Early spring is a special time of year in Tokyo. Gathering to look at cherry blossoms, formally referred to as hanami (literally “flower viewing” in Japanese), is a beloved custom around the country.
But more than merely gazing at beautiful blooms, the concept encapsulates the Japanese spring experience: a picnic in the park with friends, enjoying the fresh spring air, noshing on seasonal food or drink and simply taking in the transient joy of the sakura (“cherry blossom”), the short-lived but gorgeous plant that is the national flower of Japan.
Some like to sit in the blanket of petals at the park, others prefer viewing the colorful sights from the air. Here are our pick of the most opulent hanami encounters:
Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo
One place to view the cherry blossoms in style is in the gardens of Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo in the Bunkyo ward. This exquisite 700-year-old Japanese parkland contains a traditional tea room, a shrine and rows of cherry blossom trees.
The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star property’s restaurants, such as Miyuki, reflect Japan’s picturesque seasonality with sakura-themed menus that come with a side of beautiful outdoor views. And to think, you can bask in all of this just 15 minutes from Tokyo’s business district.
The delicate pale pink, papery blossoms line many of the area streets. But oddly, one of the most remarkable places bursting with blossoms is actually a graveyard. Aoyama Cemetery has rows of old sakura trees in full bloom, making the graves and surrounding park white with the snowfall of petals.
In Japan, cemeteries are for the living as well as the dead — everyone is welcome to stop by for a picnic to celebrate life and all of spring’s splendor. Locals wear their finest kimonos in pastel spring hues for the hanami here; it’s quite a sight to behold.
The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo
If you want to appreciate the sights with a glass of champagne in hand (but without the chilly April breeze), head to this Four-Star hotel. The luxurious Lobby Lounge & Bar on the 45th floor provides a magnificent vantage point of the vibrant plants. In addition to Aoyama, you see blossom-lined streets, the gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen, Hinokicho Park and some of the area’s other picturesque green spaces. The Lobby Lounge goes to great lengths to ensure that hanami season is special with enormous cherry blossom flower arrangements and an outstanding afternoon tea menu with cherry-blossom-flavored treats such as eclairs, macarons and cakes.
Of course, you could always take it to the next level and see the blooms from above. For those dedicated to dramatic views and thrilling rides, Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo organizes an 80-minute helicopter ride during blossom season from Chiba to Mount Fuji and back. (The heliport is only a 20- to 30-minute car ride from the Tokyo hotel.)
Mount Fuji is a part of some of Japan’s most scared grounds — an active volcano surrounded by lakes and an UNESCO World Heritage Site that bursts with vibrancy in the form of cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, wisteria and lush evergreens.