How to Hanami with a Twist: Unique Ways to Enjoy Cherry Blossom Season


While hanami literally means flower viewing, this term is almost always associated with cherry blossoms, and often involves admiring them in a garden or park, and/or having a picnic. If just heading over to a park or garden is too cliche for you, then perhaps these unusual but not-too-expensive hanami ideas might be your thing. We had to leave out the awesome but expensive options, like hanami from a helicopter, but these should still be fun! (Ed’s note: you could also head to Kyoto on a budget bullet train+hotel deal, to experience hanami in cherry-blossom central.)

1. Hanami in a cemetery

 hanami tokyo
Photo by DozoDomo used under CC

We often associate cemeteries with gloom, death, and decay, and think of them as solemn, spooky places. That’s not necessarily the case in Japan! In fact, in Tokyo, two cemeteries are known to be lovely during cherry blossom season: Aoyama Cemetery and Yanaka Cemetery. If you want to see beautiful cherry blossoms while enjoying some relative peace and quiet (compared to the popular hanami spots), then these cemeteries might be your thing. There’s something poetic about seeing cherry blossoms abloom in a cemetery: cherry blossoms have always been a symbol of ephemerality, after all.

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Both cemeteries have paths lined with so many trees that it’s almost as if they’re forming a tunnel of cherry blossoms. While having a picnic in Aoyama Cemetery isn’t allowed, it’s okay to do so in Yanaka Cemetery. It may sound creepy, but these cemeteries get a fair amount of visitors, so it’s not as unsettling as you may think. It’s also not really considered as disrespectful to the dead, but don’t go overboard and get drunk or rowdy—you’re still in a cemetery!

Aoyama Cemetery address: 2-32-2 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo | Access: Gaienmae or Nogizaka Station

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Yanaka Cemetery address: 7-5-24 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo | Access: Nippori or Nishi-Nippori Station

2. Hanami boat ride

Photo by frontriver used under CC

Tokyo may not be known for canals the way some European countries are, but cherry blossom season makes for scenic boat rides. The unassuming neighborhood of Monzen-Nakacho (access: Monzen-Nakacho Station) comes alive in early spring, thanks to the O-Edo Fukagawa Sakura Festival, which will take place from March 25 to April 9, 2017. This event features the usual festival attractions (food, booths, and performances)—plus boat rides down the nearby river.

We recommend riding a wasen—a traditional Japanese boat—as it’s only 500 yen a ride. Wasen rides take place every 20 minutes from 10:00 am-4:00 pm during all weekends of the sakura festival, as well as April 5th. They will only accept 700 people per day, so get there early—registrations start as early as 9:30 am. (There’s no website or hotline for advanced reservations; also, note that children under the age of 3 cannot board the wasen.)

The festival also has options for regular motor boat rides: a 30-minute morning cruise for 2,300 yen (1,300 yen for children) or, if you want to see the blossoms all lit up, a 45-minute evening cruise (3,200 yen for adults, and 2,200 yen for children).

hanami cherry blossoms hanami tokyo
Photo by Vincent Van den Storme used under CC

This festival isn’t the only chance for you to experience a hanami boat ride. Galleon, a cruise company, will operate three types of hanami cruises this year. From March 27-30, there will be a cruise (access: Nihonbashi Station; 2,900 yen for adults and 1,900 yen for children) that will take you through the Nihonbashi, Sumida, and Onagigawa Rivers, with one of the rivers being lined with cherry trees. It will also have a 30-minute daytime hanami cruise (2,300 yen for adults and 1,300 yen for children) that starts and ends at Monzen-Nakacho, passing through the Oyoko and Sumida Rivers. There will also be a 45-minute nighttime version of this cruise (3,200 yen for adults and 2,200 yen for children).

Photo by Yoshikazu Takada used under CC

On April 1-2 and 8-9, Chiyoda Ward will have two types of hanami cruises, both departing from Kanda’s Izumibashi Pier (access: Iwamotocho Station). These are all reservation-only, and slots are limited, so if you’re interested, check the details here (website in Japanese) and fax or e-mail an application to the organizers before March 24th. (An application does not guarantee a reservation; they will choose participants by lottery in case demand exceeds capacity.)

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The first type costs 2,000 yen and departs four times a day, taking passengers down Iidabashi, Chidorigafuchi, and Yasukuni Shrine. The other cruise, which passes through the Sumida River in Asakusa, is pricier, as it includes fancy meals. Boats set sail three times a day—lunch (11:30 am-2:00 pm) and dinner time (5:30 pm-8:00 pm on April 1 and 8, and 5:30 pm-7:30 pm on April 2 and 9) for 10,000 yen, and teatime (3:00 pm-4:30 pm) for 4,000 yen. The teatime cruise comes with tea, sweets, and traditional music performances.

Speaking of the Sumida River, there are several other hanami boat rides down that river to choose from. For one, from March 18 to April 9, Tokyo Cruise will have a special sakura line that departs from Asakusa, Hamarikyu Gardens (access: Shiodome Station), or Hinode Pier (access: Hinode Station). A one-way cruise is an hour long and costs 780 yen for adults (390 yen for children) for the Asakusa-Hinode route, and 740 yen for adults (370 yen for children) for the Asakusa-Hamarikyu route. The latter route will require a separate fee for admission to Hamarikyu Gardens. Round-trip options are unavailable this year.

Their night cruise from March 23 to April 10 should be even more interesting, as passengers will not only see illuminated cherry blossoms, but also be treated to a traditional dance performance by furisode-san (geisha-like performers). This 45-minute cruise costs 2,800 yen (2,000 yen for children), inclusive of a light meal and a drink. As only a limited number of tickets will be sold on-site from 9 am onwards, reservations are highly encouraged; you can do so here.

Finally, this isn’t a cheapo option, but if you feel like splurging, you can rent out a yakatabune, a traditional Japanese boat that’s usually chartered for parties. Some yakatabune have dinner courses for individuals, but they still don’t come cheap.

3. Hanami while in a rickshaw

hanami rickshaw
Photo by Nemo's great uncle used under CC

The historic town of Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture is just a 60- to 90-minute train ride away from Tokyo, and makes for a good day trip. While its temples and shrines are already beautiful on their own, cherry blossoms provide an added touch to make them even lovelier. Why not feel like you’re transported back in time by seeing Kamakura’s famous spots while riding a rickshaw? You can find rickshaw drivers near Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and Engakuji, among others. It usually costs 3,000 yen per head (but it goes down to 4,000 yen for 2 people) for a 12- or 13-minute ride. To complete the experience, rent a kimono from one of the kimono rental shops along Komachi-dori.

Access: Kamakura Station

4. Hanami bus ride

Photo by Adriel Hampton used under CC

Get close enough to touch some cherry blossoms by hopping on the Sky Bus, an open-air double-decker bus. It offers a number of courses all year long, but one in particular—the Imperial Palace course—happens to include several cherry trees along the way, so it ends up doubling as a hanami tour during March and April. It’s 1,600 yen for a 50-minute ride, inclusive of a multilingual audio guide. You can book directly on the website (although the form’s only in Japanese) or at JAPANiCAN, where you can check seat availability for your desired date.

In addition to the Imperial Palace course, from March 25-April 9, there will be a special route devoted to viewing cherry blossoms at night. This 50-minute tour departs twice a day – at 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm – and costs 2,500 yen for adults and 1,500 yen for children. Call 03-3215-0008 for reservations.

As part of the O-Edo Fukagawa Sakura Festival, on all weekends from March 25-April 2, there will be a Sky Bus tour (1500 yen) that departs from Monzen-Nakacho’s Kurofunebashi four times a day from 10:00 am (registration starts at 9:30 am – no options for advanced reservations). A maximum of 40 people per ride will be accepted.

5. Hanami in an amusement park

hanami in tokyo

For the young and young at heart, what better way to enjoy to enjoy cherry blossoms than to do so in an amusement park? Toshimaen in Nerima Ward (near Toshimaen Station), Hanayashiki in Asakusa, and Yomiuri Land near Keio-Yomiuriland Station all have plenty of cherry trees to further liven up the scenery, whether it’s daytime or nighttime (as these theme parks have light-up events, which you can read about here—and yes, you can ride most of their attractions even at night). Toshimaen accepts reservations for hanami barbecue parties, while Hanayashiki has a beer garden. At Yomiuri Land, you can see cherry blossoms as you ride a roller coaster, or see lots and lots of pink from above as you ride their sky gondola and Ferris wheel.

6. Hanami while bathing

Yes, hanami in an onsen or sento (bathhouse) is also possible! While you’ll have to go beyond Tokyo for onsen with really scenic views, Tokyo’s got Oka No Yu, Yomiuri Land’s super sento. It has an outdoor bath from which you can see a few cherry trees. It may not be much, but an outdoor bath and cherry blossoms should make for a relaxing, uniquely Japanese experience. Entrance is 650 yen (400 yen for children) on weekdays, and 750 yen (450 yen for children) on weekends.

There’s also Tokyo Somei Onsen Sakura—the name should already be a dead giveaway that it has something to do with cherry blossoms! An 8-minute walk from Sugamo Station, part of which was known as “Somei” in the Edo period, this natural onsen is proud to be located in the birthplace of the somei yoshino—the variant of cherry blossoms that many know and love. There are several cherry trees around the premise, which make for a relaxing, beautiful sight as you pamper yourself. Classy as this onsen is, it’s not that expensive at 1,296 yen for adults and 756 yen for children.

Oka No Yu address: 3302-8 Yanokuchi, Inagi, Tokyo | Business hours: 10:00 am-12:00 midnight | Access: Keio-Yomiuriland Station

Tokyo Somei Onsen Sakura address: 5-4-24 Komagome, Toshima-ku, Tokyo | Business hours: 10:00 am-11:00 pm (last entry: 10:30 pm) | Access: Sugamo Station (8-minute walk, free shuttle buses from the station also available) or Komagome Station (10-minute walk)

Note: This article is updated yearly. It was last updated on March 6, 2017.

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One Response to “How to Hanami with a Twist: Unique Ways to Enjoy Cherry Blossom Season”

  1. How far is O-Edo Fukagawa Sakura Festival from the Monzen Nakacho station?

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