Japan is once again gearing up for its cherry blossom season, the first in more than three years with no Covid-19 restrictions.
The country's Metrological Agency predicts flowering will start on March 21, three days earlier than is typical.
Full bloom in Tokyo is predicted to arrive on March 29, with other regions around the country following suit.
Scroll through the gallery above to see last year's bloom
Temperatures in the capital are likely to be higher than average in February and March, contributing to the earlier-than-usual blossoming.
Each year over the course of a few weeks, cherry trees in Japan burst into bloom, painting prefectures in shades of pink and white in an event that has become both a national obsession and an international tourist draw.
The earliest blooms typically appear in tropical Okinawa, sometimes as early as January, with pink blooms hitting the main tourism destinations from the end of March until early April. The season lasts until May in the colder northern regions of the country.
This year, thanks to pent-up demand and rescheduled bookings, Japan is bracing itself for an influx of foreign visitors.
Last March, five months before Japan's Covid-19 restrictions for most tourists were lifted, the country welcomed 66,000 visitors, well short of the 2.76 million who visited at the start of cherry blossom season pre-pandemic.
By December, that number had risen to 1.37 million, according to data from the Japan National Tourism Organisation.
Five of the best places to see Japan’s cherry blossoms
Marking the end of winter with a rosy wave of flowers making their way across the archipelago, Japan's cherry blossoms come into their own at different times in the various regions around the country.
Here are some of the most popular spots to see the spectacle.
Ueno Park, Tokyo
Japan’s bustling capital has plenty of places where visitors can see the sakura with flowering starting at the end of March. One of the most popular places is at Ueno Park, where more than 1,000 cherry blossoms flower each year. The powder-pink spectacle lasts for around two weeks and is illuminated nightly for hanami parties throughout the season.
Prediction for full bloom in 2023: March 29
Perhaps Japan’s most popular destination for cherry blossom viewing, Kyoto brims with tourists every April when the flowers begin to show. The ancient capital’s temples, shrines and rivers make for perfect sakura backdrops. Head to Maruyama Park, the city’s oldest site for Haramai that’s home to nearly 700 trees, including an age-old weeping cherry tree that's illuminated every evening. The city can get extremely busy at this time of year — with hotels filling up months in advance. If you can’t find a place to stay, consider basing yourself in nearby Osaka, and taking the 15-minute bullet train into Kyoto.
Prediction for full bloom in 2023: April 3
Mount Yoshino, Kansai
One of Japan’s most famous destinations for cherry blossom viewing is Mount Yoshino in Kansai. Here, more than 30,000 sakura trees bloom each year carpeting the slopes of the Kii Mountains. As well as taking in the views of the floral kingdom, travellers can also enjoy hikes that take in several ancient temples and shrines. Due to changes in elevation, blooming periods differ with flowers on the lower slopes flowering first and trees higher up turning white and pink later in the season.
Prediction for full bloom in 2023: April 4
The 100-hectare Tokiwa Park has thousands of cherry blossoms. Located in Yamaguchi, in the far west of Honshu, this lakeside space has everything from an amusement park and zoo to outdoor sculptures, but it's most famous for its Sakura Festival held every spring. As well as enjoying a classic hanami blossom viewing experience during the day, between late March and early April travellers can also enjoy seeing the thousands of pink and white flowers illuminated each evening.
Prediction for full bloom in 2023: April 5
Shimane prefecture's Tamayugawa River Bank has a 2km-long tunnel formed by Someiyoshino cherry blossoms. Matsue Castle Park has 200 sakura trees dotted around the grounds of one of Japan’s few original castles. Additionally, Tamatsukuri Onsen area south of Matsue City has cherry blossoms that bloom around the region’s famous hot springs.
Prediction for full bloom in 2023: April 8