While cherry blossoms (さくら, sakura) are recognized around the world as a symbol of Japan, Japan isn’t the only country that celebrates their ephemeral blooming. With cherry blossom festival season in full swing, the beautiful blooms will last only for only a few weeks before falling to the ground and remaining bare for another year. In Japan, cherry tree viewing is known as 花見 (hanami), which literally translates to
“flower viewing,” and now is the time to do it! Cherry blossoms have long been a symbol of impermanence in Japanese culture, though they also represent rebirth and the beginning of the spring. There are two Japanese sayings about cherry blossoms: 桜咲く (サクラサク, sakura saku, “The cherry blossoms bloomed”）and 桜散る (サクラチル, sakura chiru, “The cherry blossoms falling”). These sayings are often used to notify a student if they passed or failed their university entrances exams. Considering just how high-stakes the entrance exams are, it shows how eagerly the Japanese anticipate this annual event.
The brief beauty of the blossoms draws millions of people from all over the world to witness the spectacle. But they don’t just happen in Japan. So where are the best cherry blossom festivals around the world? Are you close enough to get to one before they’re gone?
So where are the best cherry blossom festivals?
Mount Yoshino (吉野山, Yoshinoyama) has long been considered the top spot for viewing cherry blossoms in Japan. With over 30,000 trees on varying slopes of the mountain, visitors can enjoy centuries old beauty while also exploring the UNESCO Heritage temples and shrines that the village has to offer. If you want the real deal in cherry blossom viewing, Yoshino is the way to go.
The cherry trees on the National Mall are one of the most famous hanami destinations in the world. The three thousand trees were a gift to the US from Japan in 1912 and can be viewed among some of the greatest architecture in America, including the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. The festival involves hundreds of cultural events over the three-week period as well. Try to arrive around sunrise to beat the crowds, or just join them because it’s worth it either way!
The Gunhangje Cherry Blossom Festival is easily the most famous in Korea. The beautiful naval port city of Jinhae is home to the world’s largest number of flowering trees. There are over 340,000 trees covering the streets and mountainsides of Jinhae, and the people of Korea are happy to celebrate! The festival began only 46 years ago, but the trees themselves are many times older. Follow the Yeojwa Stream and promenade to be canopied by thousands of trees as you walk. The festival was actually created to honor Admiral Yi Sun-Shin (famed for his victory against Japan during the Imjin War) but you can just go for the pretty flowers.
One of the youngest festivals in the world, the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival was born in just 1982. But with over 300,000 trees cultivated beginning in the 1950s, it surely won’t disappoint. The Macon festival is decidedly the most “American” of celebrations as the trees are scattered among the homes of local Georgia residents and visitors are known to wear head-to-toe pink in honor of the event. You may even see a pink poodle if you play your cards right! It’s guaranteed to be different than any other festival you find. The origins of the sakura here are also unique in that one man loved them so much, he decided to give the seeds to all of his neighbors to help them grow cherry trees of their own. It’s no wonder the theme of this festival is, “Love, Beauty, and International Friendship.”
While Tenshochi Park may not be the biggest festival, it was voted one of the 100 Best Cherry-Viewing spots in Japan. With more than 10,000 cherry trees and 100,000 azaleas, it’s easy to understand why. The famous tunnel of cherry blossoms follows the river path for 2 kilometers and festival vendors can be found at either end. You can also enjoy the blooms from a sightseeing tour along the river. The river is decorated with carp-shaped streamers during the festival and the views after sunset are just as spectacular.
So which festival will you be visiting this year?
Whether the closest sakura to you are hundreds of miles away, or right in your backyard, they never cease to be spectacular. Have you made it to a cherry blossom festival this year? Will you be able to see them before the blooms disappear again until next April? Share your favorite spot for hanami in the comments below!