It’s cherry blossom season in Japan right now.
But don’t panic if you missed it. You’ve still got a chance to catch the cherry blossoms in the colder regions of Japan where they naturally bloom later (= late April / early May).
I’ve spent my Golden Week vacation in Tohoku and Hokkaido in 2012 and was able to enjoy the cherry blossoms there to the fullest.
Today I want to introduce you to some of the top cherry blossom spots in Tohoku and Hokkaido and I hope it will help you when planning your own trip.
Top Cherry Blossom Spots in Tohoku
Tohoku (東北) is the region between Kanto (incl. Tokyo) and Hokkaido. The further up northeast you go, the colder it usually gets and the later the cherry blossoms bloom. All the following photos were taken in late April and early May, so you get a good picture of the “blooming levels”.
1. Akita’s Senshu Park
Senshu Park (千秋公園) in Akita Prefecture is only a 10 mins walk from JR Akita Station.
The park features a nice garden as well as a castle and some shrines.
There are a lot of cherry blossom trees almost everywhere in the park. I went there on May 2nd and as you can see most petals have fallen down already, creating a really beautiful scenery.
2. Hirosaki Castle Park
Hirosaki Castle Park (Aomori Prefecture) is probably one of the most popular cherry blossom viewing spots in Tohoku.
The petals that have fallen into the castle moat offer the most beautiful sight. It’s a bit tricky to catch the right timing for this scenery, though.
I went there after a typhoon hit, so most petals had fallen into the moat already, leaving almost no cherry blossoms on the trees.
But it’s absolutely worth visiting. If you’re lucky, then you can see a scenery like that.
Kakunodate (Akita Prefecture) is mostly famous for its samurai houses along the Bukeyashiki Dori as well as the beautiful weeping sakura trees (shidarezakura, 枝垂桜).
These bloom earlier than the most common cherry blossom types (e.g. Somei Yoshino), so I couldn’t enjoy it to the fullest when I visited in early May.
But as you can see there were still plenty of cherry blossoms I could enjoy. Kakunodate is definitely worth a visit in spring.
4. Kaminoyama Castle
Kaminoyama Castle (Yamagata Prefecture) can be done as a short trip from Yamagata City. You’ll only need a few hours and the cherry blossoms in the castle park are too lovely to miss!
It only takes about 10 mins by train from Yamagata City.
Kaminoyama offers not only a beautiful landscape, but also several onsen.
The park that is surrounding the castle has a huge variety of cherry blossom trees for visitors to enjoy.
The castle itself is just a short walk from the train station. It’s really easy to get there from Yamagata, so don’t be intimidated and pay Kaminoyama Castle a visit. ;)
5. Morioka Castle Site Park
Another lovely cherry blossom viewing spot that is less known and thus not crowded is the Morioka Castle Site Park (盛岡城跡公園) in Iwate Prefecture.
It’s a 20 mins walk from the busy Morioka train station – which means you could just stop by on your way from one destination in Tohoku to another (which is exactly what I did).
Although it was Golden Week and the sakura were in full bloom, there were almost no people in the park.
It’s a great spot to enjoy cherry blossoms when you need a break from the crowds. You’re likely to see a lot of people at other tourist attractions (especially at Hirosaki Castle).
Yamadera (山寺) means ‘mountain temple’ and that’s also what it’s famous for. People visit all year round, so you should, too!
That being said it’s also a great spot for cherry blossom viewing.
On the opposite hill of the mountain temple you’ll find the “Yamadera Basho Memorial Hall” which you should check out if you like haiku poems.
From there you also get a great view of the ‘mountain temple’.
The best time to visit Yamadera is during cherry blossom season or in autumn with the great fall foliage.
7. Yamagata Castle (Kajou Park)
Easily accessible is Yamagata City’s Kajou Park (霞城公園) . It’s a short walk (~ 15 mins) from JR Yamagata Station.
The park is spacious and features Yamagata Castle.
It’s probably the best cherry blossom viewing spot in Yamagata Prefecture and it was also one of the highlights during my trip.
The surrounding castle moat is usually filled with sakura petals and they light it up at night. A great shutter opportunity, guys!
Top Cherry Blossom Spots in Hokkaido
Hokkaido is huge. It’s the largest prefecture in Japan. Thus there are also a lot of great cherry blossom spots.
However, if you’re short on time, you should just visit the “tip” of Hokkaido that is very close to Tohoku (e.g. Hakodate). That’s why I decided to choose some great cherry blossom viewing spots from that region only.
8. Hakodate’s Goryokaku (Star-shaped Fort)
The Goryokaku Tower in the center of Hakodate City (Hokkaido) offers a lovely view onto Goryokaku (五稜郭) which is a star-shaped fort.
The best time to visit is spring. The whole fort is surrounded by cherry blossom trees and it features a unique scenery that you cannot see anywhere else!
The fort grounds offer a lot of ‘hanami’ opportunities and there are also other facilities worth checking out such as the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office.
9. Matsumae Castle
Matsumae Castle is the only Japanese-style castle you can find in Hokkaido. That alone justifies a visit.
But it’s also a great spot for cherry blossom viewing.
As you can see there are different types of sakura trees.
The castle is close to the ocean and there’s also a shrine on the castle grounds.
It’s a bit outside of Hakodate. It can be reached by public transportation (train, bus) or by rental car. If you’re interested in castles during cherry blossom season, you shouldn’t miss out on that one!
Late Spring Trip Planning
I hope that these suggestions will help you when you’re planning a spring trip to Tohoku or Hokkaido.
As far as cherry blossom viewing goes, I enjoyed Yamagata Castle and Goryokaku the most.
There’s a lot more to see than I could show you in this short blog post. If you’re still overwhelmed or unsure how to plan your trip, I highly recommend having a look at the huge spring feature that the JNTO has put together✶. They have a mountain of tours, rail plans and places to stay listed on the site – great if you’re living in Japan, the US or wherever. Book and you don’t have to worry about a thing. Just enjoy your trip!
Do you have any favorite cherry blossom spots in Tohoku or Hokkaido that you would recommend? Please share them in the comments below.