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6 Stunning Places to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan

For a few precious weeks each spring, the rosy glow of blossoming cherry trees (also known as sakuras) cloaks Japan’s towns and cities. There's even a word—hanami—for the act of picnicking beneath the blooms, a Japanese ritual that traces its beginnings back to the 8th century when cherry trees were first hauled from the mountains to areas where communities were forming. Here are six destinations to witness the spectacle.

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Hakodate

Thanks to Japan's world-famous bullet train network, which launched a highly anticipated extension to northerly Hokkaido in 2016, the island's charming capital of Hakodate is now claiming a spot on cherry blossom itineraries. For superior sakura views, the Goryogaku Tower affords prime vistas of the city’s iconic star-shaped fort and the hundreds of trees that surround it. Hop aboard the Mount Hakodate Ropeway, which glides over a blanket of blossoms before depositing you at the 1,000-foot summit, for another unforgettable aerial tableau. Of course, you'll want to leave time to experience the city's other charms, including the European churches of Hakodate’s cosmopolitan Motomachi district and the interiors of the red-brick Kanemori Warehouses on its historic waterfront, which now house stylish restaurants and gift shops.

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Tokyo

Many of Tokyo's green spaces transform into raucous sakura viewing parties come springtime, but Shinjuku Gyoen—an unlikely oasis in the city's frenetic entertainment hub—stays serene thanks to a strictly enforced no-alcohol policy. At the Meiji Shrine, the holy forest and seasonal garden (whose springtime cherry blossoms give way to irises come summer) will make you forget you’re just steps from goth-punk central, Harajuku. If you’re craving a complete break from the crowds, duck into Tokyo's Nezu Museum, which holds over 7,000 pieces of pre-modern Asian art and antiques. From here, you’re just a ten-minute walk from the Aoyama Cemetery, an unlikely but awe-inspiring sakura viewing spot thanks to its petal-flanked boulevards. On your way out, be sure to pop into the nearby Aoyama Flower Market, which houses a tiny café that serves rose jelly and flower-dusted parfaits.

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Kanazawa

The 17th-century castle garden known as Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, on Japan’s western coast, is considered a living national treasure thanks to its mesmerizing ancient black pine tree and forty-plus types of cherry blossoms. Spending a morning here is mandatory when visiting the tradition-rich city; entrance fees are graciously waived for about seven days during peak sakura season. Also on the trip agenda: matcha at Kaikaro, a storied teahouse that turns into a ritzy invitation-only geisha lounge after hours, and a meditative visit to the D.T. Suzuki Museum—a sleek concrete complex with its own water mirror garden named for the philosopher who introduced Zen Buddhism to the United States.

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Osaka

Japan’s second-largest city may be best known for its inimitable street food, but you'll also find a fair share of spots to flower-gaze. Live taiko drumming often accompanies strolls around the 16th-century Osaka Castle, whose vast grounds are planted with over 4,000 cherry trees. For a glimpse of yaezakura—blossoms with ten or even twenty petals compared to the usual five—head to the Osaka Mint Bureau, a Meiji-era government building that opens its private grounds to the public one week every spring. The bureau is located inside Kema Sakuranomiya Park, a riverside sprawl bordered by a trail of Yoshino cherry trees that's become a favorite route for joggers. Still in the mood for food? You can sample some of Osaka's best flavors at its famed Kuromon Ichiba Market, where stalls hawk everything from grilled oysters to Kobe beef skewers.

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Kyoto

Japan’s former capital, long considered the country’s spiritual heart, is home to roughly 2,000 temples—particularly bewitching backdrops for cherry blossoms. You could spend hours meadering down the floral avenues of Daigo-Ji, a gargantuan Buddhist compound best known for its photogenic five-story pagoda—the oldest of its kind in Japan—or along the Philosopher’s Path, a tree-lined canal whose pedestrian walkway is dotted with cafés and boutiques. For a more romantic perch, there’s no better spot than hillside Kiyomizu-dera, another Buddhist temple and popular city landmark that illuminates its 1,500 mountain cherry trees at night. To get there, guests must climb Chawan Zaka, also known as Teapot Lane—a steep, bustling slope crammed with handicraft stalls and sweet shops. After all the excitement, rest your feet at the Suiran Hotel, a 19th-century villa known for its open-air cedar baths and Katsuma River views.

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Fukuoka

As the metropolitan nerve center of Japan’s southernmost main island (and age-old gateway to trade with China), Fukuoka holds bragging rights for the country’s ultimate ramen scene. This is the birthplace of tonkotsu, a pork bone-broth variety best slurped at area stalwart Hakata Isso. The city is also home to some of the Kyushu region’s most postcard-perfect blossom panoramas. Nearly 1,300 cherry trees surround Terumo Shrine, a Shinto site dedicated to samurai rebels in hillside Nishi Park. Alternatively, head to the nearby port city of Moji, about an hour away by train, to see the Shiranoe Botanical Garden—a lush, 185-acre expanse overlooking the Suo Sea. In addition to its azalea and peony garden, Shiranoe's forested paths are home to a rare type of sakura, whose tree buds take on a soothing light-green hue in place of the usual fuschia.

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