JP 2019 April Sakura Miharu Takizakura

From Tokyo we took Tohoku Shinkansen and alight at Koriyama station in Fukushima Prefecture.  Picked up rental car and visited Miharu Takizakura and Nihonmatsu in a day.


Miharu Takizakura (三春滝桜)

It took less than 30min to arrive at the huge parking lot (free), via national roads in light traffic. A top 100 sakura spot and one of three most famous sakura trees in Japan.  It is a Benishidare-zakura (ベニシダレザクラ)  belonging to the Edohigan (エドヒガン) family.

It was estimated to be more than 1000 years old, at a height of 13m+ and span over 25m.  Taki in Japanese means waterfall and indeed it looks so.

Though it was crowded, everything was in good order. We stayed for an hour and on the way back to the parking lot bought some Okashi (sweets) and somen (noodles) made of sakura ingredients.




Uchidenosakura  (内出のサクラ)

Next we headed north to Nihonmatsu in less than 30km away.  Dropped by this Uchidenosakura, of 220 years old, at a height of 19m. It belongs to a rare variety of Ubahiganzakura.

There were no other visitor when we arrived. Stayed for about 15 min.


Nihonmatsu Kasumigajo Park (霞ヶ城公園)

arrived at the final top 100 sakura spot of this trip – Kasumigajo in Nihonmatsu city.  Had lunch in local restaurant serving lunch sets opposite to park.

It’s famous for its 2500 sakura trees – akin to a sakura forest when viewed from a distance. Luckily they were in full bloom.



Rengeji Shidarezakura (蓮華寺 シダレザクラ)

There is a small visitor centre in the parking lot of Kasumigajo. The friendly lady handed some printed info on nearby sakura trees. So on the way back to Koriyama we dropped by this temple for this Shidarezakura of 300 years old, also belonging to the Edohigan family.



Dinner in Komakata Dozeu (駒形どぜう)

Upon returning to Tokyo/Ueno by Shinkansen, headed to nearby Asakusa for this 200-year old shop (from Edo era) serving Dozeu (pond loach). While seats were on the floor (by tradition) on 1F, we preferred table seats and were led downstairs, where there were more diners.

We ordered 2 portions of どぜうさきなべ  (dozeu stripped of bones). The dozeu were served on nabe (heated plate on charcoal). On the side came plenty of chopped spring onions. It was delicious with spices like Sansho to serve with rice, while lighter than Unagi (river eel).  On top I ordered a dozeu-jiru (soup) to try, it was quite thick.

Though whale meat (くじら) is on the menu, we always avoid it.



On the next day we returned home in Hong Kong. That was the end of another fabulous sakura trip 🙂


*************      T H  E       E  N  D    ***************


JP 2019 April Sakura Akagi Senbon zakura

From Tokyo, went for a day trip in Gunma Prefecture for sakura.  Took Joetsu Shinkansen and arrived at Maebashi via Takasaki.  Bought a (temporary) retro bus day pass to Akagi Senbon zakura and Gunma Flower Park. Took about 50 min to arrive at former.

Akagi Senbon zakura (赤城南面千本桜)

Another top 100 sakura spot in southern Mt Akagi with thousand sakura trees.

When we arrived it was almost 11am and crowded as expected (on Sunday). The sakura tunnel was more than 1km and on either side there were plenty of food stalls.  In an open area there were fields of rapeseed flowers which was photogenic. Stayed for about 30 min and took retro bus to next stop.



Gunma Flower Park

A fairly large flower park in southern Mt Akagi. Entrance fee of JPY700 was included in the bus pass. Not crowded.

Apart from tulips, there were some late sakura bloomers including the pink Yaebeni-Shidarezakura and a rare reddish Yohohamahizakura (ヨコハマヒザクラ).



Had soba noodles for lunch  inside a Japanese landscape garden.  Returned to Tokyo afterwards.


Wooden characters inside JR Takasaki station


Dinner back in Tokyo – Kaiten sushi from Kanazawa




===>   Miharu Takizakura   ===>


JP 2019 April Sakura Arakurayama Sengen Park

On next morning it was a sunny day with Mt Fuji showing up over  Kawaguchi-ko  :))



Arakurayama Sengen Park (新倉山浅間公園)

Checked out hotel after quick early breakfast and drove to parking lot. As it was a Saturday the closest parking lot at base was full (at 8am+) and were told to park in another lot (about 2km away) and change free shuttle bus (or on foot).

Despite long (but orderly) line for shuttle bus we finally arrived at the Sengen Park (after climbing almost 400 stairs) at 9am+.  Ultimately, our efforts were rewarded with sakura in full bloom, with blue sky and Mt Fuji as backdrop. 



Chureito Pagoda

Had to line up for 75 min but worthy – sakura in full blossom + Mt Fuji + blue sky




Back to the photogenic spot for Mt Fuji over Kawaguchi-ko. Sakura was around 10-30%  along the northern lake rim wheras those along the food stalls were around 50-70%.  Overall, it was much better than 2 years ago and we were grateful 🙂



After lunch, returned car in Otsuki and took JR express train back to Shinjuku in 1 hour.

Had dinner in one of our fav izakayas and most fav sake. Stayed in Tokyo for the next 3 nights.




===>   Akagi  Senbon zakura   ===>


JP 2019 April Hakone

Hakone was a plan B in case of poor weather – unfortunately it had to be executed again as another low depression system was rolling into Kanto region overnight after our arrival in Fuji 5-lake.

Snow was falling again in the morning when I started driving, getting heavier when crossing the mountain roads into Hakone Jinja via Hakone Sengokuhara.



Hakone Jinja

By the time when we arrived at Hakone Jinja, snow had turned into rain. Also dropped by the Torri gate along the lake rim.


Torii gate at the lake rim of Ashino-ko



Pola Museum of Art

Had a nice lunch  inside its western restaurant for European cuisine, before visiting its nice collection of Impressionist paintings. Stayed for around 3 hours. During return drive, dropped by a fishing lake in Gotemba where Somei Yoshino sakura was in full bloom, though Mt Fuji was totally hidden behind clouds.




Chosen western dinner course for 2 nights in onsen hotel in Kawaguchi-ko


===>  Sakura in Arakurayama Sengen Park   ===>


JP 2019 April Sakura Takato Castle Ruins Park

Takato Castle Ruins Park (高遠城址公園)

2nd visit since 2017 when sakura started blooming when we visited 2 years ago.

Though I had timed my visit (in this season) based on the local sakura forecast in early March, it was a few days – probably 3 to 4 days prior to full bloom.

Checked out from onsen hotel in Suwa-ko and headed to Takato Castle by car. It was a sunny day (after the low depression system had moved away), though with snow on roadside.

After about 30min we arrived at a dyke in Ina city – 六道の堤 . It was grateful to be back after 2 years with sakura in bloom 🙂


Finally, in another 20min arrived at the Takato Castle at around 10am.  The closest parking lot was almost full.  Loads of tourists were subsequently ferried in by tour buses after our arrival.

There were 1500 sakura trees of Takato-Okohiganzakura (タカトオコヒガンザクラ). A top 100 sakura spot. In the featured photo was the famous Ounkyo (桜雲橋) – literally Sakura cloud bridge, at around 30-50%.  Due to snow, entry was forbidden beneath the Ounkyo.



To our surprise, the sakura outside the southern gate were almost at full bloom, as reported on its website. And there was a sakura tunnel beneath the Takato Arts Museum.


Though there were other famous sakura spots and trees around the Castle Park, most were less than 50%.  Sticking to my original plan, we headed to Fuji 5-lake. Picked up a car in Kofu. Dropped by Takeda Jinja before heading to onsen hotel in Kawaguchi-ko.


Takeda Jinja (武田神社)

Sakura had passed peak and petals were falling inside the Jinja, though the sakura boulevard in front of the entrance looked gorgeous from a distance.



===>   Fuji 5-lake  ===>


JP 2019 April “Snowy” Sakura Matsumoto

Visited Japan for sakura in mid-April for 1 week.

  • Matsumoto Castle and Takato Castle Ruins Park by car from Suwa-ko.
  • Arakurayama Sengen Park and Kawaguchi-ko by car
  • Akagi Senbon-zakura, Miharu-Takizakura, Nihonmatsu as day trips from Tokyo.



Matsumoto Castle

Right after landing in Tokyo/HND, headed to Suwa-ko by JR express train via Shinjuku. Prior to our arrival, snow was forecasted in Nagano Prefecture, apart from Tohoku etc on that night. Indeed, it had been snowing the entire night and on the next morning, the lake rim was covered in snow. 


The Matsumoto Castle was not in my original plan. Due to sunny day being forecasted on the next day, decided to postpone the Takato Castle Ruins Park till then.

Visited the former after picking up car from Suwa-ko and drove very carefully – less than 50km/h and kept longer distance away from vehicles ahead. It took about 1 hour while snowing along the way.

Luckily some sakura trees were already in full bloom inside the castle park, including Shidare-zakura (weeping sakura) trees. While this was our 3rd visit to this castle, it was the first time when it was covered in snow – together with sakura  🙂



Apart from sakura, Ume (plum) flowers too were covered in snow.


It’s good to have warm soba noodles for lunch after leaving the castle park when temperature was around 1-2C.

Snowfall had stopped and on our way back we dropped by the Harumiya (Spring Shrine) – one of two Shimosha and nearby Manji stone buddha in Shimosuwa town.

ps. visited the Akimiya (Autumn Shrine), the other Shimosha 2 years ago in another sakura trip.

Suwa Taisha

Manji stone Buddha


Had a coffee break with nice macha (green tea) roll cake in a small local cafe  – we were the only customers.  Headed back to onsen hotel and dropped by one of my fav local sake brewery – Masumi (真澄) from Suwa. Though sake tasting was offered, had to pass due to driving.



Stayed in a 100-year old onsen hotel on the lakeside. Ordered Masumi (sake) for 2 nights during Kaiseki dinner 🙂


===>   Takato Castle Ruins Park  ===>


JP 2018 Koyo Kinki

Rainbow and rolling clouds over Biwako

The rainbow lasted for an hour.  First spotted it outside Otsu station while waiting for hotel shuttle bus. It was still around after checking into room.



Winter Illuminations in Kyoto station



Higashi-Honganji  (東本願寺)

dropped by before heading to Biwako onsen hotel. Spotted a crane on roof, maybe it was the same crane I saw on its moat 2 years ago 💡 




Shirahama onsen hotel

  • 2nd stay (before returning to HK)
  • upgraded to modern suite
  • French dinner


******      THE  END    ******


JP 2018 Koyo Biwako (Part 2)

Hikone Castle (彥根城)

another original castle of almost 400 years.  Visited on a national holiday with more crowds though fine.  Day temps dropped to less than 10C and drizzling at times.

Inside the castle, climbs along the wooden stairs  were steep – as in Himeji Castle.



Genkyu-en  (玄宮園)

a beautiful landscape garden attached to Hikone Castle – not to be missed if visiting the castle.



Had late lunch in shopping street close to castle. A udon shop had a fairly long line despite being close to 2pm. We chose the Aka-Oni (red ghost) udon served with famous local Omi-gyu (beef) in sukiyaki style – we were told to pour the entire hot soup onto the udon.  This was the first time we had udon served with beef (commonly served with vege, tempura etc). Though we had waited for about 30 min, it was totally worthy  😀



===>   Kinki   ====>



JP 2018 Koyo Biwako (Part 1)

From Kyoto, train to Omihachiman and picked up a rental car for a day to visit temples in Kotousanzan (湖東三山), literally the 3 mountains in Eastern Omi (Biwako).

Driving itin –   Omihachiman > Hyakusaiji > Kongorinji > Keisokuji > return car in Maibara (no drop-off charge)

Hyakusai-ji (湖東三山  百済寺)

Crowded but fine. Most were locals by bus tours. Followed uphill path to Hondo. Gorgeous koyo was around the pond. Spent about 1 hour+. 



Kongorin-ji  (湖東三山  金剛輪寺)

The most brilliant koyo of the day 😎 

More crowded with mostly locals – parking lots for private cars and tour buses were quite full, despite on a weekday. Uphill path to Hondo and 3-storey pagoda was much longer and steeper at points, though the rewards were immense – koyo corridors and blood-stained koyo 「血染めのもみじ」 awaiting !



Upon returning downhill, dropped by the landscape garden (close to entrance at the base) and koyo was not inferior.  Plenty of photographers aggregated around the pond and the blood-stained koyo.

Bonus – Jugatsu-zakura (October sakura) was also blooming 😆

Landscape garden



Keisoku-ji  (鶏足寺)

literally “chicken-feet” temple.  Attempted to visit in last Nov but had to turn back due to long line of cars not moving with no sight of nearby car parks whatsoever. 

Located in northern Omi-Nagahama so took nearly 1 hour from Kongorin-ji, even by expressway.  Staffs guided cars to a temporary unpaved parking lot (free of charge).  As it was close to 4:30pm, I rushed to it following signs and crowds walking in opposite direction.   Took about 20 min after some ups-and-downs, passing by farms on the way.

Renowned for carpet-like fallen leaves and indeed it was.  Hondo was closed but still worthy to visit.  Stayed for about 15 min and by the time I returned to the car park it was almost pitch dark.



====>   Part  2  ====>


JP 2018 Koyo Kyoto (Part 3)

Yoshimine-dera (善峯寺)

is located in the western mountains overlooking Kyoto city.  The temple ground is huge and plenty of temple buildings are scattered on the mountain.

From the bus stop there is a meandering steep climb before reaching the Sanmon – entrance gate.  Inside the temple ground, we followed the route and reached Yakushi-do in Okunoin. Nice views of Kyoto city in the distance, apart from peak koyo everywhere.

We spent about 2 hours and were grateful.  There were not many visitors though we had to return early to the bus stop to line up.  Apart from the locals, most were from Taiwan.



koyo highlights


Bishamon-do  (毘沙門堂)

After late lunch in Kyoto station, we headed to Yamashina by train in 5 min, took a taxi at the station and reached Bishamon-do in about 10 min.

The area opened to visitors were relatively small. Koyo was also at peak and not crowded. We spent less than 1 hour. 




Teppanyaki dinner in Granvia Kyoto hotel

ordered the same seafood and beef course as in last Nov 😀 



===>   Biwako  ====>