So, around this time of year, I get to thinking about how everybody is about to crowd into Japan to see the fluffy pink things, but that cherry blossom season is far from the only time that this place delivers yowzah-level flower extravaganzas.
So I made a thing. Here’s what’s blooming when, and the best places to take photos that will have your friends turning green, pink and purple with envy. (If you click on the links, you’ll be taken to a page that not only shows you lots of pictures of each place, but also maps, so you can find them.) And if you aren’t planning to come to Japan soon, click on the links anyway, just to feast your eyes. I bet Japan will move up your travel list BIGTIME.
Plum blossom season
The very first of the plum trees start blooming, and the best place to see the earliest of them is at Koraku-en Garden.
Plum blossom season
Plum trees explode in all their glory for the entire month, and there are quite a few gardens and shrines where you can see whole groves of them in bloom. Like this:
Here’s where to see the best plum blossoms in Tokyo.
Quince blossom season • Cherry blossom season
First off, go see the quince. There’s an amazing patch of bushes at Shinjuku Gyou-en Garden. Japanese quince flowers are unusual, because they start out pink then turn to white over the next few days, so there are both pink and white flowers blooming on the plant at the same time.
Then – near the end of the month, predicted breathlessly and in excruciating detail every year – the most famous season begins. The first wave of cherry blossoms is the clouds-of-pink, single flower variety.
Here’s where to see the best cherry blossoms in Tokyo.
And here are the best places to see cherry blossoms lit up at night.
If you don’t love crowds, here are the best secret cherry blossom spots in Tokyo.
Late-blooming cherry blossom season • Tulip season • Peony season • Azalea season • Shibazakura season
After the first wave of single-flower cherry trees, the late-blooming varieties kick in. These are the double-flower, “hanging basket” style cherry blossoms.
Here’s where to see the best late-blooming cherry trees in Tokyo
For the entire month of April, the Serpentine River area of Showa Kinen Park is paved with tulips. throughout the month, different varieties burst into bloom, like the best living kaleidoscope you’ve ever seen.
And then there are the peonies. Acres and acres of almost-too-perfect-to-be-real fluffballs, as big as dinner plates.
Here’s where to see the best peony gardens in Tokyo.
Next come azaleas. I think I can safely say that you’ve never seen azalea extravaganzas quite like the ones in Japan. I don’t know how they get whole bushes to bloom at the same time, but go gardeners.
Here’s where to see the best azalea explosions in Tokyo.
And you’ve probably never heard of a plant called shibazakura (often translated as “ground cherries” even though they are not the least bit cherry-like) but there’s a park near Tokyo where they paint entire hillsides with them in the month of April. Here’s what one little corner of the place looks like:
This is the place to see shibazakura.
Wisteria season • Nemophila season • Poppy season • Iris season
Next up: wisteria. So much violet goodness, you’ll swoon.
Yes, this is one plant. You can see this monster wisteria at the Ashikaga Flower Park near Tokyo, but you can also ogle amazing displays right in the city at other incredible wisteria hotspots right in metro Tokyo.
If you’re like me, you never heard of nemophila (even though it’s a native of my own NorCal backyard) but you’ll definitely want to head up to Hitachi Seaside Park to see the hills totally carpeted with blooming blue:
The nemophila are in solid bloom for the first two weeks in May.
This is the place to see nemophila
Showa Kinen Park plants an enormous hillside with poppies that bloom every May
The poppy fields bloom from mid-May to the beginning of June, at Showa Kinen Park. They’re a bit of a hike from the main entrance, and not well-marked. Find the entrance to the Japanese garden, then follow the paved path outside it to the right, skirting around the walled area until you come to a wide path branching off to the left. Follow that around the copse of trees to the same fields where the purple cosmos bloom in the fall.
Near the end of the month, whole fields of iris burst into bloom.
Here’s where to see the best iris extravaganzas in Tokyo.
If you think of hydrangeas as those boring white puffballs growing by grandma’s porch, think again. Japan’s hydrangea gardens are an over-the-top fluffbomb explosion, with varieties you’ve never seen before.
Here’s where to see amazing hydrangea gardens in Tokyo.
Mid-July to mid-August is sacred lotus season, and there are a few excellent places around Tokyo to see the divine blooms, including some that were grown from 2000-year-old seeds!
Here’s where to see the best lotus gardens in and around Tokyo
Weirdly, there are no flower extravaganzas in the doggiest days of summer, but it’s a great time to visit the greenest of the Japanese gardens.
Cosmos season • Higanbana season • Bush clover season
Near the end of the month, a whole flurry of little-known but wow-inducing flowers start blooming. First: cosmos. Individually they aren’t that spectacular, but planted in vast fields they are amazing. First, the orange ones.
Then, the bright yellow ones
Then, the pink and purple ones.
And finally, the yellow and white ones.
Here’s where to see big fields of cosmos in Tokyo.
Next – for just a few days around the autumnal equinox on September 21 – a native variety of amaryllis called higanbana bursts into a carpet of red in the forest near Koma Station.
Here’s where to see the enchanted forest of higanbana near Tokyo.
And finally, there’s a native flower called bush clover that is beloved of haiku poets as a sign of fall, but it’s pretty unassuming…until you plant a whole tunnel of it.
Here’s where you can walk through a long tunnel of blooming bush clover.
Fall leaf season
Okay, I know autumn leaves aren’t exactly flowers, but I think you’ll be happy to know where to see the best ones in Tokyo, once fall rolls around. The Japanese maples start turning color in the parks on the outskirts of Tokyo at the very tail end of October, and continue through November.
Here’s where to see the most spectacular autumn leaves in Tokyo.
Fall leaf season • Chrysanthemum season
The last – but arguably the most amazing – flower extravaganza of the year is the chrysanthemum competitions that happen every November. Shrines vie with each other for the most perfectly trained specimens, some even bonsai-ed into samurai made of living flowers.
Here’s where to see the most jaw-dropping chrysanthemum displays in Tokyo.
Japanese maples continue to be spectacularly red during November, but at the end of the month they’re joined by towering gold ginkgo trees.
Here’s where to see the best ginkgo promenades and tunnels in Tokyo.
The gingkos continue to blaze into the first week of December, but naturally flowers are scarce as Tokyo slides into winter. As a bonus amid the gloomy months, though, there are…illuminations! If you love holiday lights, get thee to Tokyo in the month of December. Every year they get better.
Here’s where to see the best winter illuminations in Tokyo.
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“I don’t know when I’ve been more caught up in a story. A masterful achievement.”—Terry Shames, award-winning author of An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock
Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!