Planning a trip during Japan’s famous sakura (cherry blossom) season can be hit and miss, especially if you are moving around the country a fair bit. Peak blossom time can vary year on year by at least a week or two which means that the few days you have in a given location could fall too early or too late to be there at just the right time.
The good news is that your chances of seeing sakura are not as poor as that may sound.
First views of sakura blossoms at the moat around Hikone castle
Firstly, there are many different varieties of cherry tree in Japan all of which flower at different times; some flower far ahead of the most common yamazakura variety and others burst into bloom much later. So chances are you will still be able to enjoy the beauty of cherry blossoms in one or more place you visit.
Secondly, I’d suggest that you plan an itinerary that includes visiting some locations on their usual peak blossom dates, but also takes you to others earlier and later than the peak sakura usual dates. This way, whether the blossoms are running early, late or right on time, you will see them at at least one of the places you visit.
Approaching the entrance to Hikone Castle
The itinerary for our recent four-week trip included just one night in Hikone. Although I was keen to visit the castle, I chose it primarily as a handy location to pick up our first rental car for a drive through Shiga Prefecture.
Disappointed that there was very little sign of cherry blossoms in Hakone – one of the most popular sakura-viewing destinations in Japan – we were utterly delighted to discover that the cherry trees of Hikone were at their very best during the few brief hours we spent in the small city.
Even on a rainy day, the castle walls and gate were impressive
Located on the shores of Lake Biwa (Japan’s largest lake), Hikone is most famous for its castle, one of only four in Japan to be designated as a national treasure.
Construction was completed in 1622 and the castle served as the seat of the local daimyo (feudal lords) until the feudal system ended in 1868. Visiting Hikone Castle gives a wonderful insight into life for the nobility during Japan’s feudal era.
Views from the castle gate and after climbing the hill towards the main keep
What makes Hikone Castle special is that the majority of what you see is original, having survived in tact since it was built. A number of other castles in Japan are virtually completely new builds, the originals having been destroyed by fire or other natural disaster, often more than once in their long histories.
Views of and from the main keep
Happily for us, Hikone castle’s extensive grounds are planted with many cherry trees, most of which were in blossom during our visit and just as enchanting as I’d dreamed.
The cartoon character above is the castle’s mascot, Hiko-nyan; every organisation, tourist attraction and business in Japan seems to have one!
After our tour of the castle, we also visited Genkyuen Garden, a traditional Japanese garden built within the castle grounds in 1677.
We also stopped for a delicious and inexpensive lunch at a small restaurant specialising in wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). They also offered a short menu of udon noodle soups.
The noodles were simple and delicious, with a perfectly cooked egg, a slice of tofu and some sliced fishcake.
My favourite was the traditional Zenzai dessert I tried. In my lidded bowl was a sweet syrup of azuki beans topped with two chargrilled rice cakes – I loved the soft chewy sticky texture of the rice cakes against the sweet earthy beans and syrup, though Pete wasn’t such a fan.
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Have you visited Japan during sakura season? What are you top tips and what was the highlight of the trip for you?
You may like to check out my other posts about my travels to Japan.
Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!33 Comments to "Cherry Blossoms at Hikone Castle | How to Plan a Sakura Season Trip to Japan"
That’s a gorgeous castle, like something out of a fairytale.
I’m on the fence about Japan; sometimes I think I’d like to go there and at others I fear it would all be just too different and I wouldn’t be able to cope.
Japan is really unique of the places I’ve visited in that although it really is different from home in so many ways – wonderfully different – it’s also incredible unstressful to visit, you feel very safe, very welcome, we’ve never had a moment of uncertainty let alone feeling unsafe or overwhelmed. I know many travellers adore India for a similar sensation of things being utterly different, but there one can also struggle with crime, poverty and all manner of nightmare scenarios. If you’re lucky, it’s all perfect, but the chance of problems is not that low either. Visiting Japan is very different, in that there’s a feeling of safety and calm that is unusual to experience when visiting somewhere that feels so foreign!
This is simply beautiful! All the layer of the lake, mountains and cherry blossoms, it’s just picture perfect!
Thanks Angie, our timing was just so serendipitous – we really were there for the peak of the blossoms. It was a little rainy, but that just meant more beautiful skies and it didn’t prove to be a problem at all.
What a glorious time – and such picture perfect timing!
Thanks Emma, yes our timing was so fortunate!
We’ve visited Japan twice, both times catching part of the cherry blossom season. My best photos on our last visit were taken in Takayama.
Even if you’re only visiting Tokyo, and not getting to see other parts of the country, there are still parks and gardens where you can see cherry blossoms.
We visited Takayama on our first visit which was an autumn one, for their autumn festival. Lovely place and I can imagine it would be a glorious place to see sakura.
You are right that you can see cherry blossom in Tokyo, though if you are only visiting one city, it can be harder to time your visit for the peak week. That said, there are other varieties to see before and after that, not to mention the plum blossoms which come out before the cherry ones.
Rrreally beautiful photos and description! We only went to Japan once, my memories are of a beautiful place with courteous people.
Thanks, we just love Japan. This will certainly not be our last visit. I’m so excited to go again in the next year or two. The people are indeed wonderfully warm, courteous and so helpful to strangers.
That is so lovely Kavey.
I really want to go to Japan, I think I need to chat to Ed and take the plunge, book a trip and then come and see you for the planning.
I know you would love it. Is Ed a little apprehensive? Pete wasn’t sure he’d enjoy Japan before we went the first time but he loved it too. And yes, of course, come and see me for planning tips!
We have friends working in Japan at the mo, so tempted to go before they come back. I have actually eaten some pickled sakura blossom at a Japanese event and it was so beautiful :0
Oh, do, would be wonderful to have some “local” guides and perhaps even a place to stay for some of your trip!
Oh wow, just look at that blossom. It was out when CT went over a few years ago. He told me how amazing it was, but didn’t take any photographs – honestly!
It’s so beautiful! Our blossom is beautiful here too but the difference is the scale of planting of cherry trees in Japan, and the way they are often planting to create paths and roads that are arched by cherry blossom. So beautiful!
Some of those images are just astonishing! Best I’ve done so far is sakura at Sake no Hana, which is nice, but not a patch on this!
Thanks Fiona! I’ve not been to the Sake no Hana sakura celebration, must do that next year!
We have a bunch of these cherry blossom trees in Toronto and I love visiting them when they are in season. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be surrounded by these wonderful trees in bloom.
I love Toronto, was just there in September. Beautiful city, would be lovely to visit in spring. Was a magical experience to see the sakura in Japan.
So much cherry blossom! Japan really has been on my wishlist. I watched Joanna Lumley’s Japan the other night which made me want to go even more! Gary x
Yes I really enjoyed that mini series. The only thing missing from it for me was the food – there was very little on her enjoying traditional Japanese food – but I appreciate that there have been many other shows focusing on food, and I think she follows a restricted diet too which may have made it difficult. But I loved her enthusiasm and humour, and of course, seeing more of Japan!
A trip like this has been on my to do list for about 10 years. I dont know why I have still not done it. But love living it through your eyes.
It’s an incredible experience. I’m dying to go back again! Hope you visit soon!
This post is so lovely. As per our recent conversation I want to to Japan too. Loving reading your posts on it. R
Thank you Rosana, you would utterly love Japan!
Wow these are such beautiful colours, I so want to go to Japan.
Absolutely wonderful tips Kavey – Japan in cherry blossom season is on my list, looks like such a great trip. Thanks for posting.
Oh that blossom is just stunning. Sounds like it’s a bit tricky to plan the timings right, but well worth doing!
Seeing the cherry blossoms in Japan are high on my wish list, they look lovely!
It’s a beautiful thing. Blossoms are glorious everywhere but in Japan they plant the trees so as to really celebrate and enjoy them, it’s just magical!
I can’t tell when these were taken. When were you there?
In early April.