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There are many stunning sakura displays just a short trip from Tokyo

The arrival of the first sakura (cherry blossoms) of the year marks an important occasion in the Japanese calendar: The end of winter and the beginning of the short, sweet spring. There's no shortage of places to lay out your blue mats for an afternoon or evening of hanami (sakura viewing). Follow Luna Delphian and Gertrude Perkins as they stay one step ahead of the cherry blossom front.

This year's official "predicted date of blooming" (according to no less an authority than the Japan Meteorological Agency) for eastern Japan is March 26, which means that the buds should be in full-throttle bloom by the following weekend. So get your sake cups and karaoke sets ready for another year of festivities under the cherry trees. And don't forget to stay tuned to the daily weather forecasts to find out when the blossoms will be at their blooming best.

Blooms with a view

Kanagawa
Odawara Joshikoen
Odawara Castle was originally built in 1416 and later rebuilt in 1960. The castle contains a museum with related historical objects. The tower commands a great view of the city and the surrounding area, as well as the 1000 cherry blossom trees the park contains. There's a mini zoo and a children's playground so kids who really can't appreciate the true meaning of drinking under the sakura can have a fun time as well. There will be a sakura festival at the beginning of April, but as the exact dates depend on the cooperation of the flowers, check before you go.
Where: 6-1 Jonai, Odawara-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture (0465-23-1373; Japanese only).
Nearest stn: 10 mins from JR Odawara stn. Night viewing from 6-10pm.

Saitama
Omiya Koen
This huge park boasts a stadium, a soccer field and a lake in the center with boats for rent. Over 1200 trees line the park, which is only 40 minutes from central Tokyo. The Omiya Cherry Blossom Festival is from April 1-7.
Where: 4-chome Takahanacho, Omiya-shi, Saitama Prefecture (048-641-6391; Japanese only).
Nearest stn: 10 mins from Tobu Noda line Omiya Koen stn. Night viewing from sundown to 9pm.

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Boating beneath the blooms at Inokashira Koen

Chiba
Mother Bokujo (Mother's Farm)
Mother Bokujo was founded to give people living in the city a chance to get in touch with nature. Sixty Tokyo Domes could fit in this vast area where farm animals roam freely. The farm also boasts over 3000 cherry blossom trees that the organizers predict will bloom in early April. Other flowers blossom throughout the year so don't fret if you miss the ephemeral little sakura.
Where: 940-3 Tagura, Futsu-shi, Chiba Prefecture (0439-37-3211; Japanese only). Open 9:30am-4:30pm daily. Admission: Adults JY1500, children under 12 JY800.
Nearest stn: JR Uchibo-sen Sanukimachi stn. Take the Nitto bus headed for Kanozan and it's 20 mins to the Mother Bokujo stop.

Gunma
Myogisan Sakura-no-Sato
In 1977 more than 10,000 cherry blossom trees were planted into the mountain with the idea of creating a sakura-no-sato ("sakura village"). Now, with over 15,000 trees, Mt. Myogi lives up to the name. When all the trees are in full bloom, even the air seems to be pink. One of the best spots in Japan to see the cherry blossom in all its grandeur.
Where: Kamikosakachinai, Ooaza, Shinomita-cho, Tsuzura-gun, Gunma Prefecture (0274-82-2111; Japanese only).
Access: Joshin Dentetsu to Shimonita stn, then take a taxi to Sakura-no-Sato (about 30 mins). By car: Take the Joshinetsu freeway to Shimonita IC, then take route 254 to Sakura-no-Sato (about 40 mins on 254).

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359: Now and Zen
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342: Asakusa amble
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318: An inner city hike
Follow the Meguro River
313: Day Trips - Hanami Hangouts
Staying one step ahead of the cherry blossom front
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