Flowering cherries, that is.
Whilst a decent figurative title under other circumstances, it now reflects the literal truth for many a prospective traveller to Japan this spring (myself included). Unseasonably warm temperatures sweeping across large parts of the country have triggered a much earlier start to 2013’s hanami season than originally anticipated, with places such as Tokyo seeing their trees break out into clouds of white and pink as early as mid-March. This will likely scupper the travel plans of quite a few visitors who have planned and booked their holidays around older forecasts, sending them – yes, as titled – chasing after wherever the blooming might still be in progress within striking distance of their original destinations.
My own trip was (and remains) booked for the first half of April, and naturally I’ve felt the impact of this unexpected turn of events. Not a disaster in my case, fortunately enough, as my itinerary was built primarily around non-hanami-related destinations (mainly of a historical and cultural nature), so the cherry blossoms were more of an added bonus rather than a critical element. In any case, I would not have advanced my departure by a week or so even if alerted earlier to the changed conditions, especially with Holy Week falling in the tail end of March this year (time best spent reflectively on one’s home turf, unless one happens to be out on a pilgrimage).
That said, having seen a few years ago (when I took the image above) how breathtaking the sight of cherry trees in full bloom can be, I’ve joined the scores of other travellers scouring guidebooks and websites for places where one might yet catch a fleeting glimpse of sakura in all their spring finery. If anyone out there is in the same position, I can recommend the following pages on the Japan Guide website:
* Cherry Blossom Forecast 2013 – Updated regularly (even daily in the past week or so as the season began), this page summarises both expected and actual blooming dates, accompanied by estimates of when the trees will be at their best. Scroll further down on the same page to access links to their regular cherry blossom reports from different parts of the country (great for assessing the state of things in one’s intended destinations).
* Too late for cherry blossoms in Tokyo? – As the page title suggests, this contains a list of suggestions for those arriving in Tokyo too late for the best part of the season. Among these is a helpful rundown of various destinations (many within a couple of hours’ travel of the capital) where the season is expected to start/end significantly later than in the city itself.
Cheerio, and all the best on your own sakura hunt.