Sakura, Strawberries and Cycling – Spring into Japan

Blossoming flowers and sunny days – Spring time in Japan is great for adventurers, nature lovers and foodies alike. Seasonality is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and the turn from winter to spring celebrates new beginnings across March-May.

Festivals and traditions filled with colour and ceremony mark the sacred and social milestones of the spring months, and are distinctly different from the winter wonderland experience Aussies flock to Japan for.

Here’s why your next trip to Japan should be in springtime.

Experience the Sakura (cherry blossoms)

Sakura season in Japan has become one of the most exciting times of the year for both tourists and locals with bustling culture and exciting events everywhere you turn.

Although the famous cherry trees only blossom for a couple of weeks per year, the entire country seems to turn pink in the lead up to Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) with supermarkets stocking everything from cherry blossom flavoured Kit Kats to Sakura Pepsi – all in preparation for the pink and white show.

The cherry blossoms in bloom are a cause for celebration

The cherry blossoms in bloom are a cause for celebration

For a special Hanami experience, head to Hirosaki Castle Park at the very top end of Honshu (about four and a half hours train from Tokyo) – home to over 2500 cherry trees and cherry blossom tunnels.

You can spend hours exploring the park, following the moats around the castle that fill up with perfect petals. It’s customary to pack a picnic or bento box to view Sakura in quiet contemplation – these can also be picked up from department stores. Add some sake and you’re set.

Stock up on strawberries

Sweet, tart and oh-so-juicy, strawberries are the spring fruit of Japan. The turning of the season means strawberry picking in full force and you’ll find farms just outside of Tokyo for all-you-can-eat picking parties.

Japan is famous for its wide range of strawberry varieties, and is known to introduce a new variety every year. Try the Hatsukoi no Kaori, dubbed the “The Scent of First Love,” which is a striking white berry, or Fukuoka Prefecture, known as the “Sweet King” – an enormous, sweet berry that is four to five times the size of usual strawberries.

See the mountains in full spring glory

Famous for being the ultimate winter destination with incredible powder snow and lively ski village culture, Niseko Village is actually a premier year-round resort which bursts to life in spring. As the snow melts, it makes way for sunny garden paths, vibrant wild flowers, lush golf courses and smooth roads that turn Niseko into a world-class cycling destination.

Take it all in at Niseko Onsen & Spa, which offers massage, spa and hot springs in Niseko

Take it all in at Niseko Onsen & Spa, which offers massage, spa and hot springs in Niseko

Stay at one of Niseko Village’s seamlessly integrated lodgings like the Kasara, Green Leaf or Hilton as your home base to experience the quiet Japanese region on two wheels – explore the spectacular Shakotan Peninsula, cycle over volcanoes, and breeze past smoking onsen to the stunning Lake Toya.

Round up your day with a soak in one of the region’s natural onsen to soothe tired muscles in the thermal mineral spring, or head to the Wakka spa, voted as one of the top 10 spas in Japan, for their signature experience.

Eat in Shun

In Japan, locals and chefs like to celebrate eating in Shun – only food that is in season. This means markets offer the best local, in-season foods, and chefs will create dishes to celebrate all the produce that has come into season and is at the height of its flavour offering and nutritional value.

Springtime means fresh seafood like clams and mussels make an appearance in layered broths, three different kinds of strawberries (keep an eye out for roadside strawberries that are abundant!), ever-popular bamboo shoots and strawberry or Sakura-themed treats like sponge rolls and mochi in pretty shades of pink.

Peddle the roads

There are many beautiful and succinct words in the Japanese language that embody emotions and states-of-being in relation to observing nature in action, and Komorebi is just one of them – expressing appreciation for nature and its many beautiful elements.

Active travel company Butterfield & Robinson has honoured this in their Japan Biking trip departing from April which has sought out the most serene and picturesque pockets from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Biking offers a great opportunity to interact with the locals

Biking offers a great opportunity to interact with the locals

Rides through the Noto Peninsula meander through rugged coastlines, traditional farmland and quaint fishing villages.

You’ll also soak in natural onsen, learn about paper-making, visit local markets and centuries-old temples shrines, experience tea ceremony and sit in quiet contemplation at meticulously-tended gardens while you reflect on your trip.

Springtime festivals

In March, one of the largest Daruma Doll fairs in Tokyo takes place at the beautiful Jindaiji Temple. The festival is an authentic look into Japanese ceremony, with hundreds of stalls stocking the red and round auspicious dolls that signify perseverance for locals. Try to get there for the Hyakumi Kuyo ritual, a procession and offering for the Buddhist figure Ganzan Daishi.

The Daruma Dolls are a significant symbol of perseverance

The Daruma Dolls are a significant symbol of perseverance

Also celebrated in March is Girls day, or Hinamatsuri. To mark the celebration, families will display a set of Hina dolls in their houses to represent the emperor, empress, attendants, and musicians, which are all used to pray for the health and happiness of young girls in Japan.

No holiday is complete without a food element, and Girls Day is no exception. Celebratory sweets include Hina arare; a rice cracker named after snow, Hishi mochi; a multi-layered rice cake of pink, white and green, and Shirozake; a deliciously sweet sake.

If you’re visiting in May, the Hanazono Shrine Grand Festival is a must see with traditional food stalls and colourful ceremonial rites taking place in the bustling Shinjuku district. The big event is when the mikoshi, a 1.5 tonne portable shrine, that is taken on a tour of the streets.