Cherry Blossoms or Sakrua 桜 in Japanese bloom only once a year in Japan. This season is 100%, hands down, without a doubt Japan’s busiest season for tourism with hundreds of thousands of people travelling from the four corners of the globe to get a glimpse at Japan’s fabled national flower. The season only lasts a short duration, from the end of March and into the start of April (Usually only around 10 days – 2 weeks) around the central Honshu areas and is a mad rush to book accommodation and all the other necessities. In the end though, all the running around and searching like a mouse in a maze is worth it!
As the weather starts to heat up from a long winter, the Sakura trees come to life! A little bit of sunshine and rainfall creates the prefect conditions for these delicate and fragile flowers to burst forth and paint the countryside in glorious pinks and whites. Sometimes in only two or three days a tree will go from bare branches to a vibrant curtain of flowers.
The season moves up through the four main Islands of Japan starting in the southern most island in Kyushu at around the 20-25th of March and moves its way steadily up to the northernmost island Hokkaido in mid April. Some travelers will start in in the south and spend the whole month working their way up through the famous Sakura hot-spots.
I have selected a few photos I took myself on this year’s round of Sakura tour madness to give those of you thinking about participating next year a look at what is in store for you! Despite the fact that I am a terrible photographer I hope that I have managed to capture I sliver of the magnificence that is Japan’s ‘Sakura Season’.
Some of the places that I visited include, Miyajima Island off the coast of Hiroshima, Himeji Castle to the west of Kobe, Kasuga Great Shrine in the Nara Park area, Kourakuen Park and Ueno Park in central Tokyo.
I hope that these photos seal the deal for those who are unsure about making the journey of a lifetime to Japan during the Cherry Blossom season!
NOTE: for those who are thinking about come over, as mentioned, this season is the BUSIEST SEASON OF THE YEAR. Please book as early as possible! The later you leave it, the harder it will be to create the perfect custom experience that will make you fall in love with this amazing country.
Tour Guide Tom
Whether or not they have or haven’t visited Japan, every single person I know knows of the majestic Mt. Fuji. But what about the surrounding area?
Believe it or not the area surrounding Mt. Fuji is, as us Australians would say, is ‘chock-a-block’ full of interesting places!
In this installment I’m going to guide you through some areas around Fuji that are part of most of our tours that visit Mt. Fuji and the Hakone region.
Peace Park: 平和公園ーへいわこうえん
There are few things that will tug at your heart strings like one of the Japanese Peace Parks. There are three main peace parks, located in Nagasaki, Hiroshima
(Sites of the two atomic bombs dropped in WWII) and the lesser known Gotenba or Mt. Fuji Peace Park. This Park is slightly different from the other two
as it was a joint creation of, not just Japan but all the South East Asian Buddhist majority countries with the aim of promoting global peace and unity.
The Gotenba Peace Park is famous for its Dog statues that were donated from the previously mentioned Buddhist countries.
The design of these statues show both the great similarities and differences between these countries that have pitched in
together to create a symbol of peace and unity for future generations.
The Gotenba Peace Park is also famous for is breathtaking view of the famou Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is best seen during the Japanese
cherry Blossom season where you can get stunning photos of the blooming blossoms, the Gotenba shrines AND Mt. Fuji all
in one amazing shot!
Oshinohakkai: 忍野八海 － おしのはっかい
A short 30 minute drive from the Peace Park brings you to one of the hidden gems of the Hakkone area, Oshinohakkai.
Hidden away in the back country areas of Hakkone, Oshinohakkai is naturally occurring series of small ponds that are
continuously replenished with clear, fresh water from the surrounding mountains. The ponds go as deep as 8m and are
filled with a myriad of different Japanese fish.
Make sure that you bring your empty water bottles to fill up with clear, ice-cold, natural spring water at the little dragon statues!
The water is said to help cleanse your body and promote good health.
Besides the ponds there is a quaint souvenir shop that sells local produce, interesting Japanese snacks (such as pickled vegetables and
tofu) and hand made goods.
Ashi Lake：芦ノ湖 － あしのこ
Ashi Lake or Ashinoko is one of the ‘Fuji Five Lakes’ that dot the area around Mt. Fuji. Ashinoko is a crater lake surrounded by the
beautiful Hakkone mountains, green golf courses and natural hot springs.
Guests can ride on one of the numerous ferries and boats such as this beautiful old European style warship.
After taking a relaxing ride across Ashinoko’s clear blue waters, you can jump on a cable cart that leads its
way up the Kamiyama Mountain up to Owakudani.
Owakudani: 大涌谷 － おおわくだに
Owakudani roughly translated into ‘The Great Boiling valley’, is a mountain riddled with sulfurous hot springs that billow forth perpetual
plumes of steam! Ride up the Hakone Ropeway from Ashino Lake to the summit and revel in the beautiful view of Ashino Lakes crystal clear
water and even views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day!
Once at the top, walk up threw the volcanic fumes and watch the staff preparing their famous ‘Black Eggs’, boiled in the hot springs. For a small
fee you can try a black egg for yourself, or simply wander through the lovely souvenir shops and enjoy the view.
Awaodori Restaurant is one of the many famous ‘Themed Restaurants’ that can be experienced throughout Japan! Located in Tokyo’s Shinjuku JR station area the Awaodori Restaurant will help make your trip unforgettable.
Awaodori is a type of traditional dance (Similar to Okinawan dance) that originates from Tokushima prefecture on
Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four islands. It is Japan’s largest dance festival that is celebrated during ‘Obon’, a type
of Japanese summer break period for the working class. The festival is full of energy, bright costumes, large pointy
hats, fans and chanting that attracts over 1.3 million guests EVERY YEAR!
Enjoy the festive atmosphere and great decorations as well as a LIVE PERFORMANCE that makes you feel like you
are right in the middle of a real Awaodori festival! That’s right, you get to enjoy a live dancing Awaodori performance
as you sit and enjoy your top quality food. You can even get up dance if the mood takes you.
The menu consists of a range of set dishes that cater to whatever your needs require, ranging from deep fried chicken,
salads, noodles dishes, sushi, sukiyaki, hot pot and delicious fresh sashimi.
Dishes start at around $20 USD and up, depending on what takes your fancy (Performance included. This also include starters,
mains and dessert.
So consider making your trip that little bit more authentic and special with a themed restaurant! There are also Okinawan style
and even ninja style restaurants available depending on what you want to experience.
Whatever you fancy, one thing is certain, a Themed Restaurant will make a lasting impression and an unforgettable
memory for your trip to Japan.
Regards your Virtual Guide
Shrouded in Japanese folk lore and rich with history, Mt. Fuji is the majestic symbol of Japan! If you have heard about Japan then you have
most likely heard about Mt. Fuji, seen it in pictures, on TV or have been told about it from a friend who has visited the mountain themselves.
But I can tell you something, seeing with your own two eyes is something else!
Whether it’s checking out the view from stage 5 in summer, climbing to the 3,776 meter high summit or embarking on one of the
famous ‘sunrise climbs’, Mt. Fuji will take your breath away.
As you travel up the winding mountain road, ask your guide about the ‘Melody’ that greets you as you begin your assent to Mt. Fuji.
But you’ll never guess where the melody comes from! I’ll leave that as your little assignment when you visit.
Take a moment when you reach the station to take a deep breath of fresh air. From your perch atop of Japan, you can see as far as
Tokyo depending on the weather, as well as one or more of the Fuji 5 lakes!
As you relax with your view, you can watch the weary hikers complete their journey, or the fresh, bright eyed hikers getting ready to
embark on their own.
For those of you who are brave enough to dare the climb yourselves, here are a few tips form someone who’s been there and done that. (Yours truly)
Wear dark colored clothing! When climbing, the dirt blown around by the wind as well as that kicked up by the treads of other hikers will leave you thoroughly covered in fine black dust.Consider buying a walking stick.
They can help you on some of the steeper slopes and loose rocky areas as well as make a cool souvenir to take home (see below picture).Bring water and snacks!
There are water and snacks available for purchase along the way, but be warned they are outrageously expensive. So it’s best to buy your goodies BEFORE the climb. (You can also get cool little oxygen tanks for those who struggle a little with the altitude.
Hat and Sunscreen: though it may seem cool, it is only because of the altitude. I got wicked sunburn when I climbed Mt. Fuji, and no one likes to get sun burnt.
Get some decent shoes. Shoes with a High ankle, deep treads. Strong and sturdy. We don’t want any slipping or rolling an ankle.
For those who are intending to do the sunrise hike, you will be staying the night at the second highest stage. As Mt. Fuji is the highest peak in
Japan, it is usually above or right in the middle of the weather, so it can get cold/windy/rainy. So be prepared.
So bring very warm clothes to change into at night and early the next morning. See in the picture below everyone is wearing beanies and jackets.
(Water proof is naturally best)
When it comes down to it, the climb is worth it. That one perfect moment as the sun peaks of the horizon and you are one of the first people a brand new day in Japan.
There is an old Japanese proverb that states, ‘If you don’t climb Mt. Fuji whilst in Japan, you’re a fool. If you do it more than one you’re and even bigger fool!’
So join us on one of our Fuji adventures.
Special thanks Chen-san for some of the fantastic photos! He took most of these on his most recent tour.
Regards your Virtual Tour Guide
Welcome to Asakusa home of Tokyo’s oldest temple and the ‘Thunder Gate’ Kaminarimon!
Being one of Tokyo’s most recognizable locations, Asakusa has it all, shopping, history, food and if the season is right, Japanese cherry blossoms.
Starting with Kaminarimon, the 10m tall symbol of Tokyo itself, you walk through the hustle and bustle of Nakamise Streets’ 200+ souvenir stores towards Sensoji Temple.
As you meander along Nakamise Street, make sure you keep an eye out for Japanese Maneki Neko (Beckoning Cats) that bring good business and good fortune!
Also keep and eye out for people dressed in Yukata, one of the traditional garbs of Japan. You never know, they might even be nice enough to take a picture with you!
As you reach the end of Nakamise Street, you pass through the second gate to be greeted by the majesty of Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple. For a small fee of around 50 Japanese Yen you can purchase incense to burn in front of the temple entrance. When burning incense, light the sticks for a few seconds then extinguish them with your hands (Rather than you mouth) and make sure to fan some onto yourself as it is said to be purifying and healing! Then, after rinsing your hands in the clear waters of the purifying fountain, you can enter the temple itself to take pictures of make a prayer to the Kanon statue Bodhisattva, Goddess of Mercy. In Japan to make a prayer, you throw a coin in the donation box, bow twice, clap twice, say your prayer (inside your head) and then bow once more.
From certain vantage points, you can also see Japanese newest addition to it’s already substantial Skyline, the Sky Tree Tower, the worlds largest Telecommunications tower. So bring your good camera and your new lens because you will have many opportunities to snap shots of both new and old Tokyo together.
So what are you waiting for?! Hop on a tour and come see the glory of ancient and modern Japan for yourself!
Best Regards your Virtual Tour Guide