8 Hidden Locations to See Sakura in Tokyo and Escape the Crowds
Every spring, crowds flock to Ueno Park, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, and the Meguro River to see the sakura in bloom. While they all offer spectacular views, one has to be prepared to battle the hordes of people who come from far and wide, especially over the spring holidays, to witness the blossoms decorating the scenery with pink. This article will introduce Japanese locals' favorite secret viewing spots, from riverside streets to quiet parks, where you can enjoy looking at the sakura in peace.
May 12 2020 (Mar 14 2022)
The Kyu-Furukawa Gardens are located on the grounds of the former residence of Mutsu Munemitsu, a powerful politician during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). A Western-style house sits atop the sloping hills of the estate, home to both a Western-style and Japanese-style garden.
The Western-style house and garden were designed by famed British architect Josiah Conder, who also worked on other iconic buildings such as the Rokumeikan (demolished in 1941) and the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo (i.e. the Nikolai-do).
The weeping sakura trees blossoming pale pink in the springtime against the backdrop of Western architecture creates a magical contrast where East-meets-West, a combination of two cultures.
Visitors can also enjoy the large wild sakura tree blooming in the Japanese garden, offering a different tranquil sakura sight.
Yanaka Cemetery is the resting place of many famous Japanese historical figures including Yoshinobu Tokugawa, the last shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate; Eiichi Shibusawa, the father of modern Japanese economics; and prominent painter Taikan Yokoyama. During the springtime, the central garden path is surrounded by sakura blossoms hanging above on both sides of the walkway, almost creating a tunnel of pink blossoms.
While many people flock to the park to view the flowers during the usual sakura season, the beauty of this park is that there are two types of sakura that appear at different times. The yellow-green blossoms of the less-common Ukon sakura tree bloom around two weeks after the pale pink blossoms of the Yoshino sakura tree. When the Yoshino blossoms have fallen and the crowds have dispersed, why not come back for another round of sakura?
Harimazaka Sakura Namiki
Harimazaka is located in a residential area that is about a 10-minute walk from Myogadani Station. After being established in 1960, residents of the area planted approximately 150 sakura trees which grew into the impressive length of trees standing today.
Yoshino sakura trees line the sloping road, stretching for almost 500 meters. The sight of the blossoms in full bloom is incredible; looking up from the entrance of the hill, the sakura seem to stretch indefinitely, enveloping you in a tunnel of blossoms.
A small river runs through the center of the lines of trees, and neighborhood children and families can often be seen picnicking under the sakura trees, enjoying the blossoms in full bloom. The Koishikawa Botanical Gardens, Japan's oldest botanical garden and known as one of the most beautiful, is also located nearby, which is a great way to spend the day before or after enjoying the sakura blossoms.
The Kyu-Iwasaki-Tei Gardens are part of a Western-style estate built by Hisaya Iwasaki, the eldest son of Yataro Iwasaki, the founder of Mitsubishi and one of Japan's most famous businessmen. This estate was also designed by Josiah Conder, the same British architect who designed the estate attached to the Kyu-Furukawa Gardens, and is considered to be his most iconic work. It was designated as an Important Cultural Property, and Jacobean-style decorations are present throughout the Western-style wooden architecture of the entire building.
You can enjoy the Western-style architecture coupled with the sakura, while the second floor of the estate offers a view of the Oshima sakura and Yoshino sakura trees surrounding the garden. Why not enjoy the same beautiful scenery of the sakura enjoyed by the luxurious Iwasaki family back in the day?
Zenpukuji Park is beloved by the locals as a place where they can go to relax. The pond located in the middle of the park is broken into the upper and lower ponds, and the water is so clear that it is even used as an auxiliary water source for the Kanda area. The pond itself is approximately 37,000 square meters, and the sakura tenderly bloom towards the surface of the water. The path by the Zenpukuji River leading from Nishi Ogikubo to the lower pond is surrounded by sakura trees, and all the blossoms color the walkway to the park in a beautiful pink color.
The park is about a 15-minute walk from the closest station, which is why it is the perfect place for the local residents to quietly enjoy the sakura. There are also boats available for rent (fee required; only available on weekends and holidays), so you can gaze at the sakura while floating on the water as well.
Mukojima Hyakkaen is a historical garden whose construction dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868). It was founded by a local antique shop owner with the help of artist acquaintances who wanted to create a park that could be enjoyed by the common people. The garden was created by top-tier people of culture, and has picturesque elements that are different from other majestic gardens in Tokyo that belonged to feudal lords, such as Koishikawa Korakuen and Rikugien Garden.
A wide variety of colorful flowers bloom throughout the seasons, numerous species popping up over a long length of time. The sakura can be seen over the span of a couple of months, with cold-weather blossoms blooming in late February and Fugenzo sakura appearing in late April. This park is particularly popular right now as a hidden spot where you can take pictures of both sakura and the Tokyo Skytree.
Tsukishima Sumida River Terrace and Harumi Canal
Sumida River Terrace is a walkway located by the Sumida River, a 28km river running from Kita Ward to Chuo Ward. The terrace was built for leisure, and people often take strolls or jog alongside it. Sumida Park by the upper part of the river is often crowded with tourists, but the Sumida River terrace by the lower part of the river, near the Chuo Bridge that connects Tsukishima with Nihombashi, is wide and open, which makes it a popular place for families to bring their kids to.
Further downstream, the area by Tsukishima is only well known to local residents, which makes it perfect for those who want to enjoy the sakura in peace. Locals love taking strolls in Tsukada Park or by Tsukada Bridge, famous for its red handrails. Tsukishima is beautiful at nighttime, lit up by the lines of apartment buildings, and is a highly recommended sakura viewing destination.
Oyokogawa and Kikukawa Bridge
Sumida Ward is known for its many tourist spots such as the Tokyo Skytree and the Edo-Tokyo Museum. The Oyokogawa River, one of the waterways that flow south from Narihira Bridge, is a go-to sakura viewing spot for the residents. There is a narrow walkway by the river, and the sakura branches hanging overhead create a tunnel seeming to extend forever. Tokyo Skytree can also be seen from here, making it a popular secret spot to take beautiful photos.
The Fukuju Bridge, on the eastern side of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, and the Kikukawa Bridge, located between Kikugawa and Sumiyoshi stations on the Toei Shinjuku Line, are great places to be able to see both banks at the same time. It is within walking distance of Kiyosumi Shirakawa and Kinshicho, but as the immediate surrounding area is residential, it is not well known by those other than the locals. Why not head north towards Tokyo Skytree, enjoying the view of the sakura and modern architecture along the way?
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.