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5 Things to Do in Japan This Spring (That Don’t Involve Hanami)

If you want to tone down the cherry blossom celebrations this year, here are five alternatives for spring activities in Japan.

By 6 min read

The start of spring in Japan is all about the sakura, or cherry blossoms. With everything from hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties to cherry blossom-flavored drinks, it’s hard to escape the sakura mania during March and April.

Unfortunately, as you might have already guessed, COVID-19 has thrown us a curveball this spring. It is still not recommended people gather in large crowds. While we can’t tell you whether or not to disregard social distancing, experts are already warning of a third wave of the coronavirus that could hit Tokyo.

Perhaps the best way to avoid the crowds during hanami season is to take a hike—literally.

However, there is more to spring in Japan than just the cherry blossoms. After a barrage of events such as bonenkai (year-end party) and shinnenkai (New Year’s party)—even if it was on Zoom—we’re kind of done with socializing.

If celebrating nature and rebirth by cramming hundreds of people on electric blue tarps to watch pink petals is just too much for you to bear this year, here are five seasonal activities to do this spring that doesn’t involve hanami.

1. Sample new sake

You don’t need a crowd to get a buzz.

The allure of free alcoholic beverages the only reason why you begrudgingly RSVP to the company hanami party year after year? This spring, skip the middleman and head straight to the source of free-flowing alcohol and imbibe to your heart’s delight.

Experience the labor and tradition of Japan’s national drink nihonshu (sake) at a local kurabiraki, the first opening of a sake storehouse. You’ll know it’s time for kurabiraki when you see sugidama (ball made from sprigs of Japanese cedar) hanging from the eaves—a sign that business is ready with a new season of sake for the year.

The events are marked by festivals where visitors can taste a variety of freshly made sake and limited-edition brews. Fukuoka is famous for its large number of kurabiraki.

You can check out the Nihonshu Calendar (Japanese) for an up-to-date schedule for kurabiraki around Japan.

2. Pick strawberries

A row of ripe strawberries ready to be picked.

It’s hard to pinpoint strawberry season in Japan. After all, this red fruit is synonymous with Christmas cake and other winter confectioneries. However, 30 years ago, strawberries in winter were practically unheard of in Japan. They were strictly a spring fruit grown from April to June until Japanese farmers perfected a way to simulate spring year-round.

Strawberry farms across Japan open their greenhouse doors to the public in the springtime for ichigo gari (strawberry picking), when you can pick and eat an unlimited amount of strawberries within a set time. They even give guests cups of sweetened condensed milk to dip their freshly picked strawberries in. Japan’s biggest producer of strawberries is Tochigi Prefecture, home to the small yet sweet Tochi Otome variety. Not to be forgotten is Fukuoka, Japan’s second-largest producer.

Here are some places to try your hand at strawberry picking this spring:

3. Forage for wild greens

Ready to try living off the land?

If picking strawberries isn’t adventurous enough, how about foraging in Japan’s wilderness for sansai (wild vegetables)? Even if you’re not brave enough to eat your findings, there’s still an adventure to be had in exploring the woodlands of Japan. Bring gloves, scissors, a bag for collecting what you find, insect repellent, bells and spray to ward off bears and a compass or GPS device. Dress appropriately—cover your limbs, wear a hat and put on some sturdy hiking boots.

If you would like a guide, here are a few locales for you to go on a foraging adventure:

4. Take a hike

Now, this is social distancing.

Perhaps the best way to avoid the crowds during hanami season is to take a hike—literally.

There’s no shortage of hiking trails in Japan. It is a nation covered in the mountains perfect for outdoor adventures, after all. It’s best to remember that cedar pollen is out and about all over Japan during spring, usually lasting through to early May. This can be hell for those who suffer from hay fever, so keep that in mind when planning your hike.

Many mountains on a beautiful spring day will be peppered with cute vegetation buds and blooming flowers. However, we don’t recommend trying to climb Mount Fuji during this time as it’s still covered with snow! As always, take precautions and prepare appropriately with suitable hiking gear.

Here are some of Japan’s best mountains for spring hiking:

5. Dig for clams

Asari miso soup.

If you’re craving a bit of “vitamin sea” in the springtime, try your hand at shiohigari, or clam digging.

Digging for asari (littleneck clams) is an extremely popular activity for couples and families in Japan, and you’ll see no shortage of them at the beach this time of year. Be sure to check out the tide levels before you go, as most spots open for digging a few hours before and after low tide.

Bring a shovel, pail, gloves, strainer, freezer packs, and a cooler box, along with a set of spare clothes. If you don’t have these things on hand, you can easily pick them up at a ¥100 shop, but any popular beach location for digging will have equipment for sale.

Littleneck clams are rich in calcium and vitamin B12. Add them to miso soup or rice in your cooker for a delicious and nutritious meal.

Try some clamming at these spots this year:

Whether you love the outdoors or prefer low-key activities, there’s no shortage of ways to have fun on a beautiful spring day that don’t involve sitting around on a blue tarp drinking and gawping at the fleeting flowers. Be sure to check our interactive Sakura Forecast Map on GaijinPot Travel as subtle changes in temperature can delay or hasten the bloom of cherry blossoms—a sure way to disrupt your plans. 

For 2021, we want to see how you celebrate sakura while social distancing and staying safe from the coronavirus. Tag your best socially distanced sakura-inspired photo or home hanami picnic by April 17, 2021, with #SafeSakura for a chance to be featured on our Instagram!

Follow @GaijinPot and add a caption describing your submission.

Not much of a photographer? That’s all good! You can enter with anything sakura-inspired.

We look forward to seeing your amazing submissions. Just make sure to stay safe and avoid the crowds!

How do you get your hanami fix? Let us know your favorite ways to enjoy spring in Japan in the comments!

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