The Ultimate Cherry Blossom Food and Drink Guide 2018

FOODIES GO HANAMI presents the best cherry blossoms in japan

Wondering where and when to see the best cherry blossoms in Japan? FGL recommends what to tipple and what to nibble at hanami parties across the country. And in the Anaba  穴場 section, our nationwide network of connections gives us the insider lowdown on local food and local drink favorites.

Carousing under the cherry trees, feasting, imbibing and - occasionally - remembering to admire the transient beauty of the fragile, pink blossoms is ingrained in Japan's DNA. It is also a brilliant opportunity for the casual visitor or resident to sample local cuisine, local sake, and meet the people who know the place best, as they relax in time-honored fashion beneath the boughs. It is also immense fun.

"I have been to most of the places in Kyoto. Go to Kyoto in April... and you will never want to leave. All the gardens turn pink because of the cherry blossom flowers" - René Redzepi

Ritz Bento (1)

Hanami in style! Luxury Sakura Bento Box at the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

If you find yourself in the country between now and late-April (May in Hokkaido), here are some of the best places to join in the celebrations at parks, castles, shrines and riverside locations throughout Japan. (article updated at April 9th, 2018). AS I TYPE, THE BEST PLACE TO VIEW BLOSSOMS IS ON THE JAPAN SEA COAST, ESPECIALLY IN KANAZAWA.

FGL prides itself in offering regional specialist information, so we also briefly suggest what you may tipple and nibble at hanami parties, should they be organized or your own improvised festivities, in each location across the country.

And if you really want to meditate under the blossoms, or experience something a little off the beaten track, we also offer a few lesser-known places. These we call the 'anaba' 穴場 the Japanese phrase for those secret locations you'd rather keep amongst your good friends, and told to us by our connections across the country.

Sakura Ebi HanamiTraditionally, this kind of listing begins with the southern island of Kyushu, but last year, for the first time in nearly a decade, the first cherry blossoms opened in Tokyo rather than the south, so we'll start there. In fact, the nation's weather at this time of year has always been prone to change, and if you plan your cherry blossom viewing revelry at night, make sure to wrap up warm. The temperature can plunge after dark.

To make doubly sure, you may wish to have warm local sake at hand. The Japanese for thermos flask, in case you were wondering, is a mahoubin 'the magic bottle'. Atsukan is hot sake. It serves as an icebreaker, both literal and metaphorical. It isn't accidental that we mention the drinking element of hanami parties here at first. Everything's gone pink (1)

Simply put, in contemporary Japan, the social lubricant of alcohol features large at any hanami party, particularly once sun sets. Daytime hanami events, with tea, are generally refined affairs. That may be true in the evening, not least if one mingles in Kyoto with Geiko (Geisha) and Maiko (trainee Geisha), but up in the rural mountains or deep in the inner cities, many interpretations arise.

The bento or bentobako is an integral element of hanami parties, and its incarnations reflect the Japanese cuisine at large, with each region incorporating its local specialty. They can be purchased at large department stores and main train stations, and from the street vendors at shrines and tourist spots, or you can always make your own. Similarly sakuramochi rice cakes wrapped in cherry leaves are ubiquitous. The best are in Kyoto, where this photograph was taken at 12.48pm, Sunday March 18th, 2018.Cherry blossom kyoto

In 2018, the blossoms are opening earlier than ever before (10 days in the case of Kumamoto), and the season is noticeably shorter. Please check actual details in situ, as far as possible, but here's a current guide to locations and timings of the blossoms. Also please remember that altitude makes a considerable difference to sea level estimates. Cherry blossoms will begin and end later at Koya-san and Yoshino (Nara Prefecture) and Hida-Takayama (Gifu Prefecture), for example, than in Nara and Gifu cities. Similarly latitude, as Hakodate (southern Hokkaido) and Wakkanai and Kushiro (northern Hokkaido) will be markedly different. Get up-to-date info, and fabulous Foodie fare, at New Chitose Airport.

This guide concentrates on recognized hanami spots at 17 prefectures nationwide. However you'll find them in even the most far-flung reaches of the archipelago. That's the great joy of the Japanese spring.


Best Cherry Blossoms 


Tokyo Hanami

Places

Ueno Park; Shinjuku-gyoen Park; Sotobori Koen, Sumida Koen Park, Meguro riverside; Chidorigafuchi Park/Imperial Palace, Yoyogi Koen Park, Rikugien Park, Nihonbashi Yaesu Sakura Street, Tokyo.

Kaika first bloom: 17th March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

FGL What to tipple

Great local sake Kinkon Masamune, especially good as nurukan served at just below body heat temperature. The Kamiya Bar in Asakusa sells its unique Denki Bran spirit. Its name translates as 'Electric Brandy', and it is perfect for keeping out the cold. 

FGL What to nibble

Sansai mountain vegetable tempura, especially fukinoto butterbur and taranome angelica shoots, and ichigo daifuku stawberry mochi rice confections filled with anko sweet red-bean paste and other wagashi confections. Most large hotels offer sakura-themed events and special menus with those at Hotel Chinzanso and New Otani especially renowned. The brave may wish to try the Hyatt Regency's Teppanyaki Strawberry Dorayaki (pictured top right here).

Strawberry-Sakura-Menu3

 

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

Rent a pleasure boat and watch the cherry blossoms from water level on the Chidorigafuchi moat. ¥800 for thirty minutes. You may have to queue, but it's worth it. After dark, from 30th March to April 1st, the 150 sakura trees around Ark Hills Roppongi are illuminated from 5pm to 10pm, and look fabulous. 

Check out What's Cooking at  TSUKIJI COOKING

 
千鳥が淵
Chidorigafuchi Moat, Tokyo Imperial Palace

Kumamoto Blossoms

Place

Kumamoto Castle Park & Ninomaru Square, Kumamoto city.

Kaika first bloom: 17th March Mankai full bloom: : SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

FGL What to tipple

With a 400-year history, the elegant Torikai Komejochu rice shochu is a particularly smooth and drinkable Kumamoto favorite.

FGL What to nibble

Hitomoji guruguru is the rather fanciful local name for wakegi spring onions bundled together 'to resemble the number one', an appetizer that packs quite an allium punch. You may also wish to check out ikinari dango sweet cakes (pictured here).  Kumamoto_Ikinari

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

At Isshingyo Park in Minami Asomura, Aso-gun, the magnificent giant sakura tree has been standing as long as Torikai have been making shochu. Well worth a visit, its pink blossoms contrast beautifully with the yellow nanohana rapeseed flowers. It is illuminated for three days at full bloom. Tachioka Shizen Koen Natural Park to the south of Kumamoto city is a beautiful quiet place, with 2000 cherry trees, great for family hanami.


Fukuoka Hanami

Places

Fukuoka Castle and Maizuru Park; Nishi Koen Park, Ohori Park (you can rent a paddle boat), Fukuoka city.

Kaika first bloom: 19th March Mankai full bloom: : IN TOWN SEE YOU NEXT YEAR, but out at Ninnaji in Omuro, and especially up at Kuradani or towards Yase, Mount Hiei and the Northern heights, still going strong. Go North!

FGL What to tipple

Shochu liquor is the drink of choice in these parts. Try Kurouma soba buckwheat shochu from Miyazaki or Kokura's powerful Muhomatsu 43 Degree mugi barley shochu. Miinokotobuki's Harujunmai Quadrifoglio, named for the Italian for 'for-leafed clover' is a light, spring-only special.

FGL What to nibble

Goma aji horse mackerel marinated with soy sauce and sesame or goma saba mackerel treated in the same way. Hakata or Kurume tonkotsu pork broth ramen are de rigeur.

FGL穴場 (anaba)

Sanno Koen Park is mostly used by local families for hanami. Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine has beautiful cherry trees, especially near the entrance by the pond. Early morning is recommended.

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福岡西公園
Fukuoka Nishi Koen Park, Fukuoka

Hiroshima Hanami

Places

Hiroshima Peace Park; Hiroshima Castle Park; Shukkeien Garden, Hiroshima city. Miyajima. Senkoji Park, Onomichi city.

Kaika first bloom: 25th March  Mankai full bloom: : SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

FGL What to tipple

Hiroshima has many excellent sakes, especially those from the Saijo area, just east of Hiroshima city. Kamoizumi, Kamotsuru and Saijotsuru aare all highly respected local sake makers. Fukucho is a brewer based in the port of Akitsu on the Inland Sea. Their Saya has a wonderful aroma of pears and strawberries.  

FGL What to nibble

Eating kaki oysters pretty much started in Japan in Hiroshima, and no-one looks like stopping now. The other favorite, the local take on okonomiyaki, Hiroshimayaki, is another hanami perennial.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

Beautiful sakura, great views across the ocean and mountains are to be had at Senkoji Temple and Park in the small port town of Onomichi. Don't leave without sampling the local Onomichi ramen.


Kagawa in Bloom

Places

Tamano Koen Park; Ritsurin Koen Park, Takamatsu city.

Kaika first bloom: 25th March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! 

FGL What to tipple

Yorokobi Gaijin has long been a favorite Kagawa local sake, as its name sounds like the Japanese phrase for 'A foreigner having a really good time'! Linguisitic foolery aside, it's a good sake, not least the TezukuriJunmaishu that comes with hints of muscat and grapes. Excellent complexity at such a reasonable price.

FGL What to nibble

The prefecture's Sannuki udon, 'do-it-yourself' white wheat noodles, in which you choose whatever toppings you like to add to the eponymous udon, are famous nationwide for their quality and cost performance.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

Ayagawa's Yamagoe Udon, Gamo Udon, and Yamauchi Udon are famed, but Nakata in Kanoka claims to be the 'most authentic'. Why not try them all?

Sakura-hanami-kagawa
When sakura are in full bloom it is termed 'Mankai'

Okayama Hanami

Places

Korakuen Garden; Asahi River Sakura Road; Okayama Castle, Okayama city. Sakazu Park, Kurashiki city.

Kaika first bloom: 26th March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! 

FGL What to tipple

Try Toshimori Shuzo's Sakehitosuji with its characteristic mild sourness. Doppo craft beer is made by the Miyashita Sake Brewery which also produces the prizewinning Kawami Hijiri sake.

FGL What to nibble

Mamakari, the Japanese sardinella or shad, is famed here. A relative of herrings and sardines, it is often pickled in vinegar as suzuke.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

If you seek peace and quiet, the Kurashiki Bikan canal area near the Ohara Museum of art fifteen minutes' walk from Kurashiki Station is especially pretty early in the morning.


Hyogo Hanami

Places

Oji Park, Shukugawa Park Ikuta Shrine Kobe city; Himeji Castle, Himeji city.

Kaika first bloom: 25th March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! 

FGL What to tipple

The Nada district of Kobe is local sake central, with Hakutsuru, Sawanotsuru, and Kikumasamune the 'big three' all based there. However why not try something from Himeji, Okuharima's spring-themed, bold Harumachi Kogorete Yamahai Junmai. Beer lovers will want to check Konishi Brewing's award-winning Snow Blanche, with its notes of coriander and orange peel.

FGL What to nibble

Kobe's beef and its Nankinmachi Chinatown fare are duly famous, especially the latter's Roshioki and its take-out butaman steamed pork buns, the locals favor sobameshi. It's a humble dish, mixing yakisoba noodles and rice with beef and konnyaku.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

The Sannomaru Hiroba square in front of Himeji castle is packed with street food sellers, and the castle's open lawns make the perfect hanami spot. On 8th April the castle festival runs from 10am to 4pm, and sakuradango sweets and jizake local sake is served.

Go Local!

Nikuman
Butaman steamed pork buns are a Kobe Chinatown favorite

Osaka Hanami

Places

Kema Sakuranomiya Park; Osaka Castle Park; Japan Mint; Expo Park, Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park; Utsubo Koen Park, Osaka city.

Kaika first bloom: 20th March Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! 

FGL What to tipple

Kawachi Nagano's Amanosake is the area's star local sake, and rightly so, but don't overlook Goshun from Ikeda city, Yao city's Choryu and Akishika, crafted out in the mountainous farmlands in the north of the prefecture. The latter offers the lovely Harudashi in a 5000 limited-bottle edition. Beer lovers should seek locally brewed Minoh Beer’s Imperial Stout, voted best Irish-style dry stout in the world in 2016, or Minoh IPA. The former is good on those cold, blustery nights, the latter on a warmer evening.

FGL What to nibble

Osaka folk love their takoyaki octopus balls but hanami favorite is arguably kushiage. These deep-fried, breadcrumb-coated 'morsels on skewers' are delicious, inexpensive, and easily found. Similarly ubiquitous are okonomiyaki savory pancakes. Osaka Kyabetsuyaki, literally 'grilled cabbage', is the cut-price version of okonomiyaki, generally eaten standing up, and retailing at around ¥140. It is tastier than the name suggests.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

There are no really quiet Osaka hanami parties. The Sakuranomiya station area near to the JR Osaka Loop Line is very nice early morning, and during the daytime Utsubo Koen Park is relatively tranquil. Once work finishes, the boisterous celebrations ensue.

Osaka-castle-hanami-cherry-blossom
Osaka Castle Park, Osaka

Kyoto Hanami

Places

Maruyama Koen Park; Hirano Jinja Shrine; Arashiyama; Nijo Castle; Kiyomizu Temple; The Philosopher's Path (Tetsugaku-no-michi); Kamogawa riverside; Kodaiji temple; Ninnaji temple; Okazaki Park; Daigo temple, many others, Kyoto city.

Kaika first bloom: 23rd March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! 

FGL What to tipple

Surprise yourself with the dry Fuji Chitose from Matsui Shuzo. Not old school Kyoto at all, but lovely. The city's Fushimi district is famed nationally for producing traditional, elegant local sake, with Eikun, Gekkeikan, Kizakura, and Tomio are all well regarded. Kinoshita Shuzo, up on the North coast of the prefecture in Kumihama is where British toji sake-master Phillip Harper creates the highly popular Tamagawa range of sakes. Try the unfiltered junmaiginjo. These sakes, and thousands more, are all available at the Meishukan Takimoto on Rokujo Street, a ten-minute walk from Kyoto Station.

FGL What to nibble

Kyo-Oden is the hanami fare of choice, especially if it's cold. The outdoor stalls in Maruyama-koen Park are lots of fun, not least as this is where you are most likely to see geisha taking part in the festivities. You may also like to pick up some portable nibbles in Nishiki market, or the basement 'food floors' of Daimaru, Takashimaya and Fuji Daimaru department stores. For a real touch of luxury head over to the Ritz-Carlton for one of their lovely sakura-themed bento boxes (pictured at the top of the article).

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

 Enjoy the silence at Yoshida Jinja Shrine and the great view of the city from the easily-climbable Mount Yoshidayama. Likely you'll be alone. If you miss the blossoms downtown, the sakura in Haradani village, a short taxi ride into the hills to the Northwest of the city, start to bloom as all the others fade. The sosui canal in Okazaki is perfect for ad hoc hanami, with fabulous blooms and relatively few people for such a central location, except that is on the tourist boats circling the canal. They're fun too. An absolute treasure of a sakura spot is the secluded Honpoji temple near the Urasenke Tea Ceremony HQ at Horikawa-Teranouchi agaru in Kita Ward. It's only open 10am to 4pm, but is well worth the visit. You'll likely have the blooms all to yourself.

FGL Illuminations

Of late it has become all the rage to illuminate the cherry blossoms at night. Shoujuin in the mountains outside Ujitawara city accepts just 50 guests a day, from 6pm to 7.30pm and 7.30pm to 9pm daily (¥800). Check out its heart-shaped window. Kiyomizu-dera temple opens until midnight (¥400); the 'transparent tearoom' at Shogunzuka Seiryuden opens until 9pm (last entry, ¥500); Kodaiji's lovely Entokuin opens from sunset until 10pm (last entry, 9.30pm); Hirano shrine has illuminations from sunset to 9pm (free); Toji temple lights up its pagoda and blossoms from 6.30pm until 9pm (¥500); and Nijojo Castle reveals its night blossoms 6pm to 9pm (¥600). 


Kyo Oden is popular at Kyoto hanami parties

Nara in Bloom

Places

Nara Koen Park, Nara city. Mount Ikoma & Hozanji temple, Ikoma city. Yoshinoyama, Yoshino district.

Kaika first bloom: 23rd March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! 

FGL What to tipple

Head to the Mochiidono-cho branch of the Okest supermarket near Kintetsu Nara station to find locally crafted Kishu (Nara/Wakayama) umeshu plum wines. The sweet brandy-infused version and the drier, aged-three-to-five-years wine are especially good. You can sample before you try.

FGL What to nibble

Locally grown Nara strawberries, especially the Asuka Ruby, are sweet and succulent, and a good accompaniment to that plum wine. The local specialty tsukemono pickle is called narazuke. Vegetables such as uri bitter gourd, kyuri cucumber and shoga ginger are pickled in sakekasu sake lees. Narazuke isn't to everyone's taste, as it is quite powerful. In Yoshino try the famous kakinohazushi mackerel pressed into rice wrapped in persimmon leaves.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

Head to Ikoma station and change to the cable car, Japan’s oldest, and go up to the top of Mt. Ikoma, to the amusement park. You get a great view of Osaka and the surrounding area, and even at the height of the blossom-viewing season, it’s not as crowded as Nara. Walk back down the mountain to Hozanji temple, where it’s easy to find quiet areas under the cherry trees to relax. From Hozanji, you can get back on the cable car to Ikoma station.

The 30,000 cherry trees in Yoshino are a National Treasure, and firmly on the tourist map thus it gets really crowded, so go early. Also, try to make it for the Hanakueshiki Festival at the World Heritage Listed Kimpusen-ji Temple typically held from 10th to 12th April. Take the Yoshino Kintetsu line to Yoshino station, then the cable-car to Yoshinoyama Station.

Yoshino-hanami-cherry-blossom
Yoshino in Nara has 30,000 cherry trees


Aichi Hanami

Place

Yamazakigawa riverside; Meijo Koen Park; Nagoya Castle; Tsuruma Park, Nagoya city. Inuyama castle, Inuyama city.

Kaika first bloom: 19th March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! 

FGL What to tipple

Aichi sake is traditionally made in Handa city, which gives us the appropriately named Hatsuyumezakura, 'the First Dream of Cherry Blossoms', and Nakano Shuzo's Kunizakari range.

FGL What to nibble

The prefectural capital is home to the rather expensive Nagoya Kochin breed of chicken, and thus its yakitori is particularly good. More common is the city's well-known misonikomi udon, in which wheat noodles are served with a miso broth.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

From March 25th to April 9th, Nagoya Castle hosts a Sakura Festival beneath the illuminated castle towers, admission ¥500. A short walk from the hanami activities at Tsuruma Park is Osu Kannon shrine which is surrounded by inexpensive eateries and bars of all kinds. Aichi's large Brazilian expatriate community assembles here, making for lively evenings out. The rotisserie chicken at Osso Brazil is particularly famous.

ミソ煮込みウドン
Nagoya people love Misonikomiudon


Ishikawa Hanami

Place

Kenrokuen Garden; Kazuemachi Chayagai; Kanazawa Castle, Kanazawa city.

Kaika first bloom: 1st April  Mankai full bloom: NOW NOW NOW! 

FGL What to tipple

Ishikawa's most popular local sake is produced in the city of Hakusan, most notably Kikuhime, Tedorigawa and Tengumai. The latter is especially suited to atsukan being served warm, and its pale yellow color sees it compared to French white wine. Tedorigawa produces a sakura season special. In Kanazawa, Fukumitsuya makes excellent sakes. Try their bone-dry, earthy Kagatobi Yamahai Junmai.

FGL What to nibble

Fugu ranzo nukazuke are for the adventurous gourmet - pufferfish ovaries pickled in rice bran. They are perfect with sake. Kanazawa and Kaga's freshwater gori gobyfish served as tsukudani simmered in mirin, sugar and shoyu soy sauce. Kanazawa curry and oden.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

The 'Saisei no Michi' path between Sakurabashi and Saigawa Ohashi bridge is perfect for an early morning stroll.

兼六園Kenrokuen Garden, Ishikawa

Gifu in Bloom

Place

Miyagawa Ryokuchi Koen Park, Takayama city. Kamigatani, Ikeno-cho.

Kaika first bloom: 19th March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! 

FGL What to tipple

Kozaemon in Mizunami city is undoubtedly one of Gifu's prime local sake makers. Try its Sakura Label Junmai Ginjoshu made from a blend of Yamada Nishiki and local Hida Homare rice, designed particularly for this time of year.

FGL What to nibble

The Hida-Takayama area specialty is hobayaki, beef, fish, vegetables or even seafood roasted in miso over charcoal on a dried hoba magnolia leaf. Absolutely fabulous. Hida-Takayama also has its own popular type of ramen noodles, Takayama ramen. In the southern part of the prefecture, expect more seafood. Ise-ebi spiny lobster is often transported, fresh, from markets and ports on the south coast. It is excellent grilled and as sashimi.

FGL 穴場 (anaba) 

This one's for hikers. Rural Kamigatani has 1500 sakura trees in the most spectacular natural setting. It's a bit of a trek out there, in Ikeda, a 30-minute walk from Ikeno station on the Yoro line. Well worth it though. Pack refreshments.

岐阜高山
Blossom by the Mitagawa River, Hida-Takayama, Gifu

Shizuoka Hanami

Place

Hamamatsu Castle Park, Hamamatsu Flower Park, Hamamatsu city. Kadoike Park, Numazu city. Atamijo Castle Park, Atami city.

Kaika first bloom: 18th March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! Unless you are high up.

FGL What to tipple

Pioneering craft beer brewers Baird Beer's 'Saison Sayuri', available from late March, at the Fishmarket Taproom, Numazu or from the brewery in Shuzenji. Write with us at Foodies Go Local!

 

 

FGL What to nibble

Sakuraebi sakura shrimp dishes, unagi eel, especially grilled as kabayaki and Shizuoka oden are all popular. It's the latter you are most likely to find at hanami, with its classically dark shoyu soy sauce broth crying out for a beer or local sake accompaniment.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

Check out the 35 meter tall, 824 year-old Kariyado no Gebazakura tree in Fujinomiya, near the slopes of Mt. Fuji.

unagi-eel-hanami-shizuoka
Unagi eel, Kabayaki-style

Kanagawa Blossoms

Place

Sankeien Garden; Mitsuike Koen Park, Yokohama city. Odawara Joshi Koen Park, Odawara city. Atsugi Iiyama, Atsugi city.

Kaika first bloom: 19th March  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! 

FGL What to tipple

Ebina city's Izumibashi Tombo sparkling local sake or Kawanishi Shuzoten's Tanzawasan Ginzukuri Junmai, the latter endorsed by ANA airlines.

FGL What to nibble

Shirasu Japanese anchovy whitebait, especially atop a donburi bowl of rice, and maguro tuna from the port of Misaki. Kaigun Kare or 'Navy Curry' is said to be the foundation of 'curry rice', and remains hugely popular, not least near the navy base at Yokosuka.

FGL 穴場 (anaba) 

The area near Nakanoshima station on the JR Nanbu line, and the street in front of Caritas junior college and Tama plaza station area early in the morning have beautiful blossoms. Dancing and taiko drums at Atsugi Iiyama Sakura Festival, from 1st to 9th April, make for festive Kanagawa fun.


Fukushima Blooming

Place

Tsuruga Castle Park, Aizu-Wakamatsu city. Hanamiyama Koen Park, Fukushima city. Miharu town, Tamura district.

Kaika first bloom: 5th April  Mankai full bloom: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR 

FGL What to tipple

Kinmon Aizu, Tanoshimi Suehiro and Hanaharu are all good. The latter uses local Chonishiki rice, and its sake's are generally best served chilled.

FGL What to nibble

Bandeimochi rice cakes with 10-year aged miso and Aizu jidori local chicken, especially good in the bento boxes sold at Fukushima Koriyama Station. Koi no arai carp simmered in shoyu, mirin and sake in Koriyama. Nishin no Sansho-zuke herring pickled with sansho Szechuan pepper is a specialty of Aizu-Wakamatsu and is a fabulous sake accompaniment. Aizu soba buckwheat noodles are excellent. Kiriya Gongentei and Sobadokoro Wada are local favorite Aizu soba specialists.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

Kaiseizan Park in Koriyama city center is peaceful early morning. Miharu Takizakura is one of Japan's 'Great Three' sakura trees. Over a thousand years old, it is illuminated at night. It is 6.3km from Miharu station on the Ban'etsu Tousen line. Sightseeing buses run between station and tree.

Hanami-sakura-fukushima-cherry blossom
Miharu Takizakura, Fukushima

Aomori Sakura

Place

Hirosaki Castle Park, Hirosaki city. Hachinohe Park, Hachinohe city.

Kaika first bloom: 17th April  Mankai full bloom: 80% in bloom, likely 21st to 29th

FGL What to tipple

Rokushu Nagaimo shochu is made from nagaimo yam, and is the drink of choice at Aomori's festive hanami gatherings. Garlic shochu and burdock root shochu are also worth a try. There are also a host of local sake options.

FGL What to nibble

Aomori has endless gustatory pleasures on offer, mostly from the sea. Hirosaki's Hanamigani crab is superb. Make sure to use the kora shell, or carapace exactly, as a cup for korazake. Ichigo-ni, a soup made from uni sea urchin is sublime, as are the local awabi abalone. Mackerel and squid in Hachinohe are superb. Don't miss the morning market in Hachinohe, and if you can, the brilliant women of Akatsuki no Kai preserving ancient food techniques.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

Each April, female archers on horseback display their warrior skills at the Sakura Yabusame in Towada city's Kanchogaidori area.

Aomori-hanami-cherry-blossom
Hirosaki castle park, Aomori

Hokkaido Hanami

Places

Odori Koen Park, Maruyama Park, Sapporo city. Goryokaku Park, Hakodate city. Matsumae Park, Matsumae district. Harutori Park, Kushiro.

Kaika first bloom: Sapporo 29th April; Kushiro 13th May  Mankai full bloom: Sapporo 3rd May; Kushiro May 6th

FGL What to tipple

Chitosezuru Haru no Shiboritate is a fresh, elegant and slightly dry local sake perfect for the spring. Find it at the company's sake museum in central Sapporo. Kamata Bettei Ezofuka in Sapporo's Minami Gojo Nishi 3-chome is a restaurant specializing in Hokkaido sakes and cuisine.

FGL What to nibble

Hokkaido is noted for its 'Genghis Khan' lamb barbecues, and Asahikawa and Sapporo Miso Ramen. The latter should be served piping hot. Sumire, Shingen, Menya Saimi and Ichigen are the most famous purveyors. At Ramen Yokocho alley and Ramen Kyowakoku Republic, both in Sapporo, dozens of ramen shops are gathered together. It is fun to explore and choose whichever takes your fancy. At Maruyama Park in Sapporo you can feast on Genghis Khan under the blossoms.

FGL 穴場 (anaba)

It's a hike to get to Matsumae Park but worth it to see the 10,000 sakura trees. Early in the morning it is especially peaceful. Take the JR line to Kikonai station, then Hakodate bus bound for Matsumae. Get off at Matsushiro, and it’s roughly a 10-minute walk from there. Even more rural is the Shizunai Nijyukendoro Cherry Road, a 7km-long tree-lined avenue in Shinhidaka-machi. Access by bus from JR Shizunai station.

Sakura
2018 is predicted to be a good sakura season. Enjoy!

Please note that the statistics informing the above predictions have been compiled from a variety of sources, including NHK and other TV reports, newspaper bulletins, and websites. The English-language Sakura Weathermap site is particularly useful.

John F. Ashburne

John F. Ashburne

Editor-in-Chief Foodies Go Local