Photo: Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival

Celebrate Cherry Blossom Season in Vancouver With Some of the Best Blossoms Outside Japan

by Eben Diskin Mar 4, 2024

When you think of cherry blossom season, your mind probably jumps to the gardens of Tokyo. Japan is famous for its cherry blossoms, which have become an icon of the country itself. But for many cherry blossom enthusiasts, actually visiting Japan is out of the question — both logistically and financially. Luckily, you don’t actually have to travel across the world to see some truly spectacular cherry blossom displays.

Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada, is one of the best places in North America to see cherry blossoms. The season begins around early March and lasts until mid-April each year, and blossoms can be seen all around the city — from the botanical garden on the University of British Columbia campus to the groves of Akebono in Stanley Park and the trees lining the road in the Arbutus neighborhood.

But how did Japan’s iconic blooms make their way nearly 5,000 miles to Vancouver?

Vancouver’s cherry blossom history

Vancouver’s cherry blossom story begins in the early 1930s when the mayors of Kobe and Yokohama in Japan presented the Park Board of Vancouver with 500 Japanese cherry trees. The trees were gifted to be planted at the Japanese cenotaph in Stanley Park, which honors Japanese Canadians who served in World War I.

By the mid-1950s, thousands of trees on city streets were being removed due to problems caused by their roots and canopies. The smaller and less invasive cherry trees were planted in their place. In 1958, 300 more cherry trees were donated by the Japanese consul to promote good will and friendship between the two nations. They were planted along Cambie Boulevard, between 49th and 33rd Avenues, in Queen Elizabeth Park, and around the Japanese Monument in Stanley Park. Now, cherry trees make up a significant portion of the city’s tree species, with more planted each year thanks to their local popularity.

It’s no surprise that these flowers that represent Japan have been lovingly embraced by Vancouver — so much so that there’s an annual Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the blooming season.

The Cherry Blossom Festival

Vancouver’s signature springtime event, the Cherry Blossom Festival is a celebration of the city’s adopted flower. Taking place this year from March 29 to April 25, the monthlong festival consists of a diverse range of blossom-related activities, giving both locals and visitors an appreciation for the special flower.

“The festival inspires participants to express their response to these extraordinary trees in music, poetry, photography, art design, craft, and cuisine,” Rodolfo Parra, chief concierge at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver, tells Matador Network.

The Big Picnic is one of the festival’s premier events. Attendees gather and relax underneath cherry trees in the Yaletown neighborhood while listening to local artists on the Cherry Jam Stage. It encourages friends and families to meet up for a picnic to appreciate the cherry blossoms, celebrate spring, and enjoy entertainment, food, and interactive activities.

For Japanese cultural enthusiasts, make sure to check out the Sakura Days Japan Fair at the VanDusen Botanical Garden — a celebration of all things Japan. Taking place outdoors with selected vendors, a tea ceremony, taiko drumming, theater performances, and sake tasting, the fair invites guests to immerse themselves in Japanese food, art, and music.

One of the festival’s most exciting events is Blossoms After Dark, a magical walk taking place between 6 and 10 PM. Experience the cherry blossoms lit up at night with project mapping,
lighting, and lanterns. You can also expect to encounter performers, music, and art installations around every corner.

“Each year more events are added to the program,” Parra says. “The festival is also building new international friendships and cross-cultural exchanges through the international Haiku Invitational, which annually receives poems from 43 countries.”

Where to see Vancouver cherry blossoms around the city

You don’t necessarily need to attend festival events to enjoy Vancouver’s cherry blossoms. You can take your own self-guided tour of the city’s blossoms simply by wandering the streets.

“We have a blossoms map that highlights all of the cherry trees across the city with information
about when and where the blossoms are,” Andrea Arnot, Executive Director of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival tells Matador Network. “We encourage residents and tourists alike to explore the cherry blossoms throughout the city and create their own hanami (flower-viewing) experience with family or friends.”

Biking past cherry blossoms

Photo: Shawn.ccf/Shutterstock

Indeed, wandering around Vancouver isn’t just the best way to see the cherry blossoms — it’s the best way to get acquainted with the city itself. Some of the city’s most beautiful blossoms are located in parks and neighborhoods visitors are probably interested in anyway.

“Some of the most spectacular cherry tree groves are located downtown with skyscrapers, oceanfront, or park settings as the backdrop,” Arnot says.

One of the best places to see cherry blossoms is on the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia whose botanical garden is home to a striking arrangement of Japanese plants. You can also find a double row of Shirotae and a grove of Shiro-fugen (different varieties of flowering Japanese cherry trees) along the path to the Japanese monument in Stanley Park, as well as a grove of Akebono in the Rose Garden. If you’d rather just go for a quiet neighborhood stroll, check out the Pandora blossoms on West 6th Avenue, the Shirotae blossoms on 1st Avenue, and the Birch Bark Cherry Trees in the Arbutus neighborhood on King Edward Avenue.

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