The Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens were in full bloom when I visited on March 23rd 2019. Here are some highlights! Carefully trimmed and wild-and-free plants grow all throughout this campus of blooms in the modern ward of Shinjuku.
It’s only 500 yen or about $5 USD to get into Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens. The nicest security people and policemen I’ve ever seen were outside the gates, helping everyone get through quickly and easily. It was almost like the police were entertainers with megaphones, proudly announcing the the same message over and over: “Please line up and have 500 yen ready!” I’ve never seen someone with a repetitive job perform a repetitive task with such bravado. The lines on this bright and sunny day were long but fast-moving, and full of several tourists like myself who were looking forward to seeing some blossoms.
To plan a springtime trip to Japan and hit the cherry blossom season just right, this website proved extremely helpful: https://www.japan-guide.com/sakura/ . While weather can change easily, reviewing the data on this website helped me a lot. It’s also in English!
You can use the guide to see average timing and a forecast to get plane tickets and plan ahead. I found that the Sakura map from Japan Guide was very precise, with some cherry blossoms in Tokyo opening as early as 3/24 this year. Since the blossoming starts in the south and moves north, it’s easy to catch a train to see spectacular views even if the blossoms aren’t open in your region of Japan yet. Airports and subways in Tokyo also have a ton of information on the best places to go to see the blooms. Like an influx of butterflies or falltime leaves on the east coast, these blossoms are an event in the truest sense!
While I love crowd photos, portraits, and people, I worked hard to get these photos of Shinjuku Gardens in bloom with as few fellow visitors as possible. Many folks were taking portraits or were just as dazzled as I was, and several standout trees had asteroid belts of photographers crowded around them. One particularly dazzling tree even had a short line, where parkgoers had voluntarily queued up for their turn at the perfect cherry blossom photo!
It’s hard not to love and adore cherry blossoms since they bring springtime to us. Living through the particular swampy misery of DC winter is worth it when you get to see cherry blossoms and tiny blooms start to form despite morning frosts. Blossoms in Japan have all the good feelings of spring associated with them as well, and I’d say that everyone is great at basking in blossom glory in both places.
I wondered for a moment if the cherry blossom obsession I was having was a sign of myself becoming a bit older and more sentimental somehow, but when I flew back to DC this changed. On the flight back from Tokyo, a very polite teenager was seated next to me. Somewhere over Russia, he put away his computer and spent 25 minutes quietly scrolling through his formal cherry blossom photos of himself and his girlfriend and applied filters with meticulous care. I didn’t mean to spy but it was hard to NOT glance over when his phone was emitting dazzling cherry blossoms in an otherwise completely dark cabin. He had the whole netless flight to get the right filter, and he revisited it a couple times. Sleep, blossom filters, sleep, blossom filters. I realized at this moment that, if you’re in Japan, or even if you’re near DC, Cherry Blossoms Are For Everyone.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens is just one place to see the blossoms! Many more places in just Tokyo had amazing views: Roppongi, the resplendent Ueno park and zoo, Nezu Gardens, and just about every shrine and temple had a blossoming tree or two of its own.
Nezu Museum Gardens
Roppongi Cherry Blossoms 2019