Japanese style residence (built in 1930), allowing visitors beautiful views of a private Japanese garden, a small waterfall and pond. See the blossoms and a bit of history at the same time.
The Active Cherry Blossom Experience
Where: Komazawa Olympic Park
Closest station: Komazawa-daigaku
If you’ve been looking for a place to burn off those calories before sitting down on your blanket and getting drunk with your friends, this just might be the place. Komazawa Park was first opened in 1964 as the second venue for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, hosting wrestling, volleyball, and other competitions. After the Olympics, the venue was opened as a public park and now offers a wide range of sports facilities including baseball fields, tennis courts, a soccer field, dog run, archery, and a 2 km running and cycling route that takes you all throughout the park. Only about 15 minutes from Shibuya by train, Komazawa Olympic Park offers a chance to get your workout in and take in more Tokyo cherry blossoms.
The Spookiest Cherry Blossom Experience
Where: Aoyama Cemetery
Closest station: Nogizaka
I wanted to finish my list of cherry blossom recommendations with an offbeat choice that some Tokyoites do make a point to visit each year–Aoyama Cemetery. That’s right, some people have their cherry blossom parties right next to the graves in Aoyama Cemetery (the spacious Yanaka Cemetery in Eastern Tokyo is another beautiful, albeit slightly unsettling area to take in some impressive cherry blossoms). If cemeteries are not places that creep you out, or you’re a fan of the offbeat and unusual, you might want to give it a try. There are definitely many beautiful blossoms, and you will not be kicked out for picnicking. Just don’t be surprised if the friends you invited to the picnic politely decline.
Happy Cherry Blossoming!!