Off The Beaten Path: It’s Sakura Season

Kiyomizu, Kyoto. Photo credit Stack Jones.

It’s that time of year again! Winter is behind us, and the warm weather is finally starting to appear. This means picnics in the park, and cherry blossoms that are soon to bloom. With so many places to  view them, and with so little time to enjoy them, where will you go?

I’ve pieced together some of my favorite locations from the Japan Sea, to Tohoku and beyond. Enjoy!

Kiyomizu

Kiyomizu means clear water in Japanese. The temple was founded in 778 during the early Heian period, and built on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the eastern hills of Kyoto. The temple suffered numerous fires. However, Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu built most of the structures that exist today.  There were no nails used in the construction of the temple. The main hall, Hondo is designated as a national treasure, and as a UNESCO world heritage site. Whether you visit Kiomizu in spring, or autumn you’ll find plenty of breathtaking views. When in Kyoto, this is one place you’ll not want to miss.

Transportation. Take the train from Kyoto Station to Kiyomizu-Jo Station. Avoid the buses! They’re crowded and if  traffic is thick, you could end up spending your time on the bus instead of the city’s landmarks. Spend the extra few yen. It’s well worth it!

Fukui Castle, Fukui City. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Fukui Castle

Matsudaira Tadamasa originally built Fukui Castle in 1606. The castle was destroyed by fire in 1669. In 1945, U.S. allied forces firebombed the remaining structures during World War II. The city was rebuilt, and then destroyed again in 1948 when a large earthquake leveled 35,000 buildings. Fukui would suffer yet another tragedy when the Asuwa River flooded. When Fukui was rebuilt the main street was given the name Phoenix Dori, for the mythical bird that rose again from the ashes. Night viewing on the castle grounds, and along the river are something special to experience. At both locations lamps that provide a fantastic atmosphere for an evening strolls illuminate the cherry blossoms.

Transportation. Walking distance from Fukui Station.

The oldest castle in Japan, Maruoka Castle located in Fukui, Sakai City. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Maruoka Castle

Maruoka Castle is Japan’s oldest standing castle. It was built in 1576 and is located in the Sakai District of Fukui. Legend has it the castle becomes shrouded in a thick mist to protect it whenever an enemy approaches. There is a historical museum located at the foot of the castle and the site is designated as an Important Cultural Property.

Transportation. Take the Hokuriku Line to the Awara-onsen Station by train, which runs from Fukui station.

Kenrokuen Gardens located in  Ishikawa, Kanazawa. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Kenrokuen Gardens

Kenrokuen Gardens is located in Ishikawa, Kanazawa Prefecture. It’s one of Japan’s oldest private gardens, and considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscape gardens in the country. The extensive garden used to be part of the Kanazawa Castle, built over two hundred years by the ruling Maeda family. It opened to the public in 1874. The waters that flow through the garden are diverted from a river by a unique system that was designed in 1632. The garden derived its name from the Chronicles of the Famous Luoyang Gardens, a book by the Chinese poet Li Gefei, which stands for the six attributes of a perfect landscape: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, waterways, and panoramas. According to Chinese landscape theory these six elements are essential to make a perfect garden. Kenrokuen boasts numerous bridges, teahouses, ponds, streams, and waterfalls that are lit up during the evening when the Sakura trees are in full bloom.

Transportation. Kenrokuen is a frequent stop on the Kanazawa Loop Bus, and the Kenrokuen Shuttle bus. It takes about twenty minutes to get there from Kanazawa station.

Kenrokuen Gardens,  Ishikawa, Kanazawa. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Yamagata Castle,  Yamagata City. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Yamagata Castle

Today Kajo Park stands where Yamagata Castle once stood. Today the site has a restored gate and a statue of Mogami Yoshiaki, one of the feudal lords that once ruled the vicinity. While Yoshiaki fought at the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara, general Naoe Kanetsugu traveled to Yamagata Castle to destroy it. Folklore has it Kanetsugu couldn’t locate it because the castle was covered in a thick fog. Thereafter, Yamagata Castle became known as Kasumigajo, which means the castle in the haze. The high stonewall and moat still exist to this day and is surrounded by beautiful mature cherry trees. It’s one of the best places in Japan to view spring blossoms, or share in a hanami with friends.

Transportation. Walking distance from Yamagata Station.

Fukuoka Zeki in Tsukubamirai Ibaraki. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Fukuoka Zeki

For a great place to avoid the crowds head to Tsukubamirai, Ibaraki Prefecture. There you will find Fukuoka Zeki Sakura Park, which is a long and winding trail filled with cherry trees that are located right on a river. The location also has a festival and more than ample locations for a hanami.

Transportation. From Tokyo, take the TX Line to Miraidaira station.

This article originally ran in the March, 2013 edition of the Tokyo Weekender magazine. http://tokyoweekender.com/2013/03/sakura-season.

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