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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 to squatting in the cold on a blue tarp.

By 6 min read

The start of spring in Japan is all about the sakura, or cherry blossoms. From hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties to cherry blossom-flavored drinks (not to mention those famous Japanese KitKats)—it’s hard to escape the sakura mania during March and April.

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.

There’s got to be more when it comes to spring in Japan than cherry blossoms, right? After a barrage of events that our social contracts oblige us to attend—bonenkai (year-end party) and shinnenkai (New Year’s party) we’re looking at you—we’re tired of socializing.

Do we really need to brave the cold by gathering underneath cherry trees while peppering forced conversation with expressions of the obvious? Statements like “Kirei desu ne (the flowers sure are pretty)” and “Samui desu ne (it sure is cold)” seem to make up the bulk of all small talk this time of year.

If celebrating the natural cycle of rebirth in Japan 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 don’t involve hanami.

1. Sample new sake

March 12, 2020 @ 12:50:26

New sake with cherry blossoms.

Is 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.

Here are are a few kurabiraki to try this spring:

(Events could be canceled due to COVID 19. Check the official websites for updates.)

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. 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

Collected wild spring 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.

Here are a few locales for you to go on a foraging adventure:

4. Go hiking

A therapeutic nature walk.

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 mountains perfect for outdoor adventures, after all. During spring, it’s best to remember that cedar pollen is out and about all over Japan, 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 properly 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:

Spring fling

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.

Japan’s love for cherry blossoms, however, can ultimately prove irresistible and the avoidance of social obligations may prove futile. You may, in fact, just end up attending a hanami party on your way back from one of our suggested outings.

If so, 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. If you miss your chance for a hanami altogether, just stock up on limited edition sakura beer cans and snacks from Don Quijote and cry silently at home. Same difference.

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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