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Enjoy the Best of Japan’s Sakura in these Scenic Alternative Spots

by Julia Escano

From late March to early May, spring undeniably takes hold of Japan and creates a magic that has captivated people the world over. The season ushers in the blooming of the legendary sakura, or cherry blossoms, which breathes life back into the stark winter landscape. It draws crowds near and far, and all over the country locals and tourists alike enjoy hanami, or the ancient Japanese custom of viewing transient blooms.

Because the sakura only blossoms for a short amount of time – an estimated average of 2 weeks for 2016 – the rush to see them becomes more urgent. Thus, thousands upon thousands of people flock Japan to see the flowers for themselves. As the biggest international hubs, Tokyo and Osaka enjoy the largest number of tourists every year who come for hanami. While their vast parks can afford visitors excellent views, they also tend to get overcrowded thanks to loud and occasionally rowdy hanami parties.

Viewing the Sakura does not necessarily mean getting thrust into that atmosphere, however. If you are looking for more quiet spots for your hanami, there are plenty all over the country to choose from. This is also a great excuse to experience the country beyond its big cities. Thanks to Japan’s efficient railway system, getting to Hokkaido up north from Osaka is but a few train transfers away, making traveling from city to city much easier.

Looking for your perfect spot for this year’s Sakura festival? Check out these lovely, top sakura viewing places:

Miharu Takizakura, Fukushima

top sakura viewing places in Japan - Miharu Takizakura, FukushimaImage source

The Miharu Takizakura literally translates to “waterfall cherry tree of Miharu”, and is estimated to be a thousand years old. It is one of three giant cherry trees in Japan and is consistently ranked as the single most beautiful cherry tree in the country. It is 12 meters tall, with its sweeping branches spanning 18 meters from north to south and 22 meters from east to west. Thanks to its majesty, it draws a large crowd of tourists every year, but viewing is regulated making the experience smooth and hassle-free.

Best viewing time: mid to late April

Makomanai Park, Sapporo

top sakura viewing places in Japan - Makomanai Park, SapporoImage source

Makomanai Park was the location of the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. These days, it is home to over 13000 cherry trees and 2 different cherry species: the Sargent cherry and the Yaezakura or double cherry blossom. Each species bloom at a different time, but if you are lucky, you could sometimes catch both species blooming in time with each other. It is also home to 50000 other trees throughout 85 hectares of park land. With all the flowers, greens, and space, just imagine strolling around the grounds and soaking in the scenery!

Best viewing time: late April to late May

Goryoukaku Park, Hakodate

top sakura viewing places in Japan - Goryoukaku Park, HakodateImage source

For a different perspective on the Sakura, climb the 107 meter tall Goryoukaku Tower within the park complex. This will give you a spectacular bird’s eye view of the star-shaped park and its pink-lined moats during the height of hanami season. Once a military fortress of Edo and Meiji eras, Goryoukaku Park is now home to over a thousand cherry blossoms. Viewing them from above gives a different dimension to the hanami experience. If merely seeing them isn’t enough, one of the highest rated sakura ice creams is also available here.

Best viewing time: late April to mid-May

Hirosaki Park, Aomori

top sakura viewing places in Japan - Hirosaki Park, AomoriImage source

top sakura viewing places in Japan - Hirosaki ParkImage source

Located in the northern Honshu prefecture of Aomori, Hirosaki Park was first developed in 1611. It has a three-storey castle surrounded by moats. Along its 60 hectare grounds are 2500 cherry trees, which set the park ablaze with blooms come spring-time. Sakura trees also line the moat and fill it with petals, creating a unique and magical experience. It is especially romantic for couples, who can go on boat rides along the moat and see the blossoms from a different vantage point.

Best viewing time: mid-April to early May

Takato Castle, Nagano

top sakura viewing places in japan - Takato Castle, NaganoImage source

Not much is left of the Takato Castle in the city of Ina, Nagano. What remains instead are an estimated 1500 cherry trees said to have been planted in 1875 when the park first opened to the public. The sakura festival lasts all month in park grounds. It is made livelier by festival stalls set up all over the park. They also hold Illuminations on the park grounds from sunset to 10pm during peak season. Because of its popularity, the crowds in Takato Castle Ruins Park can grow exponentially during sakura season. Guests are advised to come early and avoid weekends to make the most of the space.

Best viewing time: mid to late April

Hitomi Senbon Zakura, Miyagi

top sakura viewing places in Japan - Hitomi Senbon Zakura, Miyagi
Photo by sonotoki / CC BY

Literally meaning “one thousand cherry blossom trees at a glance,” the Hitomi Senbon Zakura along the Shiroishi River is a favorite in the Miyagi prefecture. Its 8km riverbanks are lined on both sides with over a thousand sakura trees. Here you can find Yoshino cherries and Yaezakura, or double-flower cherry blossom trees. What makes this area extra special is an unobstructed view of Mt. Zao in the distance, giving the sakura filled riverbanks another dimension. S

Best viewing time: mid to late April

Lake Kawaguchi, Yamanashi

top sakura viewing places in Japan - Lake Kawaguchi, YamanashiImage source

If sakuras are not enough of a Japanese icon to satisfy you, perhaps you’d be interested in pairing it with another icon – perhaps the icon of all icons: Mt. Fuji. While each is a sight to behold, seeing both at the same time could be pretty surreal. To do so, visit the northern shore of Lake Kawaguchi in the Fuji’s Five Lakes Region. Along the banks are cherry trees, which serve as a beautiful foreground for the serene lake and the impressive mountain beyond.

Best viewing time: early to late April

For more information on the 2016 Sakura forecast by Japan Weather Association, click here.

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