Cherry blossoms in Hirosaki; there’s really no better sight
No one knows how better to view cherry blossoms than the Japanese. They practically make it an art form; where else in the world do you know of people deliberately seated in on mats to have a picnic under the cherry blossom trees. And they take it really seriously too – go too late and you’ll have difficulties finding a good spot as they’ll all be taken.
With the art of hanami taken to a different level by these otherwise restrained and disciplined folks, you know that if there’s one thing that they take really seriously in Japan, it’s their cherry blossom. And they are so serious about it that there’s a list of the best places to view cherry blossoms in Japan.
But honestly, during the right season, you’ll find them at every corner you turn. What makes this list though are places where there are blooms as far as the eye can see and they are placed against magnificent backdrops; and this is how I found myself at Hirosaki Park, hoping to catch a glimpse of the cherry blossoms where the Japanese said I would be able to best view them.
First off Hirosaki can be considered off the beaten path – not for domestic tourists who are well-attuned to the best that their country has to offer, in part thanks to the well-developed rail system – but for the foreigners who throng Kyoto and Tokyo during this time.
The season that the flowers bloom is also atypical. Japan being a really long country means that spring starts at different times of the year in different prefectures and for the Tohoku region (which literally translates to North East from Japanese), this takes place from the end of April to early May. And the prefecture that you’ll find Hirosaki – Aomori.
Cherry blossom season at Hirosaki is a huge deal, and posters are done up to share the festival that takes place there. Literally everyone in town is there just for the cherry blossoms. Case in point, step out of the station and you’ll be ushered by the many enthusiastic locals on where to go and what bus to take to get to the famed grounds of Hirosaki castle, which is where the main fanfare takes place.
And for these parts, they have English speakers covered. My tip is to always ask about at the tourist information centre at the train stations: this is where you have the highest chance of finding someone who will understand you and have all the information to your questions. It’s also where you will get a good English map of the festival. The one that you get in Hirosaki is pretty good, it covers the entire park, includes what type of cherry blossoms you’ll see at each spot, and even includes a short description of the main types of cherry blossoms. There won’t be space for all of them; there are reportedly more than 50 types of cherry blossom in the park, and that will take quite a few pieces of paper.
And you get up to date information about the condition of the cherry blossoms every day within the park. Keep your eye peeled out for the notices, that are translated into English too that tell you about how many per cent of the blossoms are bloomed, how long they have been in full bloom and whether the petals have started to fall (which in and of itself is another great photo opportunity I’ll get to later)
The other good thing about cherry blossom viewing in these parts, unlike in Tokyo and Kyoto, where admission fees are necessary for the temples and parks that are said to have the best cherry blossom viewing experiences, in Tohoku, most of the best places are free; this applies to for Hirosaki, save for some selected parts of the park, but trust me that they will more than suffice.
One of the key highlights in a photo with cherry blossoms draping the majestic Hirosaki castle that is the centrepiece of the park. However as the castle and the surrounding stone wall is undergoing some well needed restoration works, the castle has been moved and shots of it with the iconic red bridge are somewhat impossible. The works are going on for about a decade, but the plus point is that you can now take a photo of the castle with Mount Iwaki in the backdrop, something that wasn’t possible previously.
Entry to the area where the castle is requires an entry fee. And due to the abovementioned move, the castle cannot be viewed without payment of this ticket unlike before. If you want to see it at sunset, payment is unavoidable, and they man it strictly at every possible entrance.
Here’s a tip that I highly recommend that you follow: Go early in the morning.
I woke up with the intention of heading in before sunrise to capture the glorious sun. That, unfortunately, did not happen, but I still did get out early and manage to nearly have the park to myself. Nary a person was thronging the area like it was the day before when I visited, and I got to savour the beauty of the blossoms in tranquil peace.
The other bonus: entry to the area that the castle stood at for free. I was there before the ticketing guys started even started work, and as this is a park for the locals too, many of them were there to do morning exercise too, facing Mount Iwaki, which meant that weren’t many camera-toting tourists aside from me in that area in the morning.
There are many photo points in the park, of which the map will clearly highlight them to you, rest assured. These include:
• Paths that are lined closely with cherry blossom trees
• Rivers with red bridges that have cherry blossoms flanking either side
• Views of the castle
But to be honest, every corner of the park is really pretty and photo worthy.
As like every place with cherry blossom festivals, food and stage performances are a must, and that’s the same for Hirosaki park, just that it’s massive, taking the sides of many massive grounds that are in the park, selling all sorts of delicious Japanese street snacks. The place really comes to life at night though, as all manners of Japanese people come here to hanami (flower viewing).
My favourite sight from being at Hirosaki: witnessing the petal storm that is Sakurafubuki; also known as a cherry blossom blizzard. I had never seen this side before, but a photo of this was what really drew me to Hirosaki and I count myself lucky to be able to witness the sight as it’s about being at the right place at the right time, and with limited time in Japan, I was lucky to be there when it’s happening.
So my favourite scene: A pastel pink petal-filled river with overarching cherry blossom trees that still have blooms on their branches. How beautiful this is, photos cannot capture, you really have to see this in person. And really because of how many cherry blossom trees that you need to have clustered together to fill the river with floating petals, it would be to me a sight that you can only get to appreciate the fullness of how beautiful in Hirosaki.
Address 1 Shimoshirogane-cho, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori 036-8356
How to get there Take the train to Hirosaki Station (nearest Shinkansen station: Shin-Aomori) and then board a feeder bus to the park
Best time to visit for cherry blossom End April to the first week of May