On the left photo you see the main reason for my visit: Hirosaki Castle.
Hirosaki Castle in spring is one of the major cherry blossom viewing spots in Tohoku! I saw some photos prior to coming and was looking forward to it.
However, after the typhoon hit almost all of Japan, Tohoku never really recovered from it. The weather stayed quite shitty. :(
Well, nothing I could do about it. I tried to make the best out of it.
Despite the horrible weather, there were lots of people. After all it was Golden Week. Probably all of them expected the same as me – and now were disappointed.
With all those people around I had to stand in line for the bus bound for Hirosaki Castle Park. It took quite some time to get there because the traffic was crazy!
You can find details about how to access Hirosaki Castle Park here.
Exploring Hirosaki Castle Park
Hirosaki Castle Park is HUGE! Here’s a pretty good map of the park that I scanned for you.
There are five castle gates in total from where you can enter: the North Gate, Inner South Gate, Inner East Gate, Otemon Gate and East Gate.
They are designated to be Important Cultural Properties by the government. Although there are no clear records showing when they were built, they are thought to date back to the early Edo Period (around the 17th century).
One good thing about the bad weather was that I was able to take a few nice photos of wet cherry blossoms! ^_^;
Despite the bad weather some “hardcore” people were still doing “hanami” (flower viewing).
Due to the typhoon and the fact that the park is full of cherry blossom trees, everything was covered in petals!
The rain was getting stronger …
…. and so the number of umbrellas also increased!
It’s amazing that even in the worst weather, cherry blossoms manage to look beautiful somehow!
I finally reached Hirosaki Castle …. and was quite disappointed.
That was not the view I wanted to see. :(
Imaging how beautiful it could be in good weather was really frustrating. Due to the previous typhoon most petals had already fallen off the trees. Not the best timing.
Yet there were A LOT of people waiting to enter the small castle. Estimated waiting time was about 40 minutes, so I decided to walk around the castle grounds some more, hoping that later there would be fewer people.
The construction of Hirosaki Castle (弘前城) began in 1603 by the first Tsugaru lord, Tamenobu, and was completed in 1611 by the second lord, Nobuhira. From that time, the Lord of Tsugaru and his successors lived in Hirosaki Castle, which remained the center of governance of the region by the Tsugaru feudal clan for around 260 years until the abolition of the feudal clan system.
The current three-storied structure you see in the photo was rebuilt in 1811. It was opened to the public as Hirosaki Park in 1895 and designated as Historical Site in 1952.
The 49.2-ha site, which is 10 times larger than the Tokyo Dome(!), is surrounded by triple moats and earthworks and consists of six quarters.
A large number of Hirosaki citizens began to donate cherry blossom trees to the park in the early 20th century. As a result, today more than 2600 cherry blossom trees of different varieties, including Somei Yoshino, Japanese Weeping Cherry and Yaezakura come into bloom throughout the park every spring.
Here you see one of the three turrets besides the main tower. The three towers are: Ushitora, Tatsumi and Hitsujisaru Turret.
All of them are designated as Important Cultural Properties.
The moat there was completely filled with petals.
No wonder! Just look at the surrounding trees! They have almost no blossoms anymore!
Those moats full of cherry blossom petals is actually something Hirosaki is famous for!
I finally decided to stand in line to access the castle. I had to wait for about 30 minutes.
As you can see it’s a rather small castle and there were just too many people. It was very crowded inside as well, yet I managed to take a few photos.
There were some nice exhibits on one floor. Description was only in Japanese. No English. They had pamphlets in English, though.
As it’s a small castle, it didn’t take long to explore the inside. They also asked the people to hurry up, so that the next group could enter. This was the most crowded castle visit I ever had and I’ve been to a lot of castles by now.
Here’s my entrance ticket of that day.
I left the main turret area and decided to explore the huge castle park a bit more.
Properly dressed in pink just right for the cherry blossom season!
Inside of Hirosaki Castle Park you will not only find the castle itself, but also a few other things of interest like a botanical garden or a shrine.
Because of the disappointing weather I decided to skip the garden.
Every now and then I was running into another castle tower.
Looks like I was not the only one who was disappointed / annoyed by the weather! ^-^;
Some people seemed to enjoy it nevertheless, though!
The sign on the left photo says “古木名木” which means that this is a very old tree of historical interest. It is a very old ginkgo tree.
Hirosaki Park is home to the 120-year-old Oldest Somei Yoshino Cherry Blossom Tree in Japan and the famous Japanese Weeping Cherry Tree that was named Otaki Zakura by the master woodblock printmarker Shiko Munakata. Besides these, there are also many other old and famous trees in the park, including Nikko Firs in Honnmaru and ginkgo trees in Nishi-no-Kuruwa.
After walking along the “Cherry Blossom Tunnel” I arrived at the boat pier from where you could have taken a boat tour through “a river of cherry blossom petals”. Due to the weather nobody did!
I bet this must be very romantic in good weather! ^__^
My pamphlet says that the sakura tunnel (which you see on the right side of the photo above and on the photos below) is also a good spot to observe “Hanafubuki” (花吹雪). Of course not on that rainy day. Most of the petals had fallen down already anyways.
There must have been a lot of “Hanafubuki” going on during the typhoon considering how far the petals spread.
This is the “Spring sun bridge” (Shunyo-Bashi, 春陽橋) located at the other end of the sakura tunnel.
From the bridge you can view the boats that are floating through the moat (again, not on that day).
There was a cherry blossom festival going on. You could enjoy some traditional performances.
Next to the festival ground there was a bigger shrine: Gokoku Shrine (護国神社)
The shrine stayed in my mind mostly because of hundreds of yellow lanterns everywhere! I also made sure to receive a shrine seal before leaving.
Next I visited the Tsugaru-han Neputa Village (津軽藩ねぷた村) which is right next to the castle park before leaving for Hokkaido.
Yes, that’s right. I interrupted my Tohoku trip to go to Hokkaido. I just couldn’t resist as it was so close from Aomori!
The castle keep has been moved from its original position. The renovation began in 2013 and will take about 10 years in total. You can still enjoy the main keep. The interior has been reopened to the public in April 2016. You can follow the reconstruction progress here.