Your Best Japan Sakura season starts early and takes planning. As soon as it becomes New Year stores were already out with sakura motifs. It feels like Japan is half momiji season and half sakura season. Winter and summer and just in the way.

And it’s coming soon. March 26th by some estimates. So without further ado here are my tips to make this season or your visit your best Japan sakura season!

Franceslovesyou in Inokashira Park for sakura


Understand any top rated sakura spot will be packed

Was this photo from a top rated spot? Nope!

If japan-guide or hanamiwalker or any other place has given it top rating, it will be super packed. Tokyo is overcrowded on a daily basis. Tokyo is absolutely unbearable for sakura season. Osaka and Kyoto are the same.

Tourism is one of the major industries of Japan. It’s incredibly cheap to get there from Korea and China and considered a once-in-a-lifetime trip for some to see the sakura.

You’re going to have to accept if you follow the guides online about sakura, you will be flooded. Especially on the weekend. Peak sakura season on a weekend is tragic. It’s also very drunk.

Appreciate the nearby sakura

One of my favorite parts of sakura season is actually enjoying the neighborhood sakura. Most schoolyards have a giant sakura tree. Some parks cement and all have a glowing pink tree. It’s still beautiful. It’s not a sea of pink, but appreciate beauty where you can find it.

Take all the walks around your nearby hotel or air bnb. It’s free and it’s a great way to not feel suffocated by people.

This was just a random bridge in Nakano in Tokyo. It didn’t cost anything, I didn’t have to be around a lot of people to get this shot. Daily life sakura is really enjoyable.

Same bridge, just different angle. By the way, the other previous photos except for Frances were ALL taken on a basic pedestrian bridge in Nakano.

Be willing to travel

Sakura are fickle and weak. You can follow every sakura forecast. You can book at the last minute. But one heavy rain and they’re wiped out. Seriously all it takes is a good rain if the blossoms are open enough. Hanamiwalker is excellent at keeping reports up to date. However in English only Japan-Guide is slow but easy to read.

But one of the good things about being in Tokyo or Osaka is there are a lot of elevations and places around that are two hours or less on train. Even if you got your full season (usually only a week) in Tokyo or Osaka you can take a quick train ride and still see more.

From Tokyo my top three quick trip destinations for more sakura are:

From Kyoto my top four quick trip destinations for more sakura are:

Pick river walks over parks

Parks trap people. Parks cost. Parks get all the love. But in all honesty river sakura are the best. Even if it’s crowded there there’s river space that makes you breathe a little. Also it’s easy to cut out people from a river photograph for more insta-worthy shots. Or include people for atmosphere like the Franceslovesyou photo.

This is Yasukuni Shrine for their Sakura Matsuri. Sure this is a realistic photo but not aesthetics.

This is the Chidorigafuchi Walking Path right next door to Yasukuni Shrine.

Such giant sakura, such impact. Even on a cloudy day.

In reality this is how it looked. But because it was a river walk you can take so many pleasing photos no matter the time of day.


I will do a post soon on top sakura walks in Tokyo, but just meander around your area, too!

Go early or stay for light ups

We all know what ruins an experience or a good photo: other people. So the best plan is to wake up and go early to wherever the top ranked viewing places are. There will still be other people, particularly old men with giant cameras. But you’ll get that perfect shot.

Or go at night, there will be a lot of people because light ups are popular. It’s impossible to avoid crowds at light-ups but it doesn’t feel so crowded. And your photos will be fine because darkness shadows out people. Light-ups also use pink light so no matter the blossom color you’ll always get a lovely pink glow. (Seen in my Himeji Castle sakura light up)

This photo was taken at the Roppongi Hills sakura light up

My recommended daily best Japan sakura season plan:

Morning – Head to one of the big popular spots that’s gotten the big stars or says its in full bloom via sakura-walker.

Afternoon – Choose your sakura walking stroll and then eat lots of sakura themed food.

Nighttime – After a lovely dinner finished off with sakura themed desserts. Head to one of the light-ups.


This is my side screw sakura tip: the cheapest, fewest people time to go to Okinawa is mainland sakura season. I did it through discount airlines Air Asia and Peach. I think my flight total was $200. We actually did a snorkeling boat tour that ended up being a private tour and it was only 1,000 yen a person. $10 for a private boat tour. The water is colder but it’s tolerable. I actually flew back into Osaka and got to see some sakura despite leaving for a second.


Absolutely none of these photos cost me any money to take. I guess I could also name this best japan sakura season planning for FREE!


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If there’s anything I’ve gotten really good at it’s finding a good place to stay while I’m in Japan. I’m going peg this towards short-term to mid-term stay. Meaning one day to 3 months. Any longer than that and you should be hunting with a Japanese apartment agency to get you a better deal. All of the places I list are geared towards booking on-line before arrival and are mostly kind to foreigners with language offerings.

As always I’m usually a cheapskate so this is budget travel mostly. Personally I think there’s a sweet spot in between price, amenities and location that I try to aim for.

Of course, book a month in advance or longer for most places so you can get the best rate for hotels. After all the talk I’m going to link some places below I stayed at that I really liked and would recommend.



Types of Hotels in Japan

Most types of hotels you will deal with in Japan if you’re in a big city fall under two categories regular or business. Ryokans and Onsens are also an option but they are usually not a full trip experience (read below to find out why).



The Hotel Monterey in Osaka

Regular hotels:


Regular hotels in Japan tend to offer more amenities and are larger. They often have wedding event areas on the premises and a restaurant or two. Hotel Monterey and Hotel Okura are two chains I’ve stayed at and liked. Hotel Nikko in Osaka is one I’ve stayed at and thought was subpar, especially for the price.  These usually have larger rooms than business hotels but are usually pricier.



The layout of a typical business hotel (Chisun Inn here). It’s very small but serviceable.

Business hotels:


Business hotels are pretty spartan and small, but perfect for budget travelers. Business hotels tend to be near major train stations which also make them ideal for tourism. Despite the title of business sometimes there is no wifi (only LAN cable) and limited tv stations, but they’re always clean and are part of large chains.

Examples of business hotel chains are – APA, MyStays, Dormy, Toyoko, Chisun, Hearton. APA is the nicest and most expensive of the bunch. I do really like APA hotels.

Here’s a good post on Japan-Guide with good photos of a business hotel. If you’re on the budget (40-100 USD a night) I recommend these places. They’re usually my go to places.




The Three Sisters Annex Ryokan in Kyoto



You won’t find many ryokan usually if you’re looking to stay central to a city other than in Kyoto. The term ryokan and onsen are often used interchangeably because ryokan can be attached to an onsen. However there are also city ryokan around Asakusa in Tokyo or in Kyoto. Ryokan are older hotels with tatami mat flooring and futons. Whether they provide a kaiseki (full course meal) is not always common. I’ve stayed at one in Kyoto and found it just okay. A thin sheet and a futon only seem magical until you try to sleep on one.

Not many ryokan are around that aren’t attached to an onsen.




Inside a room of the Tsuruya Onsen Ryokan in Nagano


Onsen Ryokan:


Onsen are hot spring resorts located next to hot springs which means away from a city center. Onsen are usually known as a get-away-from-it-all experience. They’re not recommended for touristing in cities, but are lovely 1 to 2 day escapes from a big travel. Onsens are quite expensive. When I say expensive I mean expensive proper onsen start at 200$ a night and can go to $800 a night!! However, they do include a meal or two that you would probably pay $100+ for. And they also provide dramatic scenery, private onsen time and full course dinners. Onsens book up fast so reserving early is recommended. As stated they’re usually off the beaten path so do you research on how to access them and if they will provide transportation to get to the closest hub.

Onsens have a big range. Some are just 12 rooms and run like little boutique hotels. Others are giant complexes with tons of baths and options.

My previous post in 2009 about visiting an onsen.

Japinican which is a subsidiary of JTB (Japan Travel Bureau) is a good English resource to search for Ryokan and Onsen again most will be “Onsen Ryokan”. Their Ryokan 101 is good information to read before visiting an Onsen Ryokan.


Love Hotels

Which I do not recommend at all for touring Japan. It’s fun for a night, but the often no windows and seedy place isn’t so fun. Although a lady friend and I did it in Osaka. Prices still are not very kind. Back in 2009 I made a post on Love Hotels (sorry for the horrible blogspot layout). And lately they’re showing up on reputable sites, but definitely don’t recommend more than a night stay there.



Short Term Stays 1 day to a week is my go to for most every hotel I’ve booked in Japan. The stay 10 nights and your next one is free really makes booking at worthwhile. Their rewards system is nice and no hassle cancellations have saved me more than once. This should be your first click.

tips with this site: Always search via train station you’d prefer to be at, select by distance and click on the map.



rakuten travel

I’ve used them twice and one of the things I like about rakuten travel is they will often list different properties than Also all the totals are done in yen so no worries about a hotel booking company faking the yen to USD/Pound/CAD rate to their liking. You earn rakuten points when you book travel they are transferrable to all rakuten things like liz lisa’s rakuten site or dreamv’s rakuten place. The payback isn’t as good as but still, rewards!



A japanese-only website. This is my desperation website for hotels. If I can’t find anything the times I’m looking for I’ve found places on here.

note: All Japanese hotel sites (rakuten, ikyu) list prices of total booking price not per individual night.


other places to look:

All the silly named travel websites (travelocity, booking, expedia etc…). I didn’t list them because I feel their rewards programs– if any– isn’t as good as or rakuten.

Your preferred airline carrier. Sometimes there are good deals to be had or you can earn more flight miles if you book through them.


Shorter Mid range stays 1 week to a month | airbnb | roomarama

All of these are apartments rented out by users to stay in. Many of the properties listed are people renting out places just for this, so these are not people’s homes often. These come with portable wifi often. Saving you on the $100-$300 price of rental depending on your stay. Also a laundry machine which is always handy.

Tips with these sites:

:hearts3: If you’re staying 2-3 weeks still check full month rental prices. Often it’s cheaper to rent for the month rather than 3 weeks. Madness I know but it happens.

:hearts3: Type in the train stations you’d like to stay at rather than the cities. So instead of Tokyo type in Ikebukuro. You’ll find much better listings if you do this.

:hearts3: All of these have tougher cancellation policies than hotels. Usually it’s 7 days in advance to get a full refund, so be wary of that.

:hearts3: Hosts will often list their apartments on several of these sites. The way each site charges guests is different so maybe you’ll find one site cheaper even if its the same host providing the same apartment. has a good breakdown of these short-stay sites.



Mid-range stays 1 month to 3 months. Tokyo centric.


A typical short-term furnished apartment


sakura house
One of the only places offering full furnished apartments (along with guesthouses) for as short as a month’s stay. You can reserve on-line and pay in advance. Their prices tend to be cheaper than airbnb’s properties for a month in a similar area, but minimum is a month’s stay.


Offering guesthouse stay for 1 day to 3 months. Fontana is minimum of 3 months stay to rent an apartment. I’ve used them in the past. Their prices aren’t as good as Japanese rental companies, but they do not require a year’s lease. From 3 months to 6 months I’d recommend them.


Ichii Corporation
Minimum one month’s stay. It’s a bit harder to find open properties from them as they don’t keep their website updated. However, I’ve used them before and I feel their apartments are a bit nicer than Fontana’s. Although their prices may show that.


Tokyo Monthly

The one of the list I haven’t used. They’re a pricier option but if you like what you see maybe you should try them?


Hotels I’ve stayed at that I really liked for their price and service


APA Hotel Ikebukuro-Eki-Kitaguchi – Very new hotel and extremely close to the station although in the red light area of Ikebukuro. It’s about 5 minutes easy walk to the station. Prices can be as low as $55 a night. My favorite hotel to stay at for distance/price/location. I do like APA hotels the best for business hotel class. Chisun and Toyoko are serviceable and I don’t really have a complaint.


Hotel MyStays Highashi-Ikebukuro – A bit out of the way from the station but the hotel is quite cheap (as low as $42 a night) and has a tiny stove and extra sink in it. Rooms are okay sized and it’s meant for longer term stays. You can refill toiletries downstairs by yourself. They generously let us store our luggage for a small fee for 4 days while we were in Osaka. MyStays is a chain and also located in Osaka and other big cities.


Hotel Kyoto Okura – I don’t know how they had such a crazy deal but I was able to book this place for $70 a night. It’s absolutely wonderful, the rooms are huge, several weddings took place while I was there. If you can find it for cheap or want to splurge, do it. Lovely place with beautiful interior.


Hotel Monterey Sendai – Or other Hotel Monterey. If you’d like to spend a little over business hotels the Hotel Monterey group is quite lovely. I’ve stayed at their Sendai, Fukuoka and Osaka Namba hotels. They always seem to have a little style to them and all are well located towards central train stations


Chisun Inn Honmachi Osaka – I’ve stayed here multiple times. It always seems to be the cheapest and most available hotel near Shinsaibashi in Osaka. Prices are usually $50-70 a night depending on season.



New design

As you may have noticed if you’re not browsing on bloglovin I’m working on the Doll’s redesign. I’m experimenting with the layout and I’ll be tinkering around with it in the next day before I leave for Japan for a month.  Since the Doll is a lot of text I’m working on how to make it the most readable.


I’ll be working on a few more Japanese travel posts when I’m in Japan. The next coming up I think is how to eat cheap in Japan. I’ll also be working on a traveling fashionable post.


Previous good travel posts: Mistakes people make when traveling to Japan or how to smart pack for Japan | How to find any food in Japan to eat | Tips for eating healthy in Japan


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Packing for Japan or anywhere really. Four international trips last year, three the year before and before that. I’ve gotten really used to big packing. So let me share some tips and learn from my mistakes. Hopefully I stick to these rules well since I’m leaving for a month in Japan in a few weeks!

This is a guideline for most airlines which means you can have two checked bags and two carry-ons. If you have different requirements always check and tailor to those.

Not theme packing or considering each piece

A lot of times people say to make a capsule collection of clothing when packing. Based on some theme or something. I like the idea, I do. If anything polyvore and pinterest are great at compiling them. But it doesn’t seem to work for me in real life and it’s mostly geared towards normcore or minimalist. Two things I have realized I am not. And even if I try to do with with my own closet, I do not feel like that capsule person 24/7.

So instead I stick with a few rules.

BIG RULE! Can everything you pack be worn with two other things or more you pack. Is that printed skirt good with more than one top? And as you do this you may find yourself relying on one item more and more. So just play around with it and see.

I’m a big fan of drawing out all the items I plan to pack and doing this check. See my silly drawings of this in the Getting back to Gal post.

Other rule: Bring one coat/sweater cardigan/trench during Spring/Summer/Fall make it go with everything else. Wear it/carry it on the plane. Coats are big suitcase killers. They’re both heavy AND take up space. If you need to bring 1 coat and 1 jacket. But really they’re chunky.

Other rule: Sometimes its better to bring separates than dresses because it’s easier to wear a separate two days in a row. Or just multiple times that week.

Other rule: Consider shoes. Shoes are heavy. Shoes need to be walked in miles everyday. Pick three including the ones you’re wearing to travel. If it’s only a week you get two. (more on this below)

Bringing too much clothing

Too much clothing? You regularly hear people complain they didn’t pack warmly or cooly enough (solve that at uniqlo or GU for cheap), but too much clothing? 

You’ve packed your coordinates and then immediately throw out most of the ideas when you arrive to Japan. You’ve bought new clothes and you probably want to wear them immediately. All your packed clothes seem dull when you see the new releases at stores. Or a good vintage find. You’ll despise most of what you’ve packed. I do this every damn trip.

I swear I’m packing the chicest looks every time. I feel top-level stylish. I arrive. Buy things. Ignore what I packed in my suitcase.

If you’re planning on clothes buying pack much less than you need!

I’m really trying to break my habit of this. And its important. You’ve got to stay a few pounds under your suitcase weight limit so you can bring all the cute stuff you’re buying back.

This is a trick I like to do. I get on the scale and weigh myself, and then weigh myself holding my (fully packed) suitcase. Subtract and you’ll get a better and more accurate weight number than just putting a suitcase on a scale. 7 lbs under is smart, 10 lbs under is genius.

Not considering the trip home

This brings me to sub mistake:  Pack less. You’ll have so much less to worry about on your way home. Packing to head home can be the most stressful part of your whole trip. 

Shoes are a big offender. Wear your heaviest pair of shoes to travel and pack only 3 or less. 

Bring an expandable bag. An eco bag or zip tote you can flatten. If it’s an eco-bag most long-haul flights accept that people coming home are bringing presents. If it looks shopping-like it’s most allowed WITH your carry-on and purse. Or you can shove your purse into the eco bag.


My recommendation is an adjustable shoulder strap duffle bag. Especially a collapse-able one like this with soft sides and light-weight nylon (so it wont take up weight in your luggage). You can find them for $15 or so on eBay or amazon.

If you’ve got a little extra even after that bring it along in a shopping bag. Yes you’re fudging airplane rules, but I’ve never been told no. Especially since a lot of people are carrying these because of duty-free shopping. You’d be amazed how much you can fit into a shopping bag.


Shopping bags are a great way to skirt weight rules.

Carry a large carry-on. Put your purse in it. It can work as a second luggage. You can fill it up at the end of the trip with excess items.

If you have preferred status on airlines usually you can get on first and secure your storage. Most long haul flights have ample storage so it’s not such a pickle.

I usually end up on the flight home with my large carryon and my duffle bag and a shopping bag. Never been told no.

Worrying too much about cute and not enough about comfortable

Long-haul flights cause your belly to store bad bacteria and lack of sleep can cause water retention.  New food to your system and you can have some digestive issues. All of these can lead to a lot of bloating. Also studies have shown the sleep deprivation can help you pack on the pounds even without the water issue.

Or you want to go to the all-you-can-eat Sweets Paradise or indulge at q-pot.  Or you had a really good time last night and drank too much at nomihodai.

While you’ve feeling like it’s time to put your body into the sea and let it be with the rest of the whales, wear something comfy and cute. 

A little bit uncomfortable is okay, but have some back-ups.

Also fitted clothes can be an opposite problem. Sometimes the extra walking and busyness can lead to lots of weight loss and you’re in baggy items. So let elastic be your friend.

Suggestions: A lower heel or platforms or sneakers, an elastic skirt, forgiving jeans. Babydoll and a-line dresses are making a comeback this season. Or just a big cosy sweater dress or sweater + skirt to hide in.


Low heel options are available for every style

Allergy & Stomach medicine

Allergy medicine is my big recommendation. The pollen, mold and other allergens are different in Japan. You may just find out you’re allergic to ginkgo pollen. Zrytec and Claritin and such are prescribed medicines in Japan or at much lower doses if over-the-counter. The flu-like symptoms of allergies can knock you out for days if you don’t prepare beforehand.

I shared earlier why your belly may be upset. And when you’re stomach is bad you don’t need to go hunting to a drug store, you need relief now. I usually pack pepto and a digestive tea. 

Not researching adapters

Universal adapters are cheap. But unnecessary and heavy if your MacBook or laptop or hairdryer is only two prongs US-style. Most of the time you can leave them at home if you’re US or Canada, but have to bring them maybe if you’re from certain European countries. Here’s a quick on travel adapters in Japan

Not packing food

Pack food in your carryon. Pack snacks: nuts etc… This goes in my eating healthy post I’m going to make, but maybe the first night you arrive in Japan you’ll wake up at 2:00am wanting to eat. You can easily snatch it out of your carryon. Your belly will thank me when it has something from home to eat. Again your belly may get messed up, best to have something from home to ease it into foreign food. If you buy bulk snacks from home and put them in snack bags you’re also saving money.

Make everything travel sized and don’t buy travel size

I just buy hairspray in Japan because it saves me from buying a travel one in the US. But switch to solid soap and just pack that. Get cheap travel bottles, don’t buy travel sized items. Travel sized items are usually more expensive and you can make your own of your favorite products instead of having to settle for what’s drugstore travel-size brand.

A while ago I invested in the “GoToob” brand and I really like them. They’re silicone, haven’t leaked for me, and are dishwasher safe. I usually bring 3-4 of them: shampoo, conditioner, lotion and face mask (for the plane). You can find cheaper options on eBay just search “silicone bottle”.


Bring plastic grocery bags or gallon sized bags

Plastic bags can help you store liquids in travel. You can also use plastic bags to store shoes in your luggage. Shoe soles get dirty and you don’t want that dirt on your clean clothes or just floating off in your luggage. I usually bring shoe dust bags but really plastic bags work just fine. They weigh nothing, take up very little space and can really help you manage the mix of your luggage. If you’re in a bind, hotel shower caps work great for covering shoe soles.


These sure-zip ones are perfect for packing lots of liquids.

I hope you’ve learned from my mistakes and have now become a smarter packer!  :wink:

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Osaka sakura at Osaka Castle and the Kyu-Yodo River (旧淀川 Kyu-Yodo gawa) cherry blossoms show off all I like about sakura season. The cherry blossoms are free to enjoy and these types of events always seem more for everyone. Also it’s a stretch of land that’s nice but becomes absolutely gorgeous in Spring. It draws a lot of people out and especially on weekends and everyone is having a good time. Free and for everyone, proletariat sakura!

I know there’s such beautiful photos of tons of sakura creating a pink universe for Japan, but they’re everywhere. Sometimes just in basic places: a lone old sakura tree in a schoolyard, a public park, or in someone’s garden.

Atashida and I decided to have an impromptu hanami and the Kyu-Yodo River was perfect for it. Then I went back last year to enjoy again. Two years of Osaka sakura in one post!


Sakura and Osaka castle! The grounds are free to walk around in so you can spend zero and enjoy.


Although not as plentiful as summer or fall festivals a few food stalls pop up around hanami viewing spots.


Some people get really serious to reserve a spot for hanami.


And some people just pull up a bench and enjoy the view. It’s definitely a whatever you feel like atmosphere.


From the river the view is spectacular and tour boats traverse the area filled with people on weekends.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lots of boats traveling down for Osaka sakura


People waiting in line for the boat tours.


There were even different types of sakura on the river.


I can’t find out what this cherry blossom flower type is but I love the double color.


Last year I went back and it was on a weekday past the prime sakura viewing season so the river was mostly empty except for joggers. Working out through sakura season must be nice!


Falling sakura on water are so pretty.


Last year the leftover Osaka sakura were so nice. We were there in early afternoon and everything was reflecting and peaceful.


The quick gets at a local Sunklus conbini for the hanami. The drinks are Kirin’s special sakura can beer and a peach chu-hai. Those dango say 3-color dango but they’re actually known as “hanami dango” and they’re special to the sakura season. The candied apple was an actual candied apple with a hard candy shell. I thought I would lose some teeth eating it.

Osaka sakura aren’t as fancy as its neighbor Kyoto but it’s a lovely free time to have.

Travel savings tip: I recommend to people especially during sakura and koyo season to stay in Osaka. You’ll get a better hotel deal and travel to Kyoto is only 10 mins via shinkansen or an hour via regular train. Kyoto hotels book up months in advance and the ones left over are usually very pricey. Osaka hotels can be around 7,000-12,000 yen a night ($65-110) for a good location and a decent place. Plus Osaka has a lot of shopping and food options especially at dinner time compared to Kyoto.

Estimated cost of travel day, because I like to show that traveling Japan doesn’t have to be expensive:

Travel: We stayed in Osaka but used transit to get to Osaka castle. About 500 yen roundtrip rail pass unnecessary. 14 day rail pass is around $30USD a day.

Lodging: My hotel was 7,400 yen a night in Osaka.

Food: Breakfast was bakery breads and canned coffee 500 yen, Lunch was Kushi katsu at Daruma around 1,400 yen, refilled bottle of waters (free), dinner was a splurge at Kani Doraku crab for 2,500 yen.

Total spent without lodging or travel: 4,200 yen or $39

Total including everything (food, lodging, travel): 14,000 yen or $126 for two people: 18,000 yen or $160. I also bought some Donki eyelashes and makeup for 5,000 yen.

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