It’s “hanami”, or cherry blossom viewing season in Japan right now – in case you hadn’t noticed. In case your Instagram feed hasn’t already begun filling up with flower photos from Kyoto, or first blooms from Tokyo, or the tail end of the season from Kyushu, as Australian travellers flock to join the obsession, that’s your word of warning.
Hanami is on, and it’s a serious business. The Japanese go nuts for a sakura, or cherry blossom, booking out hotels near viewing areas across the country, filling up parks day by day, lugging enormous camera equipment around cities to get the perfect shot. I’m not 100 per cent sure I get it – I mean, they’re just flowers, right? – but when you’re in Japan it’s impossible not to get swept up in the mania.
Cherry blossom viewing is supposed to be a peaceful experience. During hanami in Japan, however, it can often feel pretty hectic, pretty harried. Everyone wants to get the best spot in the park. Everyone wants to nail that photo. It’s exhausting.
There’s good news though: to appreciate the beauty of the humble cherry blossom, you don’t actually have to go to Japan. You’ll find plenty of beautiful, fruity blooms across the globe.
Unsurprisingly, just a short distance from Japan, across the sea in South Korea, cherry blossoms abound. As with Japan, these blooms can usually be viewed from March to May, and they’re at their best in Seoul, the nation’s capital, as well as on Jeju Island in the far south, in the city of Daegu around Yongyeonsa Temple, and in historic Gyeongju, which hosts a marathon on April 7 to allow runners to see the blooms.
Washington, D.C. Photo: Alamy
The US is actually cherry blossom heaven, with multiple locations in which to soak up the floral goodness. Washington DC is the prime spot: back in 1912 Japan donated 3000 cherry trees to the city, and they still bloom every March, when the National Cherry Blossom Festival is held. There’s also fine viewing to be done in the town of Macon, Georgia, which has more than 300,000 cherry trees, and St Louis, which has a Japanese Garden that covers more than 14 acres.
Quebec City, Canada Photo: Alamy
Canada also boasts some blooms, which are best appreciated in Vancouver from February to April. The city hosts Canada’s only Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration that includes a haiku competition, among other things, as well as the chance to check out the 37,000 cherry trees that were gifted to the city by – you guessed it – Japan.
Though there are those who travel to Amsterdam for plant life of a different kind, there’s also room for cherry blossom enthusiasts: notably, on April 7, when the city celebrates its Cherry Blossom Festival. Best place to view the blooms is out in the Amsterdamse Bos, the large forest on the edge of the city. Alternatively, 400 cherry trees were planted in the Westerpark, in the north of Amsterdam, as a tribute to Japanese tsunami victims, and they bloom throughout spring.
Extremadura Photo: Alamy
There are several reasons to head to Extremadura, the Spanish province in the country’s central west: some of the world’s best pork products are produced here; there are medieval towns on seemingly every hilltop; and for cherry blossom lovers, the Jerte Valley absolutely comes alive in spring. There are more than 1.5 million trees spread throughout this long valley, and you could spend days just soaking up the sight in March and April.
Kungstradgarden in central Stockholm Photo: Alamy
This is more about quality than quantity. In the Kungstradgarden, or King’s Tree Garden, in central Stockholm, you’ll find a grand total of 63 cherry trees, which were planted in 1998. When the trees bloom, usually around mid-April, this becomes a hugely popular spot for picnicking and photo-snapping. Join the crowds, and enjoy.
Natural History Museum, Paris Photo: Alamy
The cherry blossom viewing in Paris is admittedly confined to a fairly small area, but what an area it is: the Parc du Champs de Mar, a patch of land that lies in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Budding photographers gather every April to snap shots of the blooms with the country’s most famous edifice lurking in the background.
There aren’t many places in the Southern Hemisphere in which to enjoy your own little hanami, but it makes sense that one of them would be the home of the largest Japanese population outside Japan: Brazil. There are a few places throughout the country with cherry trees, but the most popular for tourists is Curitiba, which boasts walkways lined with blooms in its botanical gardens during June and July.
Have you experienced “hanami” in Japan? Was it worth the journey? Or have you been to cherry blossom festivals elsewhere in the world?