Cherry blossom season is fast approaching! This icon of Japan is so popular yet so fleeting (full bloom blossom lasts less than a week) that the only thing that could rival the spectacle of tumbling sakura petals through a crisp spring day is the amassed crowds that congregate around the trees. If you're in one of the many parks in Tokyo during the blooming of sakura, the number of people tussling for the perfect space for a picnic or a photo of the blossom can be overwhelming!
So where can you go to experience the cherry blossom in spacious surroundings? Why, Saitama of course! The Prefecture just north of Tokyo is not only less crowded, but has more green spots that boast a great array of cherry blossom hotspots. Here are three favorites…
1. Kumagaya - Arakawa Riverside
The massive Arakawa River sweeping through the city of Kumagaya is flanked on the north bank by a raised levee, giving commanding views any time of the year. Look to the city-facing side of the levee, though, and you find a line of sakura trees that stretch for over half-a-kilometer: plenty of space for everyone to lay down their tarp and enjoy ‘hanami’ (a picnic under the cherry blossom trees). Better still, the sloped ground is covered in stunning flora all of its own, so you are literally surrounded by flowers most of the time. It's the closest you can get to enjoying cherry blossom in a private booth!
And when you’re finished with hanami for the day, take a wander down to the bottom of the slope and take a walk along the parallel street. The sight of the long line of sakura trees scattering their petals onto the tarmac is a breathtaking sight, and a perfect way to cap your cherry blossom experience in Kumagaya.
2. Saitama - Yono Koen
Had to include my local park on here! Yono Park, a ten minute walk from Yonohonmachi Station, is bigger than it initially looks, stretching from the Enjoin Temple to the Omiya Bypass. There’s a surprising amount of open space to be found here, enough to lay out your own tarp and be well out of the reach of the nearest party.
Paper lanterns are also strung up around the park at night, glowing the appropriate hues of white and pink, meaning that an evening stroll through the park is not only possible, but recommended: the lanterns throwing moody splashes of light onto the canopies above is quite the sight. If you are lucky enough to be in Yono Park on a particularly warm spring night, you can even lay out your tarp under the dark sky and enjoy night hanami. You’ll have even more space to yourself!
3. Namegawa - Shinrin Koen
Let’s face it - for some people, cherry blossoms alone isn’t a strong enough draw to pull people out of Tokyo. Understandably they need something more. And boy, does Shinrin Koen Park deliver!
Set in the heart of Saitama, in the rural town of Namegawa, is the huge Shinrin Koen Park. This is a fine nature reserve anytime of the year, but in the springtime you can find over 500 cherry blossom trees filling their branches with blossoms. Surrounded by nature on all sides, the park makes for a handsome backdrop.
And where are the cherry blossom trees in this huge park? Scattered around it for the most part, but that’s the fun part! Upon arrival at the park, get a rental bicycle and go cherry blossom hunting via the maze of bicycle routes stretching across the park. Having cycled around the park at least five times myself, I guarantee that you’ll have a great time combining hanami with a leisurely bike ride. It’s absolutely worth the one-hour train journey out of Tokyo.
Saitama may just be a hop away from Tokyo, but boasts more nature and open space than the capital. And more nature equals more cherry blossom!