The transition from winter to summer is just beginning, and that means something magical is about to arrive: cherry-blossom season. As winter loosens its grip, delicate pastel petals push their way out of gnarled sakura-tree branches — an early indicator of the warmth that will slowly envelop the archipelago.

This process, and its surreal pink results, does something to people in Japan that I love, but have difficulty explaining. Strict salarymen become party animals, and the most bashful guy in the office loosens his tie to belt out a sing-along under flurries of flowers. The weather still echoes winter's chill, but the hearts and minds of the Japanese populace have begun to thaw. I can only describe it as something of a spiritual spring break.

Here's where the hanami parties come in. While "hanami" simply means "flower viewing" in Japanese, these gatherings comprise what has become my favorite time of the year. So start prepping your tarp and picnic supplies and pick a place that best suits your family's tastes. Following are a few spots in Tokyo that should be on your radar.