In line with Sam's predictions last Friday, this seems to be the week to see the cherry blossoms in Tokyo. After a relatively cold spring which seemed to delay the 2017 sakura season, finally temperatures are starting to warm. As a result it seems that Tokyo's buds are about ready to flower.
The warmer weather has also lead to cities all across western Japan officially confirming the start of their sakura season (kaika). On the 31st Kyoto was declared open, as Raina reported, and just today Kobe and Nara made similar announcements.
In Tokyo, the forecast looks warm and rain-free this coming week, which leads me to expect that most of the classic blossom viewing (hanami) locations will be at their peak before the end of this week. For a complete nationwide forecast of the 2017 sakura season, click here.
The blossoms at Ueno Park, perhaps Tokyo's most popular hanami spot, had advanced considerably since last week. The trees along the main walkway through the center of the park were between 50-70% in bloom and looked beautiful. Of course, this also meant that the park was completely packed with visitors. It was such a popular destination that there was a long line just to out of the train station. The sakura around Shinobazu Pond were slightly behind those of the main promenade, and I expect they will be in full bloom this weekend. If you plan on seeing the sakura at their peak in Ueno Park, I recommend visiting this week, or at the latest this weekend, and be prepared to wade through dense crowds. Lastly, the park will be turning on lights to show off the blooming sakura from 5:30pm to 8pm every night until April 9th.
There are so many varieties of sakura trees in Shinjuku Gyoen that almost anytime you visit during spring some of them be photo worthy. This was the case today. The back half of the park near Sendagaya Gate was nearly at full bloom and looked marvelous. Some early blooming trees like the weeping Shidarezakura were even starting to lose some of their pedals. Meanwhile, although the lawns of the English Garden near the main gate were packed with hanami-goers, the Somei Yoshino sakura here were still only at about 30% developed. Given the warm forecast, I predict this area will be in full bloom by the weekend.
My last stop of the day was Asukayama Park near Oji station. This hilltop park is interesting to visit not only for its beautiful cherry trees, but also because it has been a hanami spot for sakura enthusiasts as far back as the Edo era. Today the blossoms were starting to show themselves, but were still only about 40% open. I expect they will be in full bloom by the end of the week.
Nonetheless, the grounds were dotted with tarps and people having flower viewing parties. In contrast to the congested and chaotic atmosphere of Ueno, Asukaya Park felt much calmer and peaceful as visitors enjoyed picnics and admired the trees. The one exception was the playground area which was buzzing with kids running around, screaming a lot, and generally having a wonderful time. If you have children, this seems like a good place to bring them for a family hanami party. Also, every night until 9pm during the sakura season, the park will be lit-up so visitors can enjoy the illuminated cherry blossoms.