Traveling Japan: Sakura Season at Nagoya’s Yamasaki River Kanae Bridge

‘Tis the hanami (flower viewing) season in Japan again, and I thought I’d share one of my favorite sakura stroll experiences in Japan. While the famous spots are often in popular tourist destinations like Tokyo and Kyoto, one thing I realized the first time I experienced spring in Japan is there is quite literally sakura trees everywhere. You’ll especially see this riding trains with views of cities and countryside zipping by, sudden spots of gorgeous streams of glistening water or peacefully paved paths lined with trees exploding in pink and white, large patches of flowers on the hills flowing down into the neighborhoods below, a burst of blossom randomly here and there in someone’s yard or at the entrance of a factory or lining the outskirts of a school. They plant them all over, since there’s a lot of love for these flowering trees in Japan, a love that has spilled over into the rest of the world, with many yearning to experience strolling under the gentle pink petals falling like snow.

There are different ways to enjoy the sakura season. There’s the classic picnic under the blooms with friends or coworkers, often on blue tarp or sitting on a red cloth covered bench eating some sweets paired with tea. You can also just be walking to work, school, or the train station and happen upon a lone blooming tree or a stretch of street lined with them. Some more epic experiences include cruising under flowers on a boat down a river canal, riding through clouds of pink blossoms on a picturesque old train, swooping by them on an amusement park ride, or getting to a spot where you can view the trees in full bloom with a breathtaking backdrop view of the sparkling ocean filled with smaller islands under a cumulous cloud painted sky.

It’s rather hard to perfectly time seeing them just at peak blossom, so I imagine a lot of people have experienced a sense of disappointment if they head to a particular spot hoping to catch what they want, especially if you only have a small window like a week to chase after them. Exacerbated by climate change, the forecast could say they’ll be in full bloom this weekend, but they don’t open till next or hit their peak a week before you got there. I think the best mindset to approach your sakura dreams should be the concept of “一期一会 ichi-go, ichi-e (one time, one meeting)”, being present to enjoy a fleeting moment and appreciate all the little encounters you might come across with sakura on your Japan journey, possibly next to a 7-11. Also, if you really want to be a blossom chaser and you have a Japan Rail Pass in hand, sakura of different species bloom at different times all around Japan, generally starting earliest in the south and sweeping up north, over the span of a few months. Arrive with your full access ticket to the expansive Japan Railway system in hand and be ready to follow the forecasts to the far ends of the country with your unlimited rides, which even include some ferry boats.

Tourists spots like castles and temples can definitely have more extravagant collections of sakura trees, but more often than not you pay the price of crowds and noise that come with it. Once I had the luxury of walking under a cluster of fully blooming sakura at Osaka Castle just as a gust of wind blew the petals to rain down on me like an anime dream come to life only to have the moment of zen quite disrupted by the obnoxious cackling of loud tourists around me. So when some friends and I rode the local train to the Nagoya Yamasaki River for a stroll around Kanae Bridge, my first reaction upon arrival was just to breath a huge sigh of relief at the peace and quite I found there. Most of the people there were local Japanese, who generally adhere to their culture of minimal noise pollution, and I said, a bit loudly, “I love that there are no annoyingly loud tourists here!” only to realize that I was the loud tourist and quickly hushed myself.

Paying for an overpriced freshly baked hot sweet yam from a cart that was totally worth it, we strolled down one side of the river canal and then the other, crossing the bridges and taking our time enjoying the views with hushed voices, just breathing in the experience. There are places like these all over Japan, and I think the more remote, the better, so you can really have your moment with sakura blossoms to appreciate how these little blooms came to not only enchant the hearts of people but symbolize the bittersweet joy of ephemeral beauty and how precious it is to be alive.

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