Where To Take The Best Cherry Blossom Photos In Tokyo

You know those “Top Places To See Cherry Blossoms In Tokyo” websites that always tell you to go to Ueno Park? Well, this is how Ueno Park actually looks during cherry blossom season:

Lots of great flowering trees, not such great photos. The places on those lists do deliver the cherry blossoms, but if you want photos that look more like THIS…

…here’s where you should go (and when!):

CherryMapLegendpsd

🔎 Google map

CherryMapTokyo

🔎 Google map

This is what the early-blooming flowers look like (snap them the last week of March):

Early blooming cherries are the classic “single petal” variety, and the trees are so covered with them they look like pink clouds (this photo was taken in late March, at Shinjuku Gyouen Garden)

Here’s what the late-blooming flowers look like (snap them the first week of April):

Late-blooming cherries are the frilly “double” variety, and always bloom in clusters (this photo was taken in early April, also at Shinjuku Gyouen Garden)

•••

Places to see before the end of March, because the trees bloom early at these spots:

ASAKUSA

Admission: Free
Hours: Always open; the Sumida River walk is lit up at night until 22:00

Spots 1, 2 & 3 are great places to take early morning pictures, because they’re not inside a gated park with opening and closing hours. If you get there early, you’ll beat the crowds (always a major plus).

🔎 Google map

CherryMapAsakusa

🔎 Google map

HANAMISumidagawa

SPOT #1: The Sumida River near Asakusa Station is one of the most famous places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

Hordes of people crowd the walkways along the Sumida River, but they often miss this park when they turn inland on their way to Skytree.

SPOT #2: Hordes of people crowd the walkways along the Sumida River, but they often miss this park when they turn inland on their way to Skytree.

From inside the Mimeguri Shrine, the cherry-shaded walkways beckon.

From inside the Ushima Shrine

And, of course, if you want cherry blossom-encrusted shots of the big Skytree thing, this is the place to whip out your camera.

And, of course, if you want cherry blossom-encrusted shots of the big Skytree thing, this is the place to whip out your camera.

If you're really lucky, this lovely promenade will have water cascading down the center, but even when it's dry, it's a wonderful place to walk and eat your bento.

SPOT #3: This jewel of a street has a stream running down the middle of it (although it doesn’t always have water in it) but during cherry blossom season it’s always a bower of white.

This secret garden is hidden right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Senso-ji temple and it's only open around cherry blossom season, so most people don't even know it's there.

SPOT #4: This secret garden is hidden right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Senso-ji temple and it’s only open around cherry blossom season, so most people don’t even know it’s there. If you want to get shots of the famous trees reflected in the pond, get there at 9:00 when it opens (before the breeze kicks in and spoils the reflections)

Denpo-in Garden Admission: ¥300
Hours: 9:00-17:00

MEGURO RIVER

Admission: Free
Hours: Always open, lit up at night until 21:00 during cherry blossom season

This place is crowded at night, but you can still get great pictures from the bridges criss-crossing the canal.

🔎 Google map

CherryMapNaka

🔎 Google map

HANAMINakameguro

You can see why the Meguro River is no longer an undiscovered jewel of cherry blossom season...

The blossoms are lit up at night with lanterns all along the canal. Lots of food and drink for sale at little stands along the way.

YOYOGI PARK

Admission: Free
Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Avoid taking pictures here on the weekends, unless you’re craving shots that say “wall-to-wall-drunken revelers.”

🔎 Google map

CherryMapYoyogi

🔎 Google map

HANAMIYoyogi

SPOT #1: The trees are splendid in Yoyogi Park, especially without the crowds

RIKUGI-EN GARDEN

Admission: ¥300
Hours: 9:00-21:00 during cherry blossom season

🔎 Google map

CherryMapRikugien

🔎 Google map

HANAMIRikugien

SPOT #1: There are other pink trees dotted around this fab garden, but the one everyone comes to see is this huge weeping cherry.

This tree never disappoints. It takes over your camera like some kid of poltergeist, and when you get home, you discover that somehow you have 612 shots of ONE TREE.

The trees are lit up at night during The Season, and the garden is open until 21:00.

KORAKU-EN GARDEN

Admission: ¥300
Hours: 9:00-17:00

🔎 Google map

CherryMapKorakuen

🔎 Google map

Here's another behemoth – this one is at Korakuen.

SPOT #1: This garden doesn’t have a lot of cherry trees, but the ones that are here are really spectacular.

CherryKorakuen

SPOT #2: Trees bordering the big pond in the late afternoon

•••

PLACES WITH BOTH EARLY AND LATE BLOOMING CHERRY TREES:

SHINJUKU GYOU-EN GARDEN

Admission: ¥200
Hours: 9:00-16:30

This place is huge, and it’s the very best place to see cherry blossoms, but it gets insanely crowded during The Season. Get there at 9:00 when the gates open and avoid the weekends if you don’t want photos with a ton of people standing in front of the trees. First thing in the morning is also the best time to get shots of trees reflecting in the ponds – when the breeze comes up around 9:15, the beautiful reflections disappear.

🔎 Google map

CherryMapShinGyo

🔎 Google map

Here’s what the early-blooming trees look like (snap them the last week of March):

HANAMIShinjuku

SPOT #1: If you get there when the park opens at 9:00, you can often see the trees perfectly reflected in the pond

SPOT #2: The wide grass promenades through the center of the park are lined with huge cherry trees (and paved with people on the weekends, not matter how early you come)

Here’s what the late-blooming trees look like (snap them the first week of April):

The best grove starts beyond this bridge that goes over the big pond.

SPOT #3: The best grove starts beyond this bridge that goes over the big pond

There are a few exceptions, like this cluster of perfect pink princesses along the main swath of lawns.

SPOT #4: This cluster of perfect pink princesses is found along the main swath of lawns

In case you couldn't tell in the other pictures, the trees at Shinjuku Gyou-en aren't the petite little specimens we have in San Francisco – they're HUGE!

SPOT #5: There’s a large grove of late-bloomers at the far end of the big pond

IMPERIAL PALACE

Admission: Free
Hours: Inside the palace gates – 9:00-17:00; outside the gates – always open, and the walk along Spot #1 is lit up at night until 22:00

The moat (spots 1, 2 & 3) is a great place to take early morning photos (the kind that are all cherry blossoms and no people), because it’s public, not inside a gated area. Again, go early to avoid crowds and get nice reflections in the water.

🔎 Google map

CherryMapImperial

🔎 Google map

Here’s what the early-blooming trees look like (snap them the last week of March):

Spot #1: From the bridge to the Imperial Palace gate, this is the end nearest Kudanshita Station

This wave of pink is all along the Imperial Palace Moat, as you walk from Kudanshita Station toward Hanzomon Station

SPOT #1: This wave of pink is all along the Imperial Palace Moat, as you walk from Kudanshita Station toward Hanzomon Station

Nice of those people to stand in line for hours and pay a ton of money so we could take pictures of them on the moat.

As a special bonus, this part of the moat is lit up at night until 22:00 during cherry blossom season

SPOT #5: The Ni-no-Maru Garden inside the moat has both early and late blooming trees, plus a nice reflecting pond

SPOT #5: The Ni-no-Maru Garden inside the moat has both early and late-blooming trees, plus a nice reflecting pond

Here’s what the late-blooming trees look like (snap them the first week of April):

HANAMIImpPalace

SPOT #2: Rare varieties of cherry trees border the walkway outside the Imperial Palace

Outside Takebashi Station, a lovely cluster of late-blooming trees turns the walkway into a fairytale wonderland.

SPOT #3: A lovely cluster of late-blooming trees turns the moat near Takebashi Station into a fairytale wonderland.

Some choice pink yaezakura cascade over the tea bushes at the Imperial Palace East Garden

SPOT #4: Choice pink yaezakura cascade over the tea bushes at the upper East Garden (the one past Ni-no-Maru, that you have to climb up the big ramp to enter)

On the right day, the moat is an improbably shade of blue.

SPOT #6: Late-blooming trees put on a glorious show along the moat, at the end closer to Hanzomon Station

ASUKAYAMA PARK

Admission: Free
Hours: Always open; lit up at night during cherry blossom season until 21:00

🔎 Google map

🔎 Google map

SPOT #1: In the plaza and on the main promenade up above, you’ll be completely surrounded by the early-blooming type of cherry trees

Looks like a nice walk, huh?

SPOT #2: Up next to the children’s playground is a gorgeous display of late-blooming trees

And they have an amazing variety of late-blooming trees.

This is the best display of all the varieties in all of Tokyo

SPOT #3: The bonus attraction in this neighborhood is a section of the local canal that has been landscaped into a charming gorge. As you can see, it’s a great (and well-kept secret) stroll

MONZEN NAKACHO

Admission: Free
Hours: Always open, lit up at night until 21:00

This place is almost always uncrowded, and a great place to take pictures at all times, but especially at twilight when the lanterns are on but the sky is still a deep blue.

🔎 Google map

CherryMapMonzen

🔎 Google map

Here’s what the early-blooming trees look like (snap them in the last week of March):

Lanterns line the path along the nicely narrow river near Monzen Nakacho station.

SPOT #1: Lanterns line the path along the canal near Monzen Nakacho station. This is the view from the traffic bridge.

Cherry trees bloom like crazy along this little-known canal near Monzen-Nakacho Station. You can get amazing pictures from the bridges that criss-cross the water at easily-walkable intervals!

SPOT #2: You can get amazing pictures from the bridges that criss-cross the water at easily-walkable intervals

You can walk all along the water on this lovely (and deserted!) path, lined with paper lanterns.

You can walk all along the water on this lovely (and deserted!) path

Further along the river, cherry trees spill over both sides of the banks.

At night, the lanterns are lit from 18:00 – 21:00

Here’s what the late-blooming trees look like (snap them the first week of April):

SPOT 3#: There's a particularly beautiful kind of late blooming cherry at the Tomioka Shrine.

SPOT #3: There’s a particularly beautiful kind of late-blooming cherry at the Tomioka Shrine.

•••

SHOWA KINEN PARK

Admission: ¥410
Hours: 9:00-17:00

This garden is a bit of a train ride from Shinjuku, but it’t totally worth it, any season of the year. It’s so huge, there’s sure to be something blooming, and the trees here tend to lag behind the city, so even if you’re too late to catch peak bloom in metro Tokyo, you can still see glorious trees here.

🔎 Google map

🔎 Google map

SPOT #1: The park is vast, and it has a veritable forest of ancient cherry trees

SPOT #2: Throughout the month of April, there’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope of blooming bulbs planted under the cherry blossoms, along a little serpentine river

In case you thought “tulips, meh, I could see those anywhere”

•••

Places where you can see trees blooming into mid-April:

KYU-SHIBA-RIKYU GARDEN

Admission: ¥150
Hours: 9:00-17:00

This is a gorgeous garden and is always uncrowded, but be forewarned that any photos you take with the pond in them will feature big reflections of the surrounding skyscrapers (>_<).

🔎 Google map

CherryMapKyuShiba

🔎 Google map

This small garden has the latest-blooming yaezakura (they are still gorgeous into the third week of April!)

SPOT #1: This small garden has the latest-blooming yaezakura I’ve found – they’re still blooming strong, well into the third week of April

This variegated type blooms so late, you can see them with azaleas.

SPOT #2: Nice green backdrops in this area.

OUTSIDE THE NEW OTANI HOTEL

Admission: Free
Hours: Always open

🔎 Google map

CherryMapNewOtani

🔎 Google map

YaeNewOtani

SPOT #1: The late-blooming yaezakura lining the street outside the New Otani hotel are worth a special trip.

Somehow, these trees are so spectacular, you don't even notice the boring old skyscrapers in the background.

Somehow, these trees are so spectacular, you barely even notice the boring old skyscrapers in the background.

For what it’s worth…

Here are some things I’ve learned while taking photos of Tokyo cherry blossoms over the years:

• The flowers look much more luminous if the sun is coming through the petals instead of shining on them.

• Pay attention to what’s in the background – often the most lovely flowers are in the most unlovely spots. If you set your camera so the flowers are in focus and the background is blurry, it helps.

• If you want to check whether the flowers have bloomed or finished already in a particular spot, do a Google image search with the name of the place and “sakura” (for the early-blooming ones) or “yaezakura” (for the late-blooming ones) and check the dates the photos were taken.

• Patience pays off. If you wait long enough, those people will move.

And finally…be sure to pack your Xanax, because I can guarantee that everywhere you go, there will be THIS GUY:

It’s one of the mysteries of the universe, but somehow there is always a guy in an ORANGE JACKET, right in the middle of your shot. Sometimes they are shooting pictures (have they never gnashed their teeth at OTHER guys in orange jackets, right in the middle of THEIR shots?) and sometimes they are just cluelessly standing there, enjoying the view for WAY LONGER THAN NORMAL or EVEN WORSE dreamily gazing down at the back of their camera scrolling through every single shot they’ve taken since birth. (Note that in this particular photo, Orange Jacket Guy is being assisted by Orange Purse Woman, and neither of them is going to leave anytime soon.)

Jonelle Patrick writes mysteries set in TokyoNightshade is the one set during cherry blossom season

More Nightshade book goodness here, in case you think you might want to, you know, read it or something

A young woman is found dead in an abandoned car, with a pair of strangers old enough to be her parents. Their suicide note apologizes for a disaster that hasn’t yet happened. And someone is stalking the…Read more

…or watch the book trailer! (0:52)