Hanami (literally ‘flower viewing’) is the ancient tradition of holding parties out under the falling petals of the cherry blossom trees that has been passed down through the ages, and there are many places throughout Japan that are known for their excellent cherry blossom trees.
A trip to the Nagano and Niigata areas in spring offers the chance to not only go skiing, but to also see the cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Hitting the slopes in the morning while it is cool, then heading out to see one of the many cherry blossom sites makes for the perfect day. In this article, we take a look at a few places where you can see these beautiful trees in bloom.
There are many famous spots for cherry blossom viewing in and around Hakuba. Here, the sight of the three great peaks of Hakuba covered with the last snows of winter framing the cherry blossoms offers a magnificent panorama like no other. Famous spots include the single tree of Nodaira no Sakura, the Oide suspension bridge, and the cherry blossoms of Hakuba47, each of which can be accessed via taxi with relative ease. Because there tend to be fewer guests in the spring season, someone from your accommodation may also be able to offer a ride. Just ask and see.
Cherry blossom trees are also frequently found at Japanese temples such as Hasedera and Happo Yakushi-do, so why not combine a trip to see the cherry blossoms with a visit to a temple or shrine. Ask the Tourism Commission of Hakuba Village for their recommendations, and they are sure to have some good ideas to share.
This park can be accessed from Suzaka, just two stations down the track by train from Nagano Station, and is listed as one of Japan’s top 100 cherry blossom viewing sites. With over 600 trees throughout the park, it is a masterpiece in full flower.
On clear days, the blue skies and the clouds are reflected in the waters of the lake there, slowly changing throughout the day. The combination of the branches of the cherry blossom trees that extend out over the lake and the blue surface of the waters draw many visitors. The cherry blossom trees are also lit up at night while in full bloom, making an evening trip an attractive option. The jet-black oden and dumplings for which Garyu Park is known also offer a taste of Japan, and are well worth a try.
A little ways out from the skiing fields is Matsumoto City, one of Nagano’s leading cities and destination of note. Matsumoto City is a former castle town laid out around the Matsumoto Castle, itself a national treasure, and the city is home to many historic buildings due to being mostly saved from the ravages of World War II. The city makes for an attractive destination for guest from overseas, and the cherry blossoms at Matsumoto Castle are a sigh to behold when spread across the canvas of this national treasure.
Four stations north along the line from Matsumoto Station is Jikkasegi, an irrigation channel created to supply water to Azumino that is known for the picturesque lines of cherry blossoms that stand on either side. The bike path along its banks makes it a popular spot for cycling as well.
Accessed from Minami Takada Station four stations north by train from one of Niigata Prefecture’s popular skiing areas, Myoko Kogen, are the famous cherry blossoms of Takada Castle. This location is known as being one of Japan’s three largest night-time cherry blossom sites, lit up with more than 3,000 lanterns during the Takada Cherry Blossom Festival.
The light of the lanterns on the three-storeyed watchtowers of Takada Castle create a magical reflection on the waters of the surrounding moats as they light up more than 4,000 cherry blossom trees. Street stalls can be found in abundance, and this is one event that is a symbol of spring in Echigo, the old name for Niigata Prefecture. If you make the trip out to Myoko Kogen for some spring skiing, this is one place you’ll want to keep in mind.