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Hanami at Sumida Park in Tokyo

I’ve been asked by an acquaintance, who has been in Japan for about three months, about my favorite 花見 hanami (lit. “flower viewing”; is more like a “cherry blossom appreciation party”) spot in Tokyo. Kudos to her for wanting to go—a key to understanding Japan is to observe (or better yet, participate in) the phenomenon that is hanami.

White sakura at Sumida Park in Tokyo

White sakura at Sumida Park in Tokyo

What’s Hanami?

Hanami is that time of year when the sakura (cherry blossoms) are in full bloom in Japan. All around the country everyone’s going on a picnic under the cherry trees. Groups lay out ubiquitous blue plastic mats and prepare plenty of food and drink. For very popular places 場所取り basho tori (staking out your claim to park space) is essential; groups send out a representative (for companies, usually the lowliest employee) to go to the park of choice early in the morning to lay out the mat and wait. Sometimes, for places in high demand, the basho tori occurs the day before!

As a long-term resident of Japan (fifteen years and counting) I’ve gone to my share of hanami. In fact, it’s become so ingrained in me that spring unequivocally means hanami time. While my husband, who is Japanese, loves eating and drinking (and napping) under the cherry blossoms, I prefer to be on my feet, taking photographs.

Pink sakura at Sumida Park in Tokyo

Pink sakura at Sumida Park in Tokyo

There are a hundred beautiful parks and gardens in Japan for doing hanami. Since the sakura go on full bloom for about a week, and since you can’t visit all the parks within that time frame, you have to make hard decisions about where to go.

So here’s my favorite place to do hanami in Tokyo. In this article I’ll show my favorite during the day, and in another article I’ll talk about the best place to go at night. I hope the info will be of use to anyone out there lucky enough to be in Japan when the sakura are 満開 mankai or in full bloom.

Sumida Park’s Awesome

Perhaps the most popular places for hanami in Tokyo are the super-crowded parks in Ueno and Meguro. But one of the nicest things about 墨田区立隅田公園 Sumida Park is that, while the cherry blossom-filled walkway consists of narrow strips of land along the Sumida River, the strip goes on and on. There is a place for everyone. And if you ever tire of the blossoms, the wonderful shopping streets of Asakusa are just around the corner!

Hanami season at Sumida Park

Hanami season at Sumida Park

For those that like crowds the place to be is the park area nearest the Asakusa Station. For some reason people like to congregate here. It’s crowded, but the cherry blossoms are beautiful and plentiful (est. 335 cherry trees).

I personally like to walk further up the river. Walk and walk until you reach 桜橋 Sakura Bridge. Between this bridge and Asakusa Station you’ll find the prime attraction in plain view: Tokyo Sky Tree. I swear there weren’t as many people at Sumida Park before the tower was built. In May 2012 it will be open to the public, so expect more crowds.

There are creative and funky seats along the river bank, built mainly for viewing Tokyo Sky Tree. But you’ll eventually get tired of the tower, so sit facing the opposite direction: the myriad of beautiful cherry tree in full bloom.

While people will congregate on the Sumida Ward side of the river, I also like to cross a bridge to reach the other side. There you will find 屋台 “yatai” or food stalls. It’s relatively less crowded here, and there’s always space to lay out your mat under a cherry tree.

No matter how you adore cherry blossoms, your camera will eventually look for other spring flowers. Not one to disappoint, Sumida Park has a few other pretty flowers. It’s fun looking for them amidst the sakura’s gorgeous pink and white.

Other spring flowers at Sumida Park

Other spring flowers at Sumida Park

The cherry trees are lit up from 18:30 to 21:30 at night, so it’s perfect for that romantic stroll under the cherry blossoms.

How to Get There

A 5-minute walk from Tokyo Metro Ginza Subway Line’s Asakusa Station. Take Exit 5, and cross the street toward Tokyo Sky Tree (you can’t miss it: it’s the tallest structure in the area).

During hanami season there are temporary toilet stalls installed in several places. But the cleanest one is the place near the Asakusa Station. You might want to use this first before trekking up the river.

I Would Love to Hear from You!

So, what do you think of this article? Do you have a favorite hanami spot? Where and why? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments section below.

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  1. Love this post! And those blossoms growing out of the trunk.
    Are the mats always blue, and if yes I wonder why?

    • beverlyclaire /

      Thank you so much, slf! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Those blossoms growing out of the trunk made me smile, too.

      The mat we have at home is green (I think green looks better, you know, to look like a grassy lawn). But lots of the mats are blue; I believe the blue ones are the cheapest, throw-away types (along with orange, though no longer see this type anymore). I think the gray ones are the thickest and best for re-using. It seems that the colors have something to do with the price and material.

  2. i love your post! i will go there next month and its my first time. i will stay in lotte city hotel. can you provide details on how to go from hotel to sumida park and tokyo sky tree? i would love it if you will send via email. thanks!

    • beverlyclaire /

      Hi Ia, your hotel is only 3 min away from Tokyo Skytree via subway, so it’s pretty easy to get there 🙂 Take the Tokyo Metro Subway – Hanzomon Line(半蔵門線) from Kinshicho (錦糸町) station and get off at Oshiage (押上) station. You can get from Skytree to the park by walking toward Sumida River, but not recommended on a hot day. Instead, take the Tobu Skytree Line(東武スカイツリーライン) from Tokyo Skytree (とうきょうスカイツリー) station to Asakusa (浅草) station, only one station away so just a couple of minutes. Sumida Park is right in front of Asakusa station. Without the cherry blossoms it’s quite an ordinary park, but I think you might enjoy the view of the tower from across the river. Asakusa’s markets are a must-see, of course 🙂 Hope you have a fun visit!


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