10. Kumamoto Castle (Kumamoto)
Kumamoto Prefecture—perhaps best known for its adorable bear mascot Kumamon—sits on the southern island of Kyushu. Kumamoto Castle (熊本城・Kumamoto-jo) isn’t only architecturally impressive, as one of the most complete castle experiences in Japan, but also culturally, as it was the location of an important battle during the Satsuma Rebellion, a rebellion incited by Saigo Takamori that served as inspiration for the film The Last Samurai. While always a popular tourist destination, crowds flock in late March to see the hundreds of cherry blossoms trees in bloom. While the castle was damaged in the April 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, it is still prominently visible from the surrounding area.
9. Shinjuku Gyoen (Tokyo)
Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑) is a beautiful park in the heart of Tokyo, just a short walk from Shinjuku Station. Although it costs ¥200 to enter, that’s a small price to pay for the spacious lawns perfect for laying a blanket down, enjoying your favorite foods, and gazing on more than 1,000 cherry trees contained within, which are at their prime in early April. While hanami season can be a temperamental, fickle thing, Shinjuku Gyoen contains early- and late-blooming trees, which makes it perfect for those who miss the elusive prime-time viewing.
8. Kema Sakuranomiya Park (Osaka)
Kema Sakuranomiya Park (毛馬桜之宮公園・Kema Sakuranomiya Koen) is located in Osaka, and covers approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) between Tenma Bridge and the Okawa Bridge. There are over 4,000 trees along the riverside, which typically bloom in early April. While the park is free to enter and there are plenty of spots along the river perfect for a picnic, there are also water buses that travel up and down the river, providing a perfect, effortless view of the whole park for a reasonable fee.
7. Mount Yoshino (Nara)
Located in Nara Prefecture, Mount Yoshino (吉野山・Yoshino-yama) has been a popular hanami destination for centuries. The mountain is covered by 30,000 (!!!) cherry trees that bloom from early to mid April. Due to the difference in elevation throughout its four main visiting areas, the blooming is staggered by a short period between the upper and lower sections. While there are plenty of places to stop and visit along the way, the view from the top must be seen to be believed!
6. Hirosaki Castle (Aomori)
On the northern tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu is Aomori Prefecture, home of Hirosaki Castle (弘前城・Hirosaki-jo), former seat of the Tsuruga Clan. While the castle’s walls and foundation are currently under construction, the castle grounds are open and ready for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival! Part of what sets the view here apart from other viewing destinations are “cherry blossom tunnels,” as well as the petal-filled moats, which you can experience firsthand in a romantic rental boat. It costs ¥510 for entry into the grounds and garden (although the boat will cost extra), and the location is a short bus ride from Hirosaki Station. If you want to see just the castle or just the garden, it's ¥310.
5. Hanamiyama Park (Fukushima)
Outside a small village in Fukushima Prefecture is Hanamiyama (花見山), a hillside park whose cherry trees were originally planted by local farmers, and grew into the hanami hot spot it is today. Because it’s located in the northern region of Tohoku, the trees don’t bloom until mid-April. While the park is somewhat remote, that seclusion offers a lovely mountain view juxtaposed with the blossoms. And a ¥250 shuttle bus from Fukushima Station makes getting there a breeze!
4. Goryokaku Fort (Hokkaido)
Goryokaku Fort (五稜郭) is in Hakodate, on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. A short tram ride from Hakodate Station will bring you to the unique, star-shaped fort, which was turned into a public park in the early 1900s. Over 1,000 cherry trees were planted along its moats, creating one of Hokkaido’s best hanami spots. Blooming usually starts in early May, and the adjacent Goryokaku Tower offers an incredible bird's-eye view of the fortress that can’t be beat—though it costs ¥840.
3. Odawara Castle (Kanagawa)
If you’ve read this article then you know I’m a huge fan of Odawara Castle (小田原城・Odawara-jo), the former seat of power of the Hojo in Kanagawa Prefecture. Between the farmers markets, ninja-related events and the castle keep, a trip to the grounds would be worth it even without the added bonus of hundreds of gorgeous cherry trees, which usually bloom in late March. The park is also open for night viewings, making it a lovely spot for the perfect yozakura date night.
2. The Philosopher's Walk (Kyoto)
The Philosopher’s Walk (哲学の道・Tetsugaku no Michi) is a 2-kilometer-long (1.24-mi) path that follows the canal in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, lined with hundreds of cherry trees. Named after Nishida Kitaro, a famous Japanese philosopher believed to walk the route daily on his way to Kyoto University, the path winds between Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) and the neighborhood of Nanzen-ji. Blossoming is at its best in early April. It's the perfect place for sharing a breathtaking walk with a special someone.
1. Himeji Castle (Hyogo)
Also called the White Heron Castle due to its pristine exterior, Himeji Castle (姫路城・Himeji-jo) is widely considered to be one of (if not the) most beautiful places in the country, and one of just 12 castles not destroyed by war or natural disaster. It's a National Treasure, as well as a World Heritage Site, and is well worth the trip to Hyogo Prefecture. It's sparkling new following its most recent renovation in 2015, and it only costs ¥1,000 (about US$8.80) to enter. Combine the historical and cultural significance with the fact that cherry blossoms bloom on the castle grounds in early April, and you’ve got a dream destination not to be missed by any hanami enthusiast!