Dear readers of BelieveItOhrNot,
We’re trying to predict the unpredictable and I’m not sure we can. We’re heavy into Japan planning mode for our two-month “move” to Fukuoka, Japan. We’re starting the project with the idea that we’re going to see Japan’s cherry blossoms (for the second time), and trip-planning is just plain hard.
But before I tell you why, I want to give you a bit of background.
Viewing Japan’s cherry blossoms is one of the greatest things we’ve ever done. We went to Japan and Korea for five weeks in 2017 and began our trip with a lot of blossom viewing. But as we found out, viewing cherry blossoms is a national pastime and a national obsession … and it’s not so easy.
First, cherry blossom season is very short. Trees start blooming in the south of Japan and then the blossoms slowly make their way north. On the main island of Japan, the season usually starts in March and goes through May. But each location has a very short viewing period of just one to two weeks. While the country has blossoms for three months, it’s difficult to know for sure when and where you will get to see them.
Here’s how they make their dramatic appearances. First there’s “first bloom” when trees bud, Then there’s “full bloom” when you are engulfed in a sea of pink cotton candy. Starting in January, Japanese websites try to predict when “first bloom” and “full bloom” will occur in each region, and while science and weather and previous dates and averages all go into the equation, the predictions are just that: predictions. Depending on Mother Nature, one year Tokyo may experience “first bloom” on March 16 while another year it might not be until April 2. With these variations, it’s difficult to book hotels and make travel arrangements. And for amazing cherry blossom cities like historic Kyoto, unless you’ve booked many months in advance, you won’t find any hotel rooms available. Oh, and even if you have booked months in advance, if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, you’ll be looking at empty trees. Blossom-obsessed people, like Andy and me, look at dates from prior years and make estimates, but current weather patterns are more of a factor than, say, average “first bloom” dates over the past 10 years.
This year we will concentrate most our viewing on the island of Kyushu, on the southern edge of “mainland” Japan. While we’ll focus on big cities like Fukuoka, the city on Kyushu in which we’ll be based for two months, and Hiroshima, we’ll also take day trips to small towns and off-the-radar viewing spots. We may also do a few overnight trips. Once the blossoms start appearing in a few weeks, the sakura websites will start posting regular bloom updates, so we will strive to hit “full boom” when able.
Side note: In 2017, Kyoto was probably my favorite cherry blossom viewing places in all of Japan. It was also the most crowded and the most touristy.
It’s a special feeling to spread out a big, blue tarp (as is the Japanese tradition), bring along some bento boxes and sake, and relax underneath the trees. Japanese people take cherry blossom viewing seriously, planning elaborate picnics with family and friends underneath the canopy of cherry blossoms. We can”t wait to join them!