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Seeking the Sakura - Cherry Blossoms in Japan

A sea of pink and white delicate petals swaying gently in a soft, spring breeze against a tranquil blue sky.

Images of the cherry blossoms in Japan filled my social media feed for weeks.

It all started one evening over dinner when a well-traveled friend mentioned how amazing the cherry blossom season in Japan was. 

We all know by now that our phones are listening to us, and sure enough, the next morning, a Japanese cherry blossom image appeared on my Instagram feed.

“Wow, that is beautiful,” I thought, searching for more images.

Before long, the internet's influence grew, providing me with a daily supply of stunning images showcasing cherry blossoms all across Japan. I discovered that these blossoms, called Sakura in Japan, are the country's national flower. The allure of such breathtaking natural beauty was irresistible. It was clear that I had discovered the perfect inspiration for my next travel adventure.

I began planning my tour of Japan.   Typically, my planning is a broad-based approach, researching my destination's history, culture, food, important landmarks, and natural wonders.

However, I became obsessed with seeing Japan's cherry blossoms for some inexplicable reason.

I spent hours researching the cherry blossom season.

The Japan Meteorological Agency officially predicts cherry blossom dates throughout the country months in advance and refines them as the spring season approaches. I precisely charted my five-week journey based on the preliminary schedule. Despite some minor schedule variability due to weather, I felt confident that my final itinerary would give me several weeks of cherry blossom joy.

I meticulously pinpointed the ideal viewing locations for the blossoms in full bloom in each city throughout Japan I would be visiting. My daily social media feed helped me sharpen my itinerary and build anticipation. The plan was set: five weeks, nine cities, and twenty-three precise locations stored in Google Maps.

I analyzed each updated cherry blossom schedule as soon as it was published, and the latest version was released a few weeks before my trip began. I was thrilled that my itinerary's timing was spot on for maximum cherry blossom viewing.

Finally, the day came for my trip to begin. I arrived in Japan bursting with anticipation.

 But I did not arrive alone.

 A massive cold front accompanied me, and it decided to settle in for a good long visit also.

And the cherry trees' much-anticipated blossoming came to a screeching halt.

On the precipice of exploding into warm spring sunlight, the buds retreated into their thick outer coats and remained there.

As the days passed, I visited all the carefully planned must-see places for optimal blossom viewing.

Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, and Handayama Gardens in Okayama, just to name a few.

The days stretched into weeks, and the cold front remained, punctuated by grey raining skies and occasional snow flurries!

At each esteemed destination, I only could stare wistfully at the buds, thinking, “BLOOM DAMMIT, BLOOM.”   An occasional earlier bloomer would taunt me with the possibilities of what could have been, but, alas, my will was not greater than Mother Nature’s. It was not until several weeks into my journey that I was finally graced with their first magical presence.

A day trip to the island of Miyajima several weeks into my journey brought my first real taste of cherry blossom magic. Miyajima means "shrine island" in Japanese and is known for its famous Itsukushima Shrine. But I had already seen several shines with their classic red Torrii Gates. I was on the hunt for Sakura!

Strolling down a narrow path, I unexpectedly emerged into a small, protected grove of cherry trees, and hallelujah! It might not have been the sprawling acreage of Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, but it was a lovely sight, nonetheless. My husband indulged me in snapping photos as I stared into the blossoms overhead.

But my viewing pleasure was short-lived as the weather again thwarted my precise itinerary.

I planned to follow the blossom trail from Tokyo southwest to Hiroshima and then circle back north of Tokyo to Takayama and Kanazawa. According to the official blossom schedule, the cherry blossoms in Takayama and Kanazawa should have reached full bloom at this time. However, when I traveled northeast into higher elevations, I arrived before the blooms in this area. It felt like déjà vu as I stepped over the remnants of melting winter snow on the ground and stared at tightly wound, bud-laden trees again.

The final stop on my journey was traveling south to the Mt. Fuji area.

With the passage of several weeks, the cold front had finally moved on, and I was greeted with bright sunlight and warmer temperatures.

I awoke to an incredible view of cherry trees in full bloom, with majestic Mt. Fuji in the background. Good things come to those who wait, albeit impatiently; it was spectacular.

One more item checked off the bucket list of life.

I am grateful that I ultimately saw a few cherry blossoms in full bloom and have some “Insta-worthy" photos to prove it. But in hindsight, I feel remorseful that I let my relentless pursuit of one sole aspect of my visit to Japan, the Sakura, overshadow my entire journey. 

Reflecting on my travels, I am reminded that my most memorable and fulfilling experiences have come from the unanticipated moments. I will forever smile at the thought of the old man at the top of the Penyon de Ifach in Spain who asked my husband to take his photo so he could show his family with an old flip phone that only held ONE photo. Or the waiter in Buenos Aires who asked us to read the cover letter he had written in English to a prospective employer because the new job was very important to him. Or the chance encounter to meet a family on a ferry traveling for a year with their one-year-old and cat!

These spontaneous moments required no planning in advance, unlike the endless hours I spent creating the ideal itinerary to see the cherry blossoms. They only needed a curious mind and an open heart to be present in the precise moment they occurred.

Let this be my lesson to share.

Over-curated travel experiences can rob you of truly experiencing the joy of travel. We all think we want to see the places glamorized on social media. Some are truly amazing to see in person but shouldn’t overshadow the thrill of discovering less traveled paths.

In the words of the great Anthony Bourdain, 'Nothing unexpected and wonderful is likely to happen if you have an itinerary in Paris filled with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.”

Travel curiously, not curated.


Jun 19

What a wonderful trip and great "words of wisdom"! Can't wait to read more on your bucket list adventures!


Jun 16

Very wise and very well written. I will learn this lesson through you, thanks for sharing and creating a “picture” of both curious and curated travel!


Jun 16

It is always a joy to listen to your unexpected adventures. Cheers!


Lee Williams
Lee Williams
Jun 16

I don’t know if you coined the phrase “Travel curiously, not curated” but it is a lovely one. To accompany lovely writing. Thanks friend!

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