Japanese cherry blossoms, or sakura as they’re called in Japanese, are known around the world for their beauty. Typically only lasting a few weeks in March or April, they can be tricky to view if you’re traveling from overseas and need to pin down travel plans. But, with the help of weather forecasts, you can typically expect to see at least some cherry blossoms no matter how early you have to plan your trips.
While cherry blossoms are beautiful, they can be tricky to photograph. Because of their small size, delicate coloring, and the contrast between them and their surroundings, it can prove tough to get great photos, especially if you’re a beginner. So keep scrolling to see some of my cherry blossom photography tips to help get you some great images to take home with you.
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When is cherry blossom season in Japan?
Sakura season is typically from late March to mid-April. It varies each year depending on weather conditions so it’s important to check the forecasts that come from the Japanese Meteorological Agency like ours Here. It also depends on the location in Japan. The blooms typically open first in the southern region, and the blooming progresses northward. So it’s possible to catch peak bloom in a few different regions of Japan if you’re willing to travel.
Why is cherry blossom season so important in Japan?
Viewing cherry blossoms has been a national pastime since the 8th century. There are many species of cherry, some of which have been cultivated through cross-breeding. These efforts took off in the 14th century when they became cultivated as ornamental flowers.
But why is Japan so fascinated with the sakura phenomenon since centuries ago? Cherry blossom trees have many meanings to the Japanese. A lot has to do with the very brief life of the flowers, blooming only for about a week to ten days.
Their fleeting beauty illustrates all too perfectly that nothing in this world is permanent, everything passes away at some point. A sad but beautiful admiration for this impermanence has been an important part of the Japanese mindset since ancient times. In Japanese, it’s called “mono no aware.” This mindset can be found in the smallest things of Japanese daily life.
Best Ways to Enjoy the Blossoms
While you can definitely stroll through a park to enjoy the cherry blossoms, there are other ways you can get into the spirit of spring. Here are some typical things you can do to enjoy the cherry blossoms in Japan:
Hanami: This means “flower viewing” and is a great Japanese tradition of having a picnic under the sakura and enjoying the blossoms. Bring a tarp to sit on, snacks, and drinks. But make sure you check that the park allows hanami, or you’ll be disappointed.
Sakura Festivals: These cherry blossom festivals provide food stalls, pretty lanterns, and even entertainment. They are held around peak blossom season, and they are a perfect way to view the blossoms and enjoy the spring weather. See our list of cherry blossom festivals in Japan.
Yozakura: This refers to cherry blossoms that are illuminated at night. They offer a different take on the cherry blossom-viewing experience.
Hikes: The best chance of seeing some quiet cherry blossoms in their natural habitat is to head out into the mountains for a spring walk. Pack a picnic and it’s the best way to welcome spring.
Differences between cherry, plum, and peach blossoms.
The cherry blossom (sakura) may, at times, be confused with the plum blossoms (ume) or peach blossoms (momo). Plum blossom spots in Japan tend to bloom earlier in the season – from mid-February to mid-March – while the cherry blossom season peaks in April. Peach blossoms bloom around the same time cherry blossoms bloom but have a very sweet smell. All trees produce flowers ranging in color from white to pink, to red but can be easily identified in the following steps:
Petals and Growing pattern
- Cherry flowers have a small split or notch in each petal; plums and peaches do not.
- Plum flowers have round tips, peach has pointed petals.
- Cherry blossoms produce multiple flowers per bud, while plums produce only one, and peaches have only 2.
- New cherry leaves are green in color, while plum tree leaves emerge with a purple or red hue.
Colors and Scents
Plum: Flower colors can be broadly divided into white and crimson, though complex color differences can occur between them. For example, some buds turn pink when they bloom, and some buds turn white. Some buds have a pale pistil, and only the petals are red. They have a sweet, gentle scent similar to jasmine.
Peach: Flowers can be white, pink, or red. The color varies by type and individual plant. Different colored flowers might even grow on one tree! The scent is sweet and mild, which you can smell from both the flowers and the leaves.
Cherry Blossom: Can be white, light pink, or dark pink, depending on the type and individual plant. The cherry blossom scent is usually very mild, and Yoshino cherry trees are particularly faint, barely noticeable even if you bring your nose close. While there are more fragrant varieties with stronger scents, you won’t usually see them around town.
Equipment for Taking Cherry Blossom Photos
If you’re planning to shoot with just your smartphone, consider downloading an app like VSCO, Slow Shutter, or Camera+ which will give you more control over what you’re shooting, especially factors like white balance, ISO, and shutter speed.
If you’re looking for a bigger camera that has more settings and control over your images, look into the camera I currently use, the Canon 70D and my favorite lens, the 55mm. You can also try the 75-300mm if you’re trying to get detailed long range shots.
You can also see my camera gear guide.
Also, don’t forget your tripod for use at night (to stabilize your phone/camera at longer shutter speeds), and if you’re using a digital camera, also consider bringing or buying a circular polarizing (C/PL) filter to help colors pop—and/or a neutral density (ND) filter to slow down shutter speed, which can help you magically blur (and even remove) people from your photos. Finally, don’t forget your power bank!
When to Get the Best Photos of Cherry Blossoms
How to take a perfect cherry blossom picture? There are many sakura varieties, with flower colors ranging from white to pink and virtually every shade in between.
Since regular daylight can wash these colors out, look to early morning and late afternoon when the angle of sunlight is low, and the blossoms will really pop in your sakura photo.
You will also find a greater contrast between the blossoms and sky at these times, making for a great shot. Don’t be afraid to play with manual white balance levels to dial in the kind of color you want. This can be found in your camera settings—there are modes for situations like “cloudy” and “sunny.”
Cherry blossom season is one of the most popular times for visiting Japan, and the main sakura photo spots in Tokyo will be packed. Many visitors are surprised by the sheer number of people. Photographers can sometimes be frustrated by always having a crowd in the background. Be patient and keep moving around: you’re bound to find a good angle.
Read Also: Spring Packing List for Japan
One thing to keep in mind: flower viewers will often use blue plastic ground cloths, which can add a bluish hue to the light-colored blossoms. Using a white paper sheet to block this and reflect light up to blossoms can be one workaround—especially with closeups. Another is to adjust manual white balance and exposure settings.
At night, blossoms become magical—especially when there’s a full moon. Pinkish light from lanterns set around the blossoms can also add an unexpected hue, and trees seem to layer much more upon each other, adding incredible depth to scenes. Be prepared to use this ambient light instead of using a flash, as generally, the latter will over-saturate your sakura photo.
A tripod can be beneficial here, especially if you decide to use a slower shutter speed. If you forgot yours, you could pick one up at a shop like Bic Camera or Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Akihabara. Note that not all places will allow tripods for safety reasons—look out for signs indicating whether they’re discouraged from use.
How to Shoot Around Overcast Skies
Early spring in Japan is usually accompanied by wind and clouds, making snapping pictures of the light-colored cherry blossoms against a light-colored sky quite challenging. Look for chances to contrast sakura petals against something darker in the background. Consider using a higher ISO level (or a burst mode) to help reduce motion blur on windier days.
On these days, lower contrast can also mean it is more difficult for your camera or smartphone to focus on flowers—especially when you’re looking for macro shots. A simple trick: hold your fingers near the blossoms you want to snap, lock the focus on your fingers, and adjust the exposure settings until the blossoms are at the right style you want.
Photography tips for Capturing Cherry Blossoms
Have a focal point
Pointing your camera into the heart of the tree might give you the most petals per pixel, but it will leave your eyes scanning over the image but seeing nothing. It might leave you with the sensation you can’t see the wood for the trees. Instead, try to create a strong visual focal point in your image. Focus on a bunch of petals, or a lantern, or use the branches to act as leading lines in your focus.
Bokeh is the professional term for the blur produced in out-of-focus parts of a photo, usually the background. (Think portrait mode blurring the background on an iPhone). When shooting the blossoms close to the camera and with a large aperture, like ƒ/2.8, you will most likely get pleasing bokeh.
It is a great way to separate and isolate your subject from its background, and correctly done, will enhance the colors and aesthetic of your image. To minimize your depth of field and maximize the aesthetic, use the largest aperture you can – ƒ/2.8 or ƒ/1.4 for example (this will change depending on the ‘speed’ of your lens), use a telephoto lens – the effects appear amplified when zoomed in, and get close to your subject.
You don’t need to be wide open all the time though. Have a play around with different aperture values and see how they affect your image. Figure out where you think the perfect spot it for each image. If you have a depth of field preview button, this is where it comes in handy, as it will show you how your depth of field will look before you press the trigger button.
Cherry Blossoms are quite light, and they’re usually filling most of your screen. Your camera will want to pull down the exposure because it doesn’t understand what you are shooting and thinks you want a grey image, so it will make the photo muggy and dark. Overexpose by one stop to keep the petals looking bright and white – but check your histogram regularly to make sure you aren’t blowing out your highlights by accident.
Most of the time I suggest shooting in Auto White Balance because it usually selects the setting better than you will, but with Cherry Blossoms your camera might confuse the subtle pink hues in the flowers as a technical defect. When it does this, it will try to correct them by increasing the greens, sucking the life from your image. Set your camera’s white balance to the appropriate setting, daylight, cloudy, etc., and keep the internal green to magenta settings as is, or play with them until the images look like a true and accurate representation of what the flowers really look like in reality.
Best Places to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Japanese cherry blossom hotspots can be found in over 1,000 locations across the country, so choosing just one best place is tough. We’ve found it easier to come up with our sample of stunning spots by region
In the colder areas of Northern Japan, cherry blossom season typically occurs later than in the rest of the country. Sakura in Sendai in the Tohoku region were forecast to open at the end of March.
The last cherry blossoms in Japan to open are expected to be in Hokkaido toward the end of April.
Here are the top five places in Japan:
Goryokaku Tower and Fort Goryaku
A star-shaped fort with the first French-style fortifications in Hakodate Japan. Goryokaku was designated as a national special historic site and the surrounding park is known for its famous cherry blossoms. The 107m-high Goryokaku Tower adjacent to the park is a spot where you can marvel at a unique view of the gorgeous Hokkaido cherry blossoms from above.
In Tokyo, about 800 cherry trees blossom along Megurogawa which stretches for about 3.8 kilometers. While there are no parks here, you can enjoy cherry blossom viewing while having drinks and meals in the cafes and restaurants along the river.
Also Read: Where to See Night Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
One of the most popular spots in Tokyo, and one where trees tend to bloom, is Ueno Park, home to over 1,000 cherry blossom trees, as well as plenty of museums, shrines, and ponds. A 4km stretch is illuminated from 5 pm to 9 pm (from about March 23 to April 10). Graze as you go, on noodles and sticky rice balls from food stalls.
Possibly the prettiest spot for cherry blossom viewing, this ancient three-story castle is surrounded by a fortified moat and a huge tree-lined park that hosts illuminations in the evenings.
Come sakura season and this is probably Japan’s most famous cherry-bloom destination, where a carpet of blushing blooms cascade the mountainsides.
Further Reading: Best Hikes to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Cherry Blossoms are one of Japan’s most sought-after tourist attractions. With their beauty and limited appearance, it’s not hard to see why so many people love them.
Hopefully, this guide has given you some tips on how to better photography cherry blossoms, and when to find them at full bloom so you can get some great images and get a better handle on your photography skills. Let us know if the comments below what your favorite place is to get pictures of cherry blossoms.
Traveling to Japan in Spring
Spring can be an amazing time to travel to Japan. With cool weather that hasn’t yet turned humid, beautiful clear skies, and of course the allure of cherry blossoms, it’s many people’s favorite time to visit the islands. Here are some of our resources for traveling to Japan in the springtime.
- Japan Hotels
- Japan Rail Pass
- Cherry Blossom Tours
- What to do in Japan in Spring
- Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
- Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
- Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto
- Where to See Cherry Blossoms Around Mt. Fuji
- Best Cherry Blossom Festivals in Japan
- Best Spring Hikes in Japan for Cherry Blossoms
- 5 Places to See Night Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
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Are you ready for Japan?
- Book Your Flights– To find the cheapest flights, flexibility is a must. Some great options are Google Flights for the calendars to find the cheapest options, Skiplagged, and Skyscanner. For more options see our resources page. For Japan, check flights for both Tokyo Airports (Haneda and Narita), as well as Osaka (Kansai).
- Find Transportation- Buy your JR Pass for your bullet train and inter-city travel before you leave home. Research a Suica card, the public transportation card you can either buy before or as soon as you arrive.
- Book Your Accommodation– Look at Booking.com, Hotels.com, or Expedia for hotels in Japan. You can also look at AirBnB or VRBO as we’ve had great luck finding inexpensive, large, and clean homes to rent.
- Book Tours and Experiences- Check Klook or Viator for some of the best tours and attractions for a great price for experiences like Tokyo Skytree, TeamLab Borderless, and Universal Osaka. For Tokyo Disney Resort, check my guide here.
- Stay Connected– Order a pocket WIFI for airport pickup if you’re with a family or group, or order a SIM card just for your phone. Check out our guide to staying connected here.
- Buy Travel Insurance- I always recommend World Nomads for insurance. It’s better to protect yourself in case of mishaps. Learn more about World Nomads in this FAQ post.
- Pack Your Bags– Check out my packing lists, or my favorite travel gear to help you remember all of the essentials.
- Learn About Japan– Learn about Japan with guidebooks like Lonely Planet, or, shameless plug, search around my site for more info.