The hanami festival — which usually involves an outdoor party held under vibrant, pink cherry blossom trees — is a time-honoured Japanese tradition that symbolises the welcoming of spring and the appreciation of natural beauty. Friends and family would roll out their picnic mats and enjoy seasonal food and drinks together while basking in the beauty of blooming sakura.
Some of the biggest hanami festivals, such as the ones held at the famous Meguro River and massive Ueno Park, used to attract over 10,000 visitors a day, with locals and tourists travelling from all over to witness the overhanging canopy of pink flowers. However, many of these festivals throughout the country have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Staying indoors is the best way to curb further spreading of the virus. But for those who still want to view the beautiful cherry blossoms (especially disappointed travellers), Japanese commercial weather service company Weathernews has a virtual reality sakura viewing playlist of all the best cherry blossom spots in the country.
Although the videos are not filmed in 2020, they give a gist of the actual atmosphere where people are still out and about enjoying the cool spring weather and the scenic trees. Accompanied by soothing background music with the actual audio toned down, viewers get a more relaxed experience while enjoying the 360-degree view.
The titles of the videos are all in Japanese but there's an English list available on their website that sorts the videos according to popularity, prefecture, night-viewing, the largest cherry trees in Japan and more. Here are some of the most popular locations to get you started.
Ueno Onshi Park
This public park welcomes over 10 million visitors a year and is the most popular city park in Japan as well as the busiest cherry blossom viewing spot in Tokyo. Around 1,000 cherry trees bloom along the park’s main promenade, lined with food stalls selling hanami snacks, like yakitori, takoyaki and yakisoba.
Osaka Castle Park
Surrounded by modern high-rise buildings, this historical landmark is frequented by tourists throughout the year, but even more so during sakura season. Come springtime, the 4,000 cherry blossom trees cushioning the castle overlook the annual hanami festival, and in the evenings, the trees are illuminated by lights and lanterns.
During cherry blossom season, many food and drink stalls are set up along the 4km river lined with over 800 sakura trees. While many rush to visit the river for the full bloom, it's highly recommended to come by after peak season. Pink petals dance in the air as they get blown by the wind and cover the surface of the river.
Takato Castle Park
About 1,500 Kohigan cherry trees are planted at the Takato Castle Park in Nagano. While the castle no longer stands, its foundation walls as well as the reconstructed curve bridge and drum tower have become popular photo spots. It's one of Japan’s top three cherry blossom viewing locations.
Chidorigafuchi Green Way
Flanked by hundreds of sakura trees, this 700m-long walkway meanders along the moat of the Imperial Palace. During the day, visitors can rent a rowboat to explore the moat. Come nightfall, the trees are illuminated with lights perfect for romantic strolls.
View the full playlist in English on Weathernews' website here.