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Ladies and gentlemen, winter in Japan is officially over. The thermal underwear and thick coats have been packed away and people, or at least those who don’t suffer from allergies, are throwing open their windows and letting the warm air in. It’s at this time of year that people rekindle their love of the outdoors and, armed with their blue plastic ground sheets and big bags of food, head to the park in order to catch a glimpse of the cherry blossom at its best.

The official name for this recreational activity is hanami (花見 lit. flower watching), but for many it’s simply a great opportunity to get together with friends to drink beer in the park. Still, if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right, so provided you can find it in you to fight through the hordes of other like-minded sakura (cherry blossom) fans, there are three locations in particular that we highly recommend visiting.

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  •  Hirosaki Park (Aomori Prefecture)

As far north as you can go in Japan before hitting Hokkaido, Aomori is home to a number of scenic attractions including Hirosaki Castle, Lake Towada and even a rock that’s supposed to be Jesus Christ hiding in a cave. What’s more, the prefecture boasts some of the best cherry blossom in the country, with Hirosaki Park being home to an incredible 2,600 trees.

From April 23 until May 6 (the flowers bloom a little later up north, remember), the official Hirosaki Sakura Festival will be held, pulling in visitors from all around. As with every hanami season, you’ll need to arrive early and claim your spot with a tarpaulin, or “buruu shiito” (blue sheet) as they’re often called here, but it’ll definitely be worth it.

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  • Takato Castle Ruins Park  (Nagano Prefecture)

A comparatively little-known spot, the Takato Castle Ruins Park (or Takato Joushi Kouen in Japanese) holds its own cherry blossom festival between all the way through April this year. With 1,500 trees to sit beneath and bathe in the soft pink light, you’re bound to find a good spot to sip your beer and munch on rice balls.

For more information, visit Nagano’s own English language tourism site here.

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  • Yoshinoyama (Nara Prefecture)

No stranger to tourism, Nara Prefecture’s temples, parks and deer have been enchanting guests for generations. The crowds may be a little bigger and you may have less time to prepare since the pretty pink flowers work their way up from the south, but a trip to Mt. Yoshino is highly recommended. With a variety of cherry trees planted at different points up the side of the mountain, it’s possible to see the flowers in bloom right the way through the spring. It’s perhaps little wonder, then, that Yoshinoyama has long been known as Japan’s premier hanami spot. The king of hanami spots and make no mistake.

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▼ Cats love hanami, too, you know.

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▼ See, look how happy he is.

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But in the end it doesn’t really matter where you go; the cherry blossom’s always beautiful. But whether you plan an entire trip around it or can only find time to stroll through a nearby park and take a few snaps with your phone, make sure to put aside a little time for Japan’s cherry blossom this year- it won’t be around for long!

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Takato Park image via Go! Nagano Yoshinoyama images via Wikimedia Commons
[ Read in Japanese ]