The best-laid travel plans can be altered by forces of nature. Fiery volcanos. Raging typhoons. Blooming cherries.
With only two must-sees on our family’s list of Things To Do In Japan – snow and cherry blossoms – I started researching the seasons. I read that skiing’s usually good at some resort or other from December through til May, and the first cherry blooms open as early as mid-January in the far south, with the blossom front moving north until the last of them peter out in Hokkaido with the melt of the snow. We picked some dates roughly in the middle of each of those, booked heavily-discounted and completely non-refundable airfares, and sat back to admire our work.
Which is when I found out there’s a gap in the cherry blossom season.
Are you familiar with the geography of Japan? Admittedly, it’s hard to keep track of, but by and large it’s a long series of islands, stretched from a latitude of about twenty degrees north to about forty-five, encompassing a wide variety of climates. Okinawa, in the south, is balmy and sub-tropical, conjuring images of white, sandy beaches and palm trees ruffling pleasantly in the breeze, whereas Hokkaido, in the north, is more reminiscent of the Siberian winter, which lends the place its winds once it’s finished with them.
Between them lies Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and this vast tract of sea. Even a cherry blossom amateur like myself should have figured they wouldn’t be growing in the sea. If you want to catch cherry blossoms on Honshu, your best bet is to wait for early April – and buy a JR pass, so you can travel to view the ephemeral petals at their peak.
Now, someone else might have shrugged and said, “Oh well – more time on the snow then!” but I am not that person. No, I am the person whose mother’s been talking about seeing the cherry blossoms of Japan for nigh on three decades and had resolved to battle her way through some recent difficulties in order to finally get the chance, therefore I’m the person who quietly panicked and spent a great deal of time learning more about cherry blossoms than I ever intended to find out – the good news being that I can now bore you with same.
What Everyone, Everywhere, Except Me, Probably Already Knows About Hanami in Japan
Did you know you can find historical cherry blossom reports from the Japan Meteorological Association online?
You can find out when selected areas saw their first, and peak blooms for every year from 2000-2010. [Links now missing – if you find them again, let me know!] Or you can look at this easier-to-interpret 2003-2013 infographic and 2013 cherry blossom map.
You can also obsess over forecasts once they become available (check here from late Feb/March), and think about all the blossom-related traditions you can participate in if you’re lucky and also not completely gimboid enough to book a trip during the big, gaping hole in the season.
To kill time between refreshes (and anguished beatings of one’s head against one’s desk) there’s this informative post on cherry blossom varieties. There are actually quite a lot of cultivars, from the popular Somei Yoshino, which was planted around Tokyo during the Edo period, to the lesser known Kawazuzakura, which grows on a small peninsular to the south of Tokyo known as the Izu Peninsular, and is famed for its early, long-flowering season. They even have a festiv….
Wait. They have a cherry blossom festival on the Izu Peninsular from mid-February to mid-March. Saved by the internet.
Without further ado, I rearranged our itinerary and booked us accommodation for the Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival of 2014. Now the Australian contingent of our party will be fleeing their summer for a Japanese spring, followed by a snowy “winter”, followed by the Australian autumn (on their return home). Because if nature messes with me, I will mess with it, too.
Updates: You can also get Cherry Blossom flavoured ice cream! Now see, that’s the really important stuff to know.
Further information on the 2014 Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival (including a handy English-language brochure with map).
And now you can read about our experience of the 2014 Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival.