July 31, 2018

South Hokkaido for Cherry Blossoms

I visited Hokkaido again in Spring 2018 (Golden Week), this time for cherry blossoms.

Chasing Sakura in Hokkaido is not easy, as the locations are rather spread out (which means long traveling time), and it can be quite cold (around 10 degrees celsius) even though it is already May!

Thankfully most of the top cherry blossom spots in Hokkaido are located at the southern part of the prefecture and not too inaccessible, so I could visit them using JR nationwide pass since I do not know how to drive.

1 of the 2 places in Hokkaido which made it to the "Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan" is Matsumae Park(松前公園), a former castle town located at the southernmost tip of Hokkaido.

From Kikonai(木古内)station on the Hokkaido Shinkansen (bullet train) line, transfer to a bus heading for Matsumae(松前). Journey takes around 90 minutes, departures are quite infrequent. It is advisable to get a map at the tourist information counter before boarding the bus, in order to have a better idea of how to go around the park later.

Matsumae Castle within the park is the only feudal castle in Hokkaido, built by the Matsumae clan in 1854 and rebuilt in 1959 after being burned down by fire. The view from the top floor of the castle keep is especially impressive. (refer to 1st photo)

Matsumae Park is covered by 10,000 cherry trees (250 varieties), with most of them being the uncommon Naden(南殿). There are many other rare varieties here, such as the 200-year-old Kechimyaku Sakura 血脈桜 (bloodline cherry) . Due to the large variety of Sakura trees, this place has a long blooming season from late April to late May.

There is also Matsumaehan Yashiki(松前藩屋敷)at the western edge of the park. It is a small open-air museum that recreates Matsumae town in the Edo Period. I spent nearly 4 hours covering the whole park including the museum, which was barely sufficient. 

On another day, I went to Hakodate(函館)for cherry blossoms. Also located in south Hokkaido, it is famous for Goryokaku Park(五稜郭公園), which used to be a fort during the Edo Period. It has 1600 cherry trees, mostly being the Somei Yoshino(染井吉野)variety.

Many domestic and foreign tourists visit Hakodate during the Golden Week to enjoy the spectacular view of the star-shaped fort covered by Sakura from Goryokaku Tower.

I also went to Hakodate Park by tram, a simple park which offers cherry blossom with sea views. 

The other place in Hokkaido which is ranked as "Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan" is Shizunai Nijukken Road Cherry Blossoms(二十間道路桜並木), with 7 km stretch of mainly Oyamazakura (Sargent cherry) trees lining both sides of the road. However this place is best accessed by car, and traffic jams are common when the flowers are in full bloom.

Although the most common type of cherry tree in Japan is Somei Yoshino, Oyamazakura with darker pink blossoms is more prevalent in Hokkaido.

Other notable cherry blossom viewing spots in Hokkaido include:
-Noboribetsu Onsen Flower Tunnel (Noboribetsu)
-Maruyama Park, Moerenuma Park, Makomanai Park and Nakajima Park (Sapporo)
-Asahikawa Park (Asahikawa)


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