This is Part 2 of our 5 part series on planning the ultimate trip to Japan during cherry blossom season. We will cover every aspect – itinerary, accommodation, packing – of planning an unforgettable trip to Japan during cherry blossom season
Read Part 1 – Visiting Japan during Cherry Blossom Season: An Itinerary (opens in new tab)
Read Part 3 – Choosing Accommodation for your trip to Japan (opens in new tab)
Read Part 4 – Packing for a trip in Japan during Cherry Blossom Season (opens in new tab)
Read Part 5 – Budgeting for a trip to Japan during Cherry Blossom Season(opens in new tab)
Tokyo – where do I even start? A bustling metropolis where the manic rhythm of urbanity perfectly melds with the serenity of Eastern rituals. A city break in Tokyo offers everything from endless shopping and sightseeing opportunities to culinary adventures and cultural experiences.
The city is perfect for a city break at most times of the year but there is no denying that it is particularly special during Cherry Blossom Season (Sakura). Spring is in the air and you will see pavements and sidewalks dotted with powder pink petals everywhere. But that’s not all. There’s a spring (see what I did there?) in the step of locals as winter coats are shed and the sun starts making a daily appearance. No wonder there are parties and picnics at every nook and corner and the sound of laughter reverberates in every restaurant and public parks 🙂
We suggest setting aside at least 4-5 days for a city break in Tokyo. Here is our guide to exploring Tokyo during Cherry Blossom season:
Getting into and around Tokyo City
Chances are you will land in Tokyo wherever in the world you are flying from. Tokyo has 2 airports (Haneda and Narita) – try choosing a flight that lands at Haneda as it is much closer to the city. We flew with Cathay Pacific Airways that offers great connections to Tokyo from all parts of the world.
Taxis are exorbitant in Japan and public transport is extremely efficient and punctual – so choose the either the monorail or Keikyu railways for getting to downtown Tokyo if your hotel is close to a metro station. A direct train from the airport takes visitors to the centre for around 540 yen (approx. £4).
Getting around in Tokyo is easy – all parts of Tokyo are well connected either by the subway lines, JR lines, or other railway lines. If you purchase a Japan Rail Pass, you can easily use that to travel within Tokyo. We got ours from Japan Experience and used it to travel within Tokyo for the 4 days that we were in the city.
Choosing Accommodation in Tokyo during Cherry Blossom Season
There is no dearth of accommodation to suit every budget in Tokyo. In you are in the city for a short time, we suggest staying in a central area close to a subway station as you will be using trains to explore Tokyo.
On reading several glowing reviews on Tripadvisor and readers’ recommendations, we chose Park Hotel Tokyo. The four star hotel is a 1 minute walk from Shiodome Metro Station and 5 minute walk from Shinshiba Metro and JR station. We chose one of their famous Artist Rooms. Each room on the thirty first floor has been hand-painted by a different Japanese artist. We were blown away by the amount of detail – we chose a kind room painted by Kiyoko Abe – the wall behind our bed had a majestic dragon conversing with a Japanese lady.
But that’s not all. We had petite ladies in kimonos painted at the dresser and a family dining together in a traditional Japanese home by the minibar. This level of detail at Park Hotel Tokyo amplifies the experience to something more than just a regular hotel stay – it is akin to staying amidst living, breathing art. As if this wasn’t special enough, our room offered an incredible view of the city of Tokyo! In fact, we could see the entire city of Tokyo stretched out in front of us everyday. On the first day we checked-in, we could see Mt. Fuji clearly from the comfort of our room 😀 We made sure we caught sunset from our room everyday because this was the view:
Love Tokyo’s skyline!
Spotting and photographing Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
There are dozens of opportunities to catch cherry blossoms in full bloom in Tokyo. Here are a couple of our favourite spots to photograph them:
- Shinjuku Gyoen is one of Tokyo’s largest parks and definitely one of the most popular spots for viewing cherry blossoms. Sakura here make for gorgeous photographs – just make sure you go early!
- Yoyogi Park in Harijuku is perfect for picnicking under cherry blossom trees. It is extremely popular with locals, so make sure you reserve your spot. Early mornings are the best to get photos sans the crowds 🙂
- Hamarikiyu Garden is ideal if you want something central. It is walking distance from the Shimbashi Metro Station and boasts of a lake rimmed by cherry blossom trees. But that’s not all. Hamarikiyu also boasts of a small rapeseed field, full of bright yellow flowers, within the garden premises.
- Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden is another centrally located garden, ideal for viewing sakura. The ponds here make the experience even more special.
- Ueno Park can easily be combined with your visit to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. The park houses many attractions including a zoo, temples, and ponds but its cherry blossom laden facade is what entices visitors to drop by during spring months.
- Meguro River is a unique sight during spring because it is lined with over 800 cherry blossom trees on both sides. Walk along the river and absorb the beauty of these gorgeous flowers, which bloom only for a fortnight every year.
- Chidorigafuchi Park is one of the famous spots for Sakura viewing and can be easily combined with a visit to the Imperial Palace. During the cherry blossom festival, the pathways are lit and boat cruises are available to enjoy a unique view of the hundreds of cherry blossom trees that line the moat.
Things to do and see in Tokyo
Explore Asakusa and photograph Sensoji temple
Drop by Asakusa neighbourhood for a little taster of traditional Japan. The quaint neighbourhood is jam-packed with temples and little hole-in-the-wall eateries by the dozen. It is also home to the popular Sensoji temple, which is the perfect place to observe rituals that dominate daily life of locals. We suggest visiting the neighbourhood during the morning or afternoon as the hustle hustle does down during the early hours of the evening.
Absorb the madness at Shibuya
Shibuya is famous for being the busiest crossing in the world and it needs to be seen to be believed. Hundreds of thousands of people cross the road every time the light turns green. Visit during evening hours, absorb the chaos before head to the neighbouring alleys for a spot of dinner. Experiencing the (in)famous Shibuya crossing is a must – THOUSANDS of people cross the streets at once. You might want to drop by one of Tokyo’s infamous maid or robot cafes in Shibuya for an esoteric dining experience.
Harijuku is one of the quirkiest shopping districts and urban spaces in Tokyo. Take your time to explore its alleys and acquaint yourself with Japanese urban culture. Stop by Totti’s Candy Factory for rainbow cotton candy, binge on some extravagantly shaped waffles. Make sure you visiting the neighbouring Yoyogi Park or Meiji Shrine when you want a breather from the madness of Harijuku.
Visit Disneyland Tokyo
Visit Disneyland Tokyo for a day or two filled with fun and frolic. Famed for being the happiest place on Earth, Disneyland Tokyo offers an escape from the mundanity of everyday life. Here the day is all about Mickey shaped waffles and popsicles, fun rides, and colourful parades featuring your favourite Disney characters. A visit to Disneyland Tokyo is perfect if you are travelling in a large group or with young kids.
Rent a Kimono
If you are serious about cultural immersion, then make sure you rent a kimono for a day in Tokyo. We rented a kimono from Aki Kimono Rental – they have several branches in Tokyo but the one in Ginza was walking distance from our hotel, so it worked out well. Wearing a traditional Japanese Kimono makes for gorgeous photographs but is an also education in Japanese culture. It might look simple but there are a dozen different layers of cloth, elastic, and threads that go into putting the ensemble together.
Binge on Japanese food in Ueno or Shimbashi
There are so many incredible restaurants in Tokyo that the city’s dining scene is a subject of a separate article altogether. While we would recommend Michelin star eateries such as Sushi Tokami and Ginza Kojyu, we would highly recommend exploring the more local eateries known as Yakocho. There are dozens of these eateries concentrated in the areas around Shimbashi and Ueno Metro Stations. These tiny local restaurants, packed into bylanes in these areas, are frequented by salarymen. They are the perfect place to try Japanese delicacies such as sashimi, motsuyaki, and yakitori while sitting on a dinky table placed under oriental lanterns. Make sure you sample some sake, shochu, or hoppy (a beer flavoured almost non-alcoholic drink) along with your food. These down-to-earth yakochos provide a glimpse into a different side of Tokyo and provide a special something missing from trendy eateries in town.
Walk around Tsukiji Fish Market
The biggest wholesale fish market in Japan and one of the largest in the world, the Tsukiji Fish Market is an assault to the olfactory senses. It is also the site of a crazy tuna auction every morning. Tsukiji Fish Market makes for some amazing photos – isn’t that incentive enough to crawl out of bed super early one morning? 🙂
Shopping in Tokyo
Tokyo is a veritable shopping Mecca and there’s nothing you won’t find here. From high street gems to archetypal Japanese products, you’ll find it all. Here’s a list of a couple of our favourite stores and shopping areas in Tokyo:
Ginza has a variety of hot end shopping options. It’s the perfect place for all you your designer purchases. But that’s not all- there’s lots of high street stores such as Zar- and H&M and Japanese drugstores like Matsumoto Kimoshi. If you are into camera gear, then make sure you drop by BIC Camera for perusing everything from digital cameras and DSLRs to camera filters and tripods. It’s an electronic lover’s paradise.
Shibuya is high-street shopping paradise. You’ll find multiple outlets of stores such as Zara, Forever 21, H&M and Japanese fashion labels. There’s lots of amazing restaurants in the area and you can sample some excellent Japanese food between bouts of shopping.
Japan is famous for its 100 yen shops and they are everywhere. They’re a lot like dollar stores elsewhere in the world, only cuter, much cuter. No shopping experience in Japan is complete till you explore at least one Daiso or Don Quixote outlet. We promise you will come out with a range of Japanese snacks, adorable candy, cute stationery, and a range of odds and ends (everything from washi tape to paper straws) that you might not necessarily need but gotta have. If you want to visit just one 100 yen shop, then we suggest the Daiso in Harijuku.
Matcha is everywhere in Japan. Matcha lattes, matcha truffles, matcha candy, match cakes – you name it, they have it. Since we love always use matcha in our smoothies and salads, we were determined to pick the good stuff in Japan. But here are SO many matcha products in the market that it’s hard to choose which ones to buy. So we ordered a big bag of matcha and health foods delivered to our hotel in Tokyo from a website called Healthy Tokyo. It was recommended to us by a friend who lives in Tokyo. Healthy Tokyo source their organic matcha directly from farmers and we’ve really enjoyed using their products so far – perfect if you want english labels in order to know exactly what you’re paying for!
If you’re in a rush, then you’ll find Matcha powders and products in most supermarkets and convenient stores too. Just make sure you buy high-grade matcha because poor-quality powders can leave a bitter aftertaste in lattes and smoothies 🙂
Asian skincare has a cult following. There’s no better place to shop your heart out for toiletries, skincare, and makeup products than at Tokyo’s huge drugstores. I would suggest picking up drugstore gems which are only available in Asia such as biore or bifesta micellar waters, DHC lip balm, biore SPF 50 water essence, Shiesedo eyelash curlers, Heroine mascaras, or Peri Pera lip tints. Just make sure you keep a translating app handy because most products are Japanese and shop assistants, while helpful, aren’t fluent in English.
If you want to take a piece of Japan’s urban culture back with you, then Harijuku is the place for it. Pick up fashionable clothes, bags, sunglasses, or accessories which are currently trending with the youth.
That’s it – all our favourite sites and sounds in Tokyo. What are yours?