Spring in Japan: My trips in 2012

Spring in Japan is one of my favorite times to travel!

I’ve done 2 major trips (5 days to Kanto / Chubu in April and 9 days to Tohoku / Hokkaido in May) and several day trips all around Honshu.
Here’s a small preview of it! Enjoy~smilie

Golden Week vacation in May 2012:

It was the first time in 5 years that I had Golden Week off! smilie
Golden Week consists of a few consecutive national holidays and thus is the most favorite time for traveling among Japanese people.
Hotels, trains etc. everything is more expensive and immediately booked out during that season.
Yet I decided to take that challenge – and it wasn’t as bad as expected, really! I didn’t even take reserved Shinkansen tickets (I never do) and yet got to sit all the time! smilie

This time I went to Tohoku and Hokkaido.
I’ve been to Tohoku only once (Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures) in 2008, many years before the Great Earthquake and Tsunami hit.
I wanted to explore the rest of Tohoku and FINALLY set foot on Hokkaido.

With that trip finished I have now visited* 41 of 47 prefectures. 6 more to go! smilie
(*UPDATE: I’ve been to ALL 47 Japanese prefectures now)

I was quite unlucky with the weather during all of my recent trips. I got hit by a typhoon every single time. Had to spend time in the cold completely soaked. Spent the nights using a hair dryer to dry my clothes and shoes instead of sleeping. smilie
There was even a tornado smilie nearby during my last vacation. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news?? Crazy weather!

Anyways, despite the horrible weather I didn’t give up. I was out in the middle of a typhoon to take photos, only worrying about my camera, but not me.
Several times got stuck at stations because trains decided to stop running due to strong winds and rain.
I do not wish that bad luck to anyone when traveling here in Japan!!

Enough of my blabbering, let’s have a look at some photos!~

Spring in Japan: Baseball Game and Cherry Blossoms in Yamagata

Yamagata Prefecture

At first I went to Yamagata Prefecture. Yamagata City has a nice castle park with many cherry blossoms.
As it is very cold in Tohoku compared to the rest of Japan, cherry blossoms usually bloom at the end of April / beginning of May, so I came just at the right time!
There was also a high school baseball game going on, on the castle park grounds!

Spring in Japan: Yamadera in Yamagata

Very close to Yamagata City is the famous Yamadera (山寺) which literally just means mountain temple and that’s exactly what it is! Only that there are various bigger and smaller temple facilities on the mountain.

Spring in Japan: Kaminoyama Castle in Yamagata

Also very close to Yamagata City is Kaminoyama City which is famous for onsen (hot spa) and on top of that has quite a nice little castle.

Spring in Japan: Cat Island, Manga Island, Tashirojima after the tsunami

Miyagi Prefecture

I went to Tashirojima, also known as Cat Island which was hit really hard by the tsunami in 2011!
I always wanted to go but after the tsunami hit it was so difficult to find any information in English OR Japanese about the condition of the island.
I was able to find out that the people and cats are still alive, but that was about it.
Now I was able to confirm with my own eyes what’s going on there.

In the photo above you see one of the small “houses” of “Manga Island”. You can stay in those.

Spring in Japan: cats of Cat Island, Tashirojima after the tsunami

Well, apart from all that you mainly go to Cat Island for all the cats, of course!! And they were all happy and genki!!

Spring in Japan: Ishinomaki in Miyagi was hit hard by the tsunami

Ishinomaki City was one of the areas that was hit the hardest by the tsunami. If you want to visit Cat Island that’s where you start from. From there you’ll take a ferry.
After I came back from Cat Island I had some spare time so I walked around the coast to see nothing but devastation!!
It’s been over a year since the tsunami hit, but you think it was yesterday when you look around!
It was HORRIBLE!! smilie

Spring in Japan: Ishinomaki in Miyagi was hit hard by the tsunami

Many houses are still left the way they were when the tsunami hit. Laundry still hanging, plates with food on it etc.
Of course it also stank like hell! I felt like throwing up while taking the photos. Not because of the smell, but because I realized how HORRIBLE it must have been. :(

Spring in Japan: Ishinomaki in Miyagi was hit hard by the tsunami

It’s also dangerous to go too close to those houses, I guess. They look like they could fall apart any minute.
I think one reason is that there’s not enough money to take care of the houses. Another problem is that there’s no space to put the trash.
There were already HUGE piles of garbage around from the leftovers of the tsunami anyways.
At least the houses were still there. Next to many houses you only saw the foundation. Whole houses were gone!
Some big ship was still hanging between houses!

Yet the city hasn’t given up!! Everywhere banners that say “Ganbarou!” “Hang in there!smilie
I saw messages of people from all over Japan wishing the people of Ishinomaki all the best. Truly moving!
Japanese people were very happy to see me, a foreigner, there. Obviously ever since the tsunami hit not many foreign tourists dared to come.


Spring in Japan: Castle Park in Akita

Akita Prefecture

Next I went to Akita Prefecture. Akita City has another nice castle park. I was fascinated by the pond full of cherry blossom petals!

Spring in Japan: Cherry blossoms in Kakunodate, Akita

Kakunodate is a quite famous cherry blossom viewing spot in Tohoku, yet not the most popular.
Luckily the Yoshino Somei cherry blossoms were at full bloom at that time.
The weeping cherry trees Kakounodate is famous for were already finished :(

Spring in Japan: Hanafubuki, cherry blossom blizzard in Kakunodate

At least I got to see some more awesome Hanafubuki there!


Spring in Japan: Osorezan, Mt. Osora in Shimokita, Aomori

Aomori Prefecture

The day the strong rain hit I went to Osorezan (Mt. Osore, a volcano) on the Shimokita peninsula in Aomori Prefecture.
It’s truly a holy and beautiful place and along with Mt. Koya in Wakayama Prefecture and Mt. Hiei in Kyoto is ranked as one of the 3 most sacred places in Japan!!
You can only visit from May to October which makes it even more special!

Spring in Japan: soaked cherry blossoms

After the strong rain and wind hit Tohoku the weather stayed horrible for the rest of my vacation. smilie
At least there was one positive thing about it! Beautiful soaked flowers everywhere!!

Spring in Japan: Ne Castle, Hachinohe, Aomori

Next destination was Aomori Prefecture. In the picture you see Ne Castle in Hachinohe.

Nebuta Lanterns of Aomori

Aomori and Hirosaki are famous for their great Nebuta and Neputa festivals (more details in the actual blog post) where they use huge lanterns. They were truly impressive!

Spring in Japan: Hirosaki Castle, Aomori

Hirosaki Castle Park in Aomori Prefecture is ONE of the most POPULAR cherry blossom viewing spots in WHOLE Japan!!! So, there were millions of people, but the weather wasn’t on our side.
I wasn’t very impressed of Hirosaki. It was rainy and dark the whole time.

Spring in Japan: Hirosaki Castle Park, Aomori

Nobody took a boat tour in the cherry blossom filled castle moat. I can imagine how wonderful it must be in good weather!

Japanese temple or shrine seal

At least I got some more seals in my temple / shrine seal book!! I’m in the middle of my second book right now and I only started 16 months ago!


Spring in Japan: Matsumae Castle, Hokkaido

Off to Hokkaido

From Aomori Prefecture it’s really not far to Hokkaido anymore, so I took the chance and went there.
You’ll go there via an underwater tunnel. Pretty cool!
The weather was still horrible, so I decided to take a 6h (round trip) bus ride to visit Matsumae Castle, “near” Hakodate City.

Spring in Japan: Night view from Mt. Hakodate, Hokkaido

It was a miracle but it cleared up that night and I was able to see one of the so-called “million dollar night views“!
The night view from Mt. Hakodate is not only said to be one of the best in Japan, but also in the world.

Spring in Japan: Night view from Mt. Hakodate, Hokkaido

And the moon paid a short visit as well. I simply love that photo!

Spring in Japan: Fort Goryokaku, Hakodate

Fort Goryokaku, Japan’s first Western style fortress, in Hakodate. It’s star-shaped and has hundreds of cherry blossoms trees.
The day started sunny but turned out to be rainy again.

Spring in Japan: Catholic Church in Hakodate, Hokkaido

Hakodate is actually very similar to Yokohama and Kobe. The city has a lot of foreign houses and also churches as the port was opened for foreigners a long time ago.


Spring in Japan: Morioka Castle Ruins, Iwate Spring in Japan: Takkoku no Iwaya in Hiraizumi, Iwate

Iwate Prefecture

On my last day I finally got some nice weather again, but only for the first half of the day.
Left: Morioka Castle ruins in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture.
Right: Takkoku no Iwaya, Bishamondo in Hiraizumi City, Iwate Prefecture

And that was my most recent vacation!

Don’t forget to hit the PAGE 2 BUTTON right now!!!!! smilie


  • You’re an amazing traveler and an inspiration to get out of Tokyo to see what Japan really is. I read recently that Japan has more forest (%) than any other developed country which is true from that I’ve seen.

    I went to Matsushima bay prior to obon. Beautiful and quite delicious if you like oysters. We took a day trip to get to Onagawa via Ishinomaki City. Ishinomaki city looks okay but I’m not sure its recovering vs people just moving on. Onagawa is a different story. No more train service and the bus only takes you through a construction zone. It’s just stunning. There’s little left except a community center and some schools that are on top of the hills (thank goodness for that planning).

    2.5 years on and so much to do and yet so much opportunity too.

    • Timo, thank you so much for your nice words! :D

      If you’ll ever have the chance to visit some of the remote islands of Japan, you’ll understand even more where those 90% are located. ;)

      Matsushima is so beautiful. I went there in winter 2008 – long before the tsunami hit.
      I’m sad to hear that things around Ishinomaki are still going slow, but I’m glad the people there haven’t given up.

  • Great photos. I’ve visited a lot of these places, too, and they were as great as you describe them. One thing: Osore-san and the Shimokita Pensinsula are in Aomori, not Akita.

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