Cherry blossom season in Japan is one of the most anticipated events after the New Year’s celebrations. In Tokyo, the pink flowers come out towards the end of March but in Tohoku, they bloom two weeks later, in mid-April. Didn’t get the chance to see the sakura in Tokyo? You can always try heading north to Akita and Aomori prefectures around Golden Week. To help you plan, here are three must-see spots if you are a fellow spring flower lover, a photographer or a traveler looking for an Instagram-worthy cherry blossom shot.
1. Hirosaki Castle (Aomori Prefecture)
Hirosaki Castle in Aomori Prefecture offers nothing short of the picture-perfect view of cherry blossoms against the white walls of a Japanese castle. Originally built in 1611 by the Tsugaru clan, the structure was struck by lightning just about a dozen years later and reconstructed in 1810. Despite this, Hirosaki Castle remains one of the few castles in Japan that’s been left untouched in modern times and is a treasure from times now past.
The castle and its surrounding area are listed as one of the most beautiful cherry blossom spots in Tohoku. Walk around and surround yourself with over 2,500 cherry trees, weeping tunnels – always a great date idea – and plenty of green spaces to partake in traditional hanami (cherry blossom viewing). Other things to see and do around the castle include a botanical garden and a Shinto shrine.
2. Hinokinai River (Akita Prefecture)
The Hinokinai Riverbank ranks among the nationally designated scenic beauty spots and is a popular destination for locals and domestic travelers on the hunt for blooming cherry trees in Akita Prefecture. The river itself is 33 kilometers long, but there is a short 2-kilometer stretch where you can see 400 somei-yoshino cherry trees. Be sure to pack a bento or snacks to munch on during your stroll. Alternatively, avoid crowds in the afternoon and head to the river in the evening for a dreamy, pink illumination.
Other things to check out nearby include the Samurai Residences in Kakunodate, where you can see buildings from the Edo period and travel back to the 16th century. Six of the authentic samurai houses are open to the public, so if time allows, head in to learn about the lives of the Japanese warriors and take a closer look at traditional architecture.
When in Kakunodate, make sure to also walk along Bukeyashiki Street. This pedestrian-only street is a popular spot to go for a walk and parade under the cherry trees. What is striking is the contrast between the dark wooden fences along the sidewalks and the vibrant flowers in various shades of pink. These trees were planted here over three centuries ago and were well taken care of, providing locals and sakura lovers with its delicate flowers every spring since.
Wrap up your trip in Akita by stopping by the Satoku Garden, located at the northern end of Bukeyashiki Street, where you can browse local crafts and pick up a token from your time in Tohoku. During sakura season, you can find limited-edition goods inspired by the cherry blossoms and their signature color.
3. Tenshochi Park (Iwate Prefecture)
Located along Kitakami river in Kitakami city, Iwate Prefecture, Tenshochi Park is a must-visit if you love celebrating blooming sakura. It is a popular place for locals to participate in hanami and take a stroll. Here too you’ll find a 2-kilometer walkway where you can walk under a row of pink sakura. These cherry trees were planted 100 years ago, marking 2021 the centenary of Tenshochi Park. Every year, there is a festival held around the time the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. In 2021, the festival is scheduled to take place from April 15 to May 5.
Fans of Japanese history will love the folklore village adjacent to the park, where you can see historical buildings depicting farmer’s houses, checkpoint towers and even a high school as they would have stood in the Edo and Meiji eras. Visitors can also see other structures and locations that showcase how the lifestyle changed throughout the centuries, starting all the way back from the Jomon period (14,000–1,000 B.C.).
About JR Bus Tohoku Sightseeing Bus Tours
Make your Japan travel plans easy and efficient by booking a JR Bus Tohoku sightseeing bus tour. Offering a handful of tours in the region of Tohoku, you can make the most of your time in northern prefectures, including Aomori, Akita and Iwate.
Travelers can choose from two courses to catch the Tohoku cherry blossoms at their full bloom, only for a limited time. Prices start at 3,900 per person. Each course includes the sakura spots. It is a great addition to a weekend getaway from Tokyo. For more information, visit the Japan Bus Online website here.
*Please note that hanami might not be possible due to Covid-19 and that the best time to see the blooming sakura can vary every year.