Spring is definitely starting properly, now. The sakura are starting to bloom already, considerably earlier than usual - the earliest for 23 years, or so I heard on the weather report - and other flowers are in bloom, too. I thought I'd take the opportunity to put up some of the photos I've been taking, and to point you in the direction of a few websites which give information on when and where the sakura are blooming. This is going to be a photo-heavy post, by the way.
Spring in Hokkaido comes later than in most of Japan, so if you are in, or going to, other parts of Japan, you'll have missed much of it, and certainly much of the sakura. But in Hokkaido, spring is now getting fully underway, and as mentioned, the sakura are blooming early. The recent warm weather has contributed, and it's about to cool down again, so that might help prolong them. But they'll probably be past in a couple of weeks or so, so I thought I should get a few things up now.
First, some recent pictures.
The first signs of spring in Sapporo: ha-zakura in central Sapporo, and another flowering tree in Odori Koen.
Sakura beginning to open, and some wild flowers, Jozankei onsen.
Magnolia on the route to school.
Sakura in bloom (and some in bud, just to show it's not all past just yet), outside the JLI and in Maruyama Koen.
As for general information about sakura, here are a few useful websites. The first couple are in English, and then the rest are in Japanese only.
The first website I would look at, which gives predictions for the progress of the sakura, is the Japan Meteorological Agency
As you might guess, there is a lot more on this site than just sakura (and depending on what time of year you are looking, you may not even see the sakura news: the 2008 page is here at time of writing). This is an excellent site for all sorts of weather and related information, including typhoon, earthquake and volcano warnings, as well as more normal weather forecasts and satellite images. But it doesn't go down to an very detailed level, in terms of location, and doesn't seem to be updated with actuals, to show how they fitted the predictions.
Japan-Guide.com have a summary of predicted or actual blooming dates (depending on whether the blooming had already happened or not at the time they were writing) in a selection of cities across Japan, with best viewing dates. There is a lot of useful information, including some historical dates for the blooming in the selected cities, if you follow through the links on the main page.
The remaining sites are in Japanese only, but have more detailed information.
Another site which has more detailed information, kept up to date, is the Yahoo Japan weather site. Although this is selective, for the places it does choose, it is very detailed, including dates when the sakura are expected to be at their best (見ごろ予想) in each location (although I believe this might be a typical date, rather than a specific one based on current observations), and an easy to understand pictorial representation of the current state of blooming.
Our friends at goo, who do us so proud for the Sumo, also have a sakura watch. Again, detailed information, including the expected best viewing dates: as the dates on this site actually quote the year, and are earlier than the Yahoo dates, this seems possibly more likely to be based on actual observations, although I can't be sure.
Obviously, in future years, these sites may move their pages around, but are probably good places to expect to find something. And if you are particularly interested in sakura, bear in mind that they are most fickle, and prone to disappear quickly if there is wind or rain, so keep a close eye on what's happening. You'll find plenty of information on other sites about good and famous sakura places, so I won't give a list here.
But the general thing is that spring in Japan, and certainly, from this year's experience, in Hokkaido, can be a wonderful time. I hope to enjoy the rest of it in the coming weeks, and to take in more sakura, other flowers, onsen, and other delights of spring which Hokkaido has to offer.