On the next morning, picked up a rental car and headed to Matsumae Castle about 100km away from Hakodate. As there was no expressway, it took about 2 hours to reach there. Dropped by Cape Shirakami (白神岬) at the southern tip of Hokkaido. Had lunch in Matsumae road station which was crowded with locals visiting the same destination 🙂
Another top 100 sakura spot, the Matsumae Castle was renowned for having 10,000 sakura trees in over 200 sakura varieties. Most of the sakura in full bloom was pinky Naden (南殿), which is an early blooming species, with many other sakura trees yet to be blooming.
Cape Shirakami – the southern tip of Hokkaido
Matsumae road station
The huge park extended slightly uphill. We walked around it and arrived at the northwestern corner where there were temples with 300-year old sakura trees.
sakura boulevard leading uphill
small patch of Shibazakura
Kozenji (光善寺) with early blooming 300-year old Ketchimiku-zakura (血脈桜), and Meoto-zakura (夫婦桜) literally husband-and-wife – a pinky Naden sakura fused with Somei Yoshino.
entrance to Kozenji
300-yr old Kechimiku-zakura
“husband and wife” sakura
Left after 3pm. Heading to Shiriuchi onsen ryokan for overnight stay.
Took Hokkaido Shinkansen to Hakodate through the undersea Seikan tunnel for the first time. As it was a Sunday and the beginning of the golden week, it was quite crowded.
Sakura was in full bloom in the park, at the foothill of Mt Hakodate. Locals were having a good time there enjoying with family and friends.
Visited this top 100 sakura spot in full bloom with 1600 Somei Yoshino trees. Went up to the tower observation levels for panoramic views of the city and the park below. When we first visited in 2004 we bumped into sakura blossom at about 50% but this time it was gorgeous and more crowded as expected.
inside the tower
Tea time in former British Consulate for the third time
former British consulate
After 2 days in Morioka, we headed to Aomori and stayed there for another 2 days. Took about 2 hours to reach Hirosaki with a connection in Shin-Aomori. The local train was very crowded and we had to stand for about 30min. Outside the station, a temporary express bus took visitors direct to the Hirosaki Castle in about 15min. Though we took the first Hayabusa Shinkansen train leaving Morioka before 9am, we arrived at Hirosaki Castle at around 11:30.
It was a sunny day with temperature at high teens. Sakura was again in full bloom in this top 100 sakura spot while the outer moat was covered in sakura petals ! Only then we noticed we were lucky to visit Hirosaki Castle on its 100th Sakura festival 🙂
We crossed the outer moat into the garden area, which was huge and planted with various varieties of sakura trees. It was crowded even on Friday. As we had been to other top 100 sakura spots in the last few days, we picked the historical sakura trees, such as the Otakizakura (big waterfall) to focus. There were plenty of food stalls selling cooked food, snacks and drinks. Took a break and had a quick yaki-udon bento.
Entrance fee was required in order to enter into the Honmaru area – where the Hirosaki castle was relocated few years ago for renovation. Lined up for about 20min to enter the small castle. Nice views of distant Mt Iwaki and sakura up there. Left around 3pm.
falling petals filling the outer moat
visitors on boat rowing inside the inner moat
snow-capped Mt Iwaki in the distance
status per sakura variety
view of Iwaki from Hirosaki castle
From Morioka, visited Kakunodate as a day trip by Akita Shinkansen in less than 1 hour direct.
Kakunodate is famous for the pink Shidarezakura, whose shoots were brought over from Kyoto more than 300 years ago.
Kakunodate Samurai houses (角館武家屋敷)
Top 100 sakura spot. Took a taxi from station which would otherwise be a 30min walk.
Sakura was in full bloom. There were about 400 trees spread out in the former Samurai houses. Though it was still cold at 11-12C, it was cloudy, less windy, and with sunshine from time to time.
Hinokinai River Dyke (桧木内川堤)
After about 1.5 hours, we headed towards the river dyke, about 15 min on foot from the Samurai houses. 400 Somei Yoshino sakura trees were planted along this 2km river dyke. Apart from adults, small kids led by teachers were having picnic lunch along the dyke.
Inaniwa Udon and Akita dog
Had lunch in an udon shop serving famous Akita Inaniwa udon by former Samurai family. It was so delicious !
After lunch we strolled around and bumped into a gentle Akita dog. He was a 4-year old dog and had previously served in the local police.
After leaving Hanamaki onsen, we headed north to Morioka by Tohoku Shinkansen in about 10 min.
After dropping our luggage in Morioka hotel in the city centre, we visited the Ishiwarizakura (stone-splitting sakura) of 350 years old. It’s amazing that it could split up a core of granite rock in the middle.
Top 100 sakura spot – about 1200 sakura trees were planted around a small lake. Though sakura was in full bloom, it was not crowded.
As temperature was hovering around 10C with occasional strong wind and drizzle, we stayed for about an hour.
Morioka Castle Ruins Park (盛岡城跡公園)
About 10 min on foot from our hotel we visited this park. While sakura was in full bloom, there was so much petals on the ground as if it had snowed. From time to time, petals were swirling in the wind as if it was snowing – a beautiful Hanafubuki scene (花吹雪).
After visiting the Hitachi Seaside Park and Ashikaga Flower Park, we headed to northern Tohoku for sakura in late April as per original plan.
The first stop was Kitakami in Iwate Prefecture – a top 100 sakura spot. Arrived from Tokyo by Hayabusa Shinkansen train in about 2.5 hours direct. The venue was along a 2km river dyke on the other side of a river. We took a temporary boat service crossing the river in 5min, landing in the middle of the venue.
There were well over 1000 sakura trees – mainly of Somei Yoshino, of which 500 of them were over 90 years old. Sakura was in full bloom with temperature in low teens – about 10C cooler than in Tokyo. As usual, the pink Shidarezakura (weeping sakura) attracted more crowds.
Though there were more sakura trees to the south of the venue where lots of temporary food stalls were selling cooked food, we left the venue after 2 hours.
Kitakami Tenshochi (北上展勝地)
horse carriage – a rare scene in sakura matsuri
Koi-nobori hanging over the river
Hanamaki onsen (花巻温泉)
After late lunch in Kitakami station, we headed to Hanamaki onsen where we stayed for 2 nights in 1 of 4 onsen hotel premises belonging to the same group. According to its exhibits, some of the premises were nearly a century old and the Japanese royal family members had stayed.
Just opposite to our onsen hotel there was an indoor rose plantation, while sakura was in full bloom. Roses were totally unexpected in April.
Daily performance after dinner – local folk dance, traditional singing and sanmisen performance.
Samisen – common instrument in northern Tohoku
leaving Hanamaki onsen
Yunoko Cherry line – top 100 sakura spots
The cherry line was 5km long skirting along the coastline of Yunoko in Minamata.
Yunoko onsen town in the distance
Sunset in Yunoko
Stayed in an onsen hotel in Yunoko onsen town. Sea was calm so nice reflections were caught easily.
viewed from room balcony
Before leaving Yunoko on the next morning dropped by this farm uphill. Scenery was gorgeous with panoramic views of the sea and coastline.
Returned car in Izumi city and took Kyushu Shinkansen back to Kagoshima city. Checked into onsen hotel on Shiroyama, which overlooks the city and Sakurajima on a hill.
Steam locomtive outside Izumi station
Arrived at the southern-most station in Kyushu served by Shinkansen
viewed from Shiroyama observatory
Sakura along Koutsukigawa
Strolled along the river banks again before departing Kyushu. After 1 week since our arrival sakura was in full bloom.
bunch of small kids hand-in-hand following their guardians
some locals were already enjoying before lunch
azaleas were also blooming
Tadamoto-koen – top 100 sakura spots (忠元公園)
On the next morning stopped by this park in Isa town before reaching Hitoyoshi in southern Kumamoto Prefecture.
It was awesome with about 1000 Sakura trees in full bloom, while many seniors were competing in croquet.
Hitoyoshi castle ruins (人吉城跡)
Arrived at Hitoyoshi castle ruins where sakura was in full bloom as well. Plenty of locals were having picnics beneath the sakura trees.
town on the other side of Kumagawa
After lunch, dropped by this temple of about 600 years old. (Sekisui literally means stone water).
From the main entrance, a megane-bashi (spectacle-shaped bridge) crossed over a stream where it led up to an eye-shaped stone in front of the main hall.
It was serene with Magnolia and Sakura in full bloom.
Aoi-Aso Jinja (青井阿蘇神社)
Before leaving Hitoyoshi on the next morning, visited this Jinja of more than 1000 years old in the city.
main hall under renovation
Dropped by this limestone cave while driving onward to seaside onsen town Yunoko in Minamata. It took about 30min for an unguided visit inside the cave. Turquoise Kumagawa was along the way.
water was dripping onto this big limestone
Kirishima Jingu (霧島神宮)
It was first established in the 7th century AD though due to multiple eruptions of nearby Kirishima volcanoes it had been destroyed and rebuilt. The current site was built in 18th century.
Sakura was in full bloom while locals lined up to offer their worships in the Jingu.
In the nearby park on the hillside sakura were blooming as well, stopped by Maruo-no-taki (waterfall) before reaching Kirishima onsen hotel. Due to fallen rocks it could only be observed from a distance.
Japanese pine of more than 800 years old
almost 40m tall
sakuras in nearby park
Onsen hotel with huge onsen and pine garden
Picked up rental car in the city on next morning and headed south to Ibusuki, which is famous for its hot sand bath, apart from onsen.
Stopped by Chiran – a small town along the way, to visit former Samurai residences. There were seven of them though we visited a few.
After lunch, visited Kagoshima Park in southern Satsuma Peninsula for various Spring flowers.
Not far from the Kagoshima Park is a viewpoint for cone-shaped Kaimon-dake, which is highly prominent while driving in southern Satsuma Peninsula.
On next morning, headed uphill where plenty of sakura trees were planted in a park. The sakura were in full bloom and at the top it offered panoramic views of Ibusuki.
Lake Ikeda is the largest lake in Kyushu, stopped by before heading north to Kirishima.