Come blossom season, more than one million people swarm to the Tohoku Region alone. And it's just one place in Japan where the brilliant pink flowers take over, turning the nation into a fairy-like wonderland of magical colours and aromas. In addition to experiencing the sheer joy of wandering along roads and laneways lined by weeping cherry trees, tourists can also partake in parties, festivals and special events - all held to welcome the arrival of spring. The Japanese term for flower viewing is 'hanami'.
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When is cherry blossom season?
The season generally occurs throughout March, April and May, but start and finish dates vary from region to region. Generally speaking, the milder the climate, the quicker the blossoms are to appear. So the story begins in the south. Each year, the subtropical islands of Okinawa are among the first places to celebrate. In fact, in 2014, the flowers came as early as January. The process gradually moves north, kind of like an enormous pink Mexican wave, with the initial blooms of Aomori not appearing until the end of April.
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Of course, exact dates vary from year to year - depending on the weather. During the past decade, the average time of full bloom (when the whole nation is taken into consideration) has become later and later. In fact, some estimates now position it in May.
How long does it last?
The blooming period is quite short - usually just a fortnight or so from start to finish. The first stage is referred to as 'kaika', while the full bloom is called 'maika'. So, if you're planning a visit to Japan specifically to coincide with cherry blossom season, be sure to check the forecast for the area you have in mind. To fully experience the magic, try to be there for the whole thing - from the first flower to the last.
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That said, if you're time poor and unable to spend a whole two weeks in Japan, a brief visit will also prove rewarding. Some travellers taking a long-haul flight stop over for just a few days. One option is to spend a night or two at a hotel in Narita Airport - Tokyo's international air hub and therefore an ultra-convenient option for jet-setters. Narita is a gorgeous city, with beautifully-manicured gardens, so the cherry blossom bloom is rather magnificent.
Festivals and events
Special events are held all over the Japan. These vary from tea ceremonies hosted outdoors underneath the cherry trees, to community picnics, to illuminated evening markets featuring local food stalls and live performances.
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One of the most famous events is the Sakura-Matsuri Festival, held at the 17th century castle city of Hirosaki. It's one of Japan's most beautiful places, with two-and-a-half-thousand cherry trees, waterways covered in petals and idyllic picnic spots. The festivities happen every day between April 23rd and May 5th, beginning at nine in the morning and finishing up at nine at night.
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To see more blossoms than the human eye can handle, travel to Nara. It's home to a mountain by the name of Yoshino-yama that gives life to more than 30,000 cherry trees. Many Japanese people would argue that it's the best area in the country for hakami.
If you're a botany enthusiast and would like to know more about the diverse varieties that grow in Japan, be sure to visit Osaka. Every year, for one week during April, the grounds of the Mint, where more than one hundred cherry varieties grow, are opened to the public.