Tokyo has no shortage of good places to see sakura (cherry blossoms), but for some reason there are a few famous parks that get recommended over and over again. Not that there’s anything wrong with the well-known hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots, but we feel it’s time to give some of the less famous places their due. So here is our list of famous hanami venues paired with some lesser-known places to try instead.
A lot of these alternative spots are a bit off the beaten track, but if you’re up for a little train travel then consider this a good chance to get to see more of the city. Many places have at least a few yatai (food stalls) but prices can be high and lines can be long, so you may be better off packing a hanami bento (cherry viewing lunch box) or picking one up at a depachika (department store food hall) or convenience store on the way. Most spots also allow sit-down picnics and alcohol unless otherwise noted below, but rules vary between parks and are subject to change, so we recommend checking beforehand to make sure.
So read on to discover some new places to celebrate the spring, and have a happy hanami!
Why it’s popular: The top hanami spot in Tokyo for 400 years running, people come to Ueno as much for the boisterious crowds as for the 1200 cherry trees. It also helps that Ueno is a centre of history and culture, with several historic statues and a half dozen museums.
Why you might want to avoid it: Massive crowds; annoying drunks.
Where to try instead: For a similar carnival-like atmosphere, these three amusement parks hold festivals to celebrate their cherry blossoms: Toshimaen, Seibuen Yuenchi, and Yomiuri Land. If it’s culture you’re after, try Koganei Koen. It’s bigger than Ueno and has 1800 cherry trees, with fewer and friendlier people; the park also contains the Edo-Tokyo Tatemono-en (Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum), home to 27 relocated and reconstructed historical buildings; visitors can enter the buildings and view rooms decorated with period pieces.
Why it’s popular: The shrine holds a large and lively festival with about 200 yatai set up under 600 cherry trees. It also enshrines the souls of nearly 2.5 million people who died in World War II and other wars; the shrine’s cherry blossoms are symbolic of those short and glorious lives.
Why you might want to avoid it: Among the venerable war dead are over 1000 war criminals, a fact that continues to cause friction with Japan’s Asian neighbors.
Where to try instead: Aoyama Reien (Aoyama Cemetery, also called Aoyama Bochi), where you can honor a different kind of hero: the cemetery was founded in the Meiji Era and contains the graves of many of the people, both foreign and Japanese, who helped modernize Japan.
Why it’s popular: Some 260 trees line this section of the moat around the Imperial palace and their reflection on the water makes a beautiful sight; boats can be rented on the moat for a different view of the flowers. At night the cherry trees are lit up and the view is spectacular.
Why you might want to avoid it: With no alcohol or sitting down permitted, only walk-by hanami is possible here. And that’s a very slow walk-by, since Chidorigafuchi gets extremely crowded.
Where to try instead: Zenpukuji Koen has 200 sakura trees, a pond with boats for rent, and you can actually have a sit-down hanami.
Why it’s popular: 500 trees surround a pond with boats for rent; the funky neighborhood of Kichijoji is nearby.
Why you might want to avoid it: There are no yatai; the resident goddess Benzaiten is said to have put a curse on the pond that dooms visiting couples to breaking up.
Where to try instead: Shakujii Koen and Senzoku-ike are a bit smaller and lack the hip location, but they have ponds, boats, plenty of yatai, and are curse-free.
Why it’s popular: The striking juxtaposition of the Mori Tower and other ultra-modern buildings behind the cherry blossoms; the trees are lit up at night to dramatic effect; shopping, dining and nightlife options abound nearby.
Why you might want to avoid it: The crowds; there’s no real place to do sit-down hanami.
Where to try instead: There’s also plenty to do around Yokohama's Kamonyama Koen; and the nearby Landmark Tower and other buildings can be seen behind the park's 2000 cherry trees, offering a contrast no less impressive than at Roppongi Hills.
Why it’s popular: Considered by many to be Tokyo’s best park, with sprawling lawns dotted with over 1300 sakura trees.
Why you might want to avoid it: the 200 yen admission fee; alcohol is not permitted; the park closes at 4:30pm.
Where to try instead: Kinuta Koen and Hikarigaoka Koen are similarly large but have no entry fee and don’t kick you out before sundown.
Why it’s popular: This traditional Japanese garden contains a single shidare-zakura (weeping cherry tree) that is gorgeous during the day and spectacular at night when it is lit up.
Why you might want to avoid it: Ridiculously long lines to enter the park; forget about getting a good picture because the crowds will block your view.
Where to try instead: Hamarikyu Onshi Teien (Hamarikyu Gardens) and Koishikawa Korakuen are similar landscape gardens, and though they don’t light their sakura up at night the thinner crowds make both parks worth a visit.
Why it’s popular: 800 cherry trees line the Meguro River starting at the trendy neighborhood of Naka Meguro; yatai and special events abound while the flowers bloom.
Why you might want to avoid it: The crowds; insufferably hip locals; the fact that the river is actually more of a canal, completely encased in concrete.
Where to try instead: Nomigawa Ryokudo and Zenpukuji River are similarly sakura-lined canals, but with views that are just as pretty; Zenpukuji is especially free of crowds.
Why it’s popular: It’s a big park with wide-open spaces and lots going on nearby; dogs enjoy frolicking in the dog run.
Why you might want to avoid it: The park doesn’t actually have that many cherry trees.
Where to try instead: Kokuei Showa Kinen Koen is an enormous park with 1500 cherry trees and a huge variety of other plantlife; there’s lots to do for humans and dogs get plenty of space of their own with two runs each for large and small dogs.Sumida Koen
Why it’s popular: 680 trees line the Sumidagawa River near Asakusa station; street lamps and hanging pink lanterns make them especially beautiful at night when seen from the opposite riverbank.
Why you might want to avoid it: No special reason, except that the cherry blossoms look nicer from the river than on land.
Where to try instead: A cruise on the Sumida River. If you’re lucky you can snag a reservation for a yakatabune (traditional pleasure boat), most of which have all-you-can-eat and drink plans; a ride on the Suijo Bus’s Sumida River Line is more affordable. For a slightly higher fee Suijo Bus offers night cruises to see the yozakura (cherry blossoms at night); 2500 yen gets you a package that includes a drink, snacks and a performance by a troupe of furisode-san (geisha-like entertainers).