“Japan is an incredible country to visit year-round, with a fascinating culture, landscapes, the kindest people you will ever meet, and some of the best food in Asia. However, if you ever get the opportunity, visit during springtime to witness the magnificent candyfloss cherry blossom season where the whole of Japan — and millions of tourists — come out to celebrate and view the sakura trees.”
– Photos and text by Jordan Hammond
I fell in love with Japan in 2017 and I still can’t get enough. My team and I wanted to visit during the sakura season last year but were too late, so we were delighted to be able to go this year. The blossoms only last a couple of weeks and the dates can change last minute due to the weather, so it’s best to have flexible plans if possible. My favourite place to shoot the cherry blossoms is the bustling city of Tokyo, as the contrast between hectic city life and the dainty blossom–filled trees is quite magical. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes, as the art of hanami (flower viewing) also involves a lot of walking.
I’d recommend going to Chidorigafuchi early one morning to view the blossoms at one of the most beautiful places in the city before the crowds get there. This is also one of the most well-known hanami locations so the queues to rent a boat out on the moat of the Imperial Palace can get busy fast.
Renting a boat is worth the wait though, and you can get some fantastic shots up-close to the draping cherry blossom trees. If you happen to be in Tokyo towards the end of the blossom season, you may even be able to photograph the petals falling into the water below.
After Chidorigafuchi, take a train to Aoyama-itchome Station and walk to the eerily beautiful Aoyama Cemetery. The walkways are lined with cherry blossom trees and it’s a great spot to use a zoom lens to photograph people walking down the paths surrounded by the pink flowers.
Once you have done your fair share of people–watching, take the train to Shibuya where you can grab a bite to eat and watch the hundreds of people cross the infamous Shibuya Crossing. Afterwards, close to the station, you’ll see a zigzag road swamped with cherry blossoms, which makes for a great photo if you stand on the walkway on the opposite side of the road. We waited here a while until the traffic eased up and managed to capture a lone taxi driver coming down the road. It turned out to be my favourite photo from the trip.
In the evening, make your way to Shinjuku station and take the short stroll to Memory Lane. Memory Lane is a small alley in central Shinjuku which used to house a black market and an illegal drinking quarter; before it burnt down and was then rebuilt into the restaurant–filled street that it is today.
Although the cherry blossoms here aren’t real, they still add beauty to photos of the local businessmen wrapping up their workdays and walking to find some dinner.
After you’ve filled your boots — and hopefully your tummies — in Memory Lane, catch the high-speed train down south and follow the trail of the sakura there.
There are many great spots further south in Japan to shoot the cherry blossom, with the most well-known amongst locals being Mount Yoshino. Getting here requires a full day trip from Osaka and it may be worth spending the night if you don’t want to be rushed. Walk to the top of Yoshino viewpoint to witness the expanse of 30,000 cherry trees from above. This is also a perfect place to let your drone soar as the winding mountain roads, coupled with the cherry trees are a photographer’s dream.
Himeji Castle is another great place for hanami. Himeji is a short train ride from Osaka and Kyoto, and is home to (what I think is) the most picturesque castle in the whole of Japan. For the best photos of the castle, I’d recommend shooting from inside the zoo, and wait for the boats to come by on the river to add another dimension into your shots.