For two weeks every spring, the entire country of Japan gets decked out in pink, flowery patterns – from limited convenience store goods to office interiors – in celebration of the fleeting bloom of the cherished sakura cherry blossoms.
The blooming of the cherry blossoms are, as you may have heard, indeed reflective of the fleetingness of life: They sprout rapidly – often going from bud to full bloom in a day or so – and die nearly as quickly, sticking around for about two weeks assuming there’s no rain, strong wind or sideways glances at the sakura trees to bring the delicate pink petals down prematurely.
Sure, it’s great that Japan, and Tokyo in particular, suddenly become awash in a sea of gorgeous pink flora every spring, but the fleetingness of the sakura blossoms means that hanami – “cherry blossom viewing parties” – rage out of control day in and day out during this time. In ultra-crowded Tokyo, this means that a lot of the most popular cherry blossom-hosting parks become jam-packed with revelers. If you’re the type that would rather sit at home enjoying the latest video game or artistic pursuit (or fapping) than elbow your way through a crowd of sweaty, drunken salarymen and college students, but still want to claim your God-given right to get shitfaced under some pink flower trees, this post is for you.
Here are our top least crowded places to have a hanami party in and around Tokyo:
Shinjuku Gyoen has some of the best cherry blossoms in all of Tokyo and, in addition to being conveniently located in the heart of the city, sees comparatively smaller crowds during cherry blossom season for two simple reasons: You have to pay to get in, and alcohol technically isn’t allowed on the premises.
“Technically isn’t allowed” sounds an awful lot like “pocket flasks are okay” to us, so fear not; You can still get wasted in Shinjuku Gyoen. You just need to do it a little more discreetly than most other hanami hotspots.
Hachimanyama is the name of a small but wide-open park in the town of Utsunomiya. Tochigi Prefecture’s capital, Utsunomiya is far more sparsely populated than Japan’s major cities, but is still very modern and a pretty cool place to visit. You can enjoy some of the city’s famous gyoza dumplings before packing up a cooler or flatbed full of booze and heading to the park to enjoy some small-town hanami with the locals.
Utsunomiya is about an hour and a half train ride from Tokyo proper, so it’s a bit of a hike, but accommodations are comparatively cheaper there, so you can easily make a weekend out of it.
Another park slightly removed from Tokyo proper, Omiya park is located a long walk from Omiya station in Saitama Prefecture. Omiya is only 25 minutes removed from Tokyo station by rapid train, and since most self-respecting Tokyoites wouldn’t be caught dead in Saitama*, Omiya park – with its sprawling layout and huge acreage – tends to gather only sparse crowds even in the middle of hanami season. This despite the park having one of the higher concentrations of cherry blossom trees in all of Japan.
*Tokyoites often refer to Saitama as “Dasaitama” – a portmanteau of “Saitama” and dasai (Uncool).
A bit of a disclaimer here: Asakusa is crowded basically all the time, so introverts might have some mixed luck choosing to do hanami here. But, the cherry blossom trees in Asakusa are scattered all over the place and many are located in small clusters dotted along the Sumida River. We’ve visited Asakusa during hanami season every year for the past four of five and managed to find a secluded spot away from the crowds most of the time.
Bonus Tip: It’s All About Timing
If you’re unwilling to travel to some of the less populated areas on the outskirts of Tokyo (or in other cities entirely), but simply must get your hanami on away from the season’s huge crowds, consider going at odd times. If you’ve only got the weekend free, you can try going either very early in the morning or very late at night to avoid the daytime rush – many of the most popular parks have lights on at night so you can still see the blossoms, but it’s nevertheless an unpopular time to go.
Your absolute best bet, however, is to go in the early afternoon on a weekday, when most people are working and staring longingly at the cherry blossoms from their office buildings. However, beware the hours of 10 am to 1 pm, when many companies hold hanami parties during office hours as a concession to the soul crushing long working hours the Japanese are infamous for.
At time of writing, the peak time for hanami festivities is forecasted to be this Sunday, so maybe we’ll see you all at one of these great locations this weekend.