Japan – Cherry blossoms & Hot springs (Onsen)
Every year, around late March to early April, clouds of pink petals cover the nation as the cherry blossoms (also known as sakura) bloom all across Japan. Every village and town lets business-as-usual slide to indulge in days of Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) with friends and family.
When is the Cherry blossom season? On Japan's southern, subtropical islands of Okinawa, cherry blossoms open as early as January, while on the northern island of Hokkaido, they bloom as late as May. In most major cities in between, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place in early April. Once the cherry blossoms open up, they usually reach their peak within 10 days.
While it is difficult to predict cherry blossom opening dates in advance, one can refer to these reliable sources for a detailed forecast of the cherry blossoms – the JWA (Japan Weather Association), the Weather Map Co., Ltd, and the Weathernews Inc.
Where is the best place to witness the cherry blossoms? While cherry blossoms bloom throughout the country, there are a few cities and regions famous for their hanami festivals.
The castle town of Hirosaki, which holds the Sakura-matsuri festival, is one notable Japanese city famous for its bountiful cherry blossoms that draws people from both near and far. Travel to the centre of the Nara Prefecture to find Yoshino-yama, a mountain with over 30,000 cherry trees that is considered to be the best viewing spot in all of Japan. Make a trip to the cherry blossom viewing tunnel at the Japan Mint in Osaka, where every April, the grounds are open to the public for one week so that visitors may enjoy a prime view of their cherry blossom trees. Finally, if your trip leads you to Tokyo in the spring time, explore Ueno Park where 1,200 blossoming cherry trees burst to life. Also at Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen features more than one thousand cherry trees of over a dozen varieties. Thanks to the early and late blooming trees, Shinjuku Gyoen is a good destination for those who miss the main season by a week or two.
While visiting Japan, why not try dipping into an onsen?
As a volcanically active country, Japan boasts some of the best natural hot springs in the world. Referred to as "onsen", these hot springs are scattered all across the country. The water in the hot springs are considered to have restorative properties with natural minerals that are thought to heal aches, ease and prevent illnesses, and generally maintain a healthy body.
There are over 500 hot springs spots across Japan, and the 3 most famous hot spring resorts are Kusatsu Onsen, Gero Onsen, and Arima Onsen.
Kusatsu Onsen is a hot spring resort located in Gunma Prefecture, which is at the northwest of Tokyo. Being placed on a high plateau and close to skiing grounds, it is well known for the landscape of steam arising from the onsens. A particularly popular spot at the Kusatsu town is Netsu no Yu, where 'yumomi' (stirring hot water with paddle-like wooden boards to cool it down) demonstrations are shown.
Gero Onsen is a resort town in Japan famous for its natural hot spring water. Located in the beautiful mountains of Gifu Prefecture, this picturesque town is renowned for its therapeutic baths. If you are after a traditional Japanese onsen town experience, it is highly recommended that you pay a visit to Gero Onsen.
Arima Onsen is located in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, and it is one of the oldest hot spring areas in Japan. Located on the northern slopes of Mount Rokko, Arima onsen is full of expensive hotels, souvenir shops, and resorts. It is an excellent destination for a first introduction to a hot spring resort.
Not only are onsens popular among the people, but they are also highly visited by the wild Japanese macaques (more commonly known as the Snow Monkeys). The Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park is definitely a must-see when in Japan. The Japanese macaques at Jigokudani can be seen year round, but are more likely to frequent the hot springs in winter (December to March). This said, conditions can be treacherous, so for those worried about injury, it's safer to visit in spring or autumn.
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