Japanese legend has it that the fairy Ko-no-hana-sakuya-hime wakens flowering trees in spring with puffs of her delicate breath. Strolling under clouds of cherry blossoms, or sakura, the legend is easy to believe. Japan’s thousand-year tradition of cherry blossom viewing has become a rite of spring around the world, a time to reflect on life’s ephemeral beauty. Here are some of the best places in the world to see and celebrate cherry blossoms:
- Japan: The Japan Weather Association maps the cherry blossom front as it moves up the Japanese archipelago from March to May. People follow blossoming dates as major news and viewing traditions (called hanami) include picnicking, poetry and plenty of sake. Pick up a portable sake warmer and settle in for an afternoon under the blossoms at parks, castles and temples throughout the country. The iconic view of Mt. Fuji and its reflection framed in blossoms is best seen from Cape Ubuyagasaki, on the eastern shore of Lake Kawaguchi. Another ultimate sakura experience: hiking the 88 Temple pilgrimage route on the island of Shikoku.
- South Korea: The seaside town of Jinhae is South Korea’s most famous cherry blossom destination, with more than 200,000 trees bursting with white bloom. Anmin Road is a three-mile tunnel of flowering trees. Climb the 365 steps of the One Year Stairway in Jehwangsan Park to see a blizzard of blossoms against a spectacular backdrop of mountains and sea.
- Washington, DC: A gift of 2,000 trees from Tokyo to its sister capital in 1912 has grown into one of the world’s biggest celebrations of sakura and Japanese culture. The National Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off with a kite festival and ends with an elaborate float parade down Constitution Avenue. The large old trees, mainly snowy Yoshinos, are ranged around the Tidal Basin and along Potomac Park. A paddleboat ride or evening lantern walk are great ways to experience the display.
- Europe: Hardy varieties of flowering cherries survive at surprisingly northern latitudes. To celebrate the bicentennial of Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen planted 200 flowering cherries in Langelinie Park, home to the Little Mermaid statue. A two-day festival sees martial arts demonstrations, tea ceremonies, a fun flea market and free workshops on Japanese crafts. In Sweden, Stockholm’s Kungsträdgården is pretty in pink when dozens of young trees froth overhead. The display increases with every year, as the trees grow larger and more beautiful with age.
- Vancouver, BC: Vancouver’s month-long cherry blossom festival celebrates the 40,000 flowering trees that wash the Canadian city each spring with all shades of pink. Different cultivars come into bloom at different times. The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival has tips on what’s blooming now and where to find the best photo ops. From Stanley Park to Kitsilano Beach, ‘biking the blooms’ is the way to go.