Dream vs. reality
To see the cherry blossom bloom in Japan. That was my dream. I guess that counts for many people, making March/April peak tourist season. This year (2018) the cherry blossoms started to bloom in Japan about two weeks earlier than average.
The weeks before my departure I started to puddle. Would I miss it? By the time I flew to Tokyo, the blossom was already gone. Oh no!
Now I would finally – after more than 15 years of wishing and wanting – go to Japan, I was determined to see blossom (‘sakura’ in Japanese). At least some!
Since it was not completely gone yet, the hunt for blooming blossom began upon arrival. As highly recommended for Japan, especially for this season, I booked everything in advance. It may take a bit of a detour, but not all the way to Hokkaido please!
Matsumoto is the second largest city of Nagano prefecture, at the foot of the Japanese Alps.
- Blossom status: just beyond peak point.
- Detour: 2.5 hours by train from the Snow Monkey Park.
- My thought: worth a shot. Blossom here I come!
Matsumoto did not disappoint. Look at these photos made at Matsumoto Castle, one of the prettiest, original castles of Japan. I love it.
For flower viewing (‘hanami’ in Japanese) among locals only, go to Joyama Park in Matsumoto.
What a view! And really a nice, serene atmosphere.
The Japanese people really celebrate their blossom. For example by a pick-nick under the trees with lover, family or friends. Every day it is on the Japanese news, where the blossom has opened up that day. Shop windows are sakura themed. Fake strings of blossoms are hung up above the rail station’s platforms. It’s like some sort of annual, national festivity.
By the way, if you have time to celebrate some more blossom in Matsumoto, you might want to go to Alps Park as well. From what I have heard, it must be awesome blossom viewing there. For me it was a bit too far out (30 min north of Joyama Park) since I planned to spend the night in Tokyo.
When to go
It takes careful planning and lots of luck to be in Japan when the blossom bloom. Pure gambling as the outcome is never guaranteed. Nature does not let itself control. And that is how it should be. However, you can make smart choices.
Blossom starts to bloom in the south (Kyushu), where it is warmer, and then crawls up the country, ending in the far north (Hokkaido). Planning a roundtrip through Japan?
- Start your tip from the south and you may end up chasing the blossom, but likely never able to catch up with it.
- Start your trip from the north and – with luck and timing – the blossom will come towards you and cross your path at some point.
In a next blog I will explain more reasons why to travel from north to south in Japan.
How to get there
Matsumoto can be reached by train comfortably. The Super Azuza 22 (Chuo Line) takes you in 2.5 hours from/to Shinjuko Station (Tokyo). For the best window view: sit on the left side of the train from Tokyo, or right from Matsumoto. From Nagano Station, Matsumoto is just 50 minutes away (JR Shinano Limited Express). Both are covered by the JR Pass.
I visited Matsumoto after the Jigokudani Yaen-koen Snow Monkey Park near Yudanaka Station, which was app. 2 hours by train, and then went further back to Tokyo.
Matsumoto Castle is an easy 15 minute walk north(west) of Matsumoto Station. Take the East exit if you want to go by foot or public bus. For taxi or the Town Sneaker bus take the West exit.
Joyama Park is located northwest of Matsumoto Castle. What was supposed to be an “only a 22 min walk”, thus Mr Google Maps, ended up in a much longer steep climb up hill. Shit. Better take a taxi from Matsumoto Castle. Taxi Highland Express is one of the major taxi companies in Matsumoto. Unfortunately no local busses ride up there. My initial thought “maybe I can rent a bike there” reminded me of my trip to San Francisco back in 2006. What did I know?! LOL.
Just me, cherry blossom & the castle :-Dflitterfever.com/japan-blossom
Interested to read more about Japan? Check out my Japan Blog Archives.
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