Hirosaki Castle, the most famous cherry blossom attraction in the Michinoku Region
In the center of Hirosaki City, south-west of Aomori Prefecture, you will find Hirosaki park.
The Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival began here over 100 years ago with a special night viewing of the cherry blossoms,
an event known as ‘yozakura kenbutsu’, and this still continues to take place every year.
In 1715, 25 cherry trees were planted on the Hirosaki Castle grounds, which is now a park,
and since then the number of these trees has increased—there are now more than 300 cherry trees over 100 years old, as well as over 2,000 others,
which all come into bloom each year.
The Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival takes place annually from the end of April to the start of May—in other words,
you can view the blossoms during Golden Week, a little later than other prefectures, and the event draws in a crowd of over 2 million people from all over the country.
Pictured: Gejo-Bashi Bridge in Hirosaki Park
The festival period may be extended to coincide with when the cherry blossoms are in flower, giving you the chance to enjoy around 17 varieties,
from the early-blooming Somei-Yoshino to the late-blooming, weeping Shidare-Zakura.
What makes Cherry Blossoms at Hirosaki Castle special?
Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival is one of the three most popular cherry blossom spots in Japan,
along with Yoshinoyama (Nara Prefecture) and Takatocastle Ruins Park (Nagano Prefecture).
There are 3 reasons why, and here’s a brief introduction to each!
・Fluffy Cherry Blossoms
In order for the fluffy pink and white flowers to bloom, professional gardeners with specialist knowledge of the cherry blossom trees will take care of them.
These professionals are known as ‘sakura mori’, literally ‘protectors of the cherry blossoms’,
and they use a special pruning technique which was originally developed in Aomori for producing its specialty apples.
・Hirosaki Castle Tower
This is the only existing castle tower in Tohoku and has been designated as an Important Cultural Property.
You can visit here during the festival.
It’s free to look around the castle tower, but there is an admission fee to enter the castle keep.
Admission fee area: Hirosaki Castle, Castle Keep/ Kitanokuruwa Site
Individuals: Adults 320 yen,
Children 100 yen
Group (10 people +) :Adults 250 yen
Children 80 yen
・Unforgettable Night Blossoms
Because the branches are pruned lower than usual,
the trees look magical when lit up from below at night and the reflection in the moat is breathtaking.
Now before we focus on viewing the cherry blossoms, let’s touch briefly on the history of Hirosaki Castle and the blossoms.
The History of Hirosaki Castle
The castle town known as Hirosaki City was originally built by Tsugaru Tamenobu, a Daimyo lord of the Hirosaki Domain during the Edo period.
He began building castles and towns in 1594, and after his death in 1607,
he was succeeded by his younger brother who was in turn succeeded by his descendants, creating the Hirosaki City of today.
The castle tower was originally built with five levels, but this was destroyed by a fire in 1627 and the three-storey tower we see today was built in 1810.
Today, the stone wall that supports the castle tower is being repaired and so the castle has been relocated,
giving visitors a rare chance to see the castle standing in a completely different spot.
Pictured: The temporary location of the castle tower while the stone walls undergo restoration
During summer and autumn 2015, the castle was relocated by hand without dismantling it, and after the restoration work is complete,
it will once again be returned to its original spot.
Make sure to take a castle tour while enjoying the cherry blossoms.
Pictured: The castle tower’s original location before restoration work began on the stone walls
Hirosaki Park spans an area of 492,000 m2, and located within it is Hirosaki castle (both the castle keep and the castle tower).
Among the 10 entrances into the park, there are 3 main ones which each have a wooden gateway.
East Gate: 1-minute walk from Hirosaki Cultural Center
Kamenokomon Gate: 1-minute walk from Tsugaru-han Neputa Village
Otemon Gate: 1-minute walk from Hirosaki Municipal Tourist Center and City Hall
*The distance between each gate is about 1 km.
Enjoy the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival
Now, let’s take a walk together through one of the possible routes!
The most efficient way to get around all the photo spots is to start at the East Gate.
The park map is all in Japanese, but it’s still really easy to understand.
The cherry blossoms around the moat get good sunlight, so they bloom earlier than the trees in the park.
When their petals begin to scatter, they completely cover the moat and create a beautiful pink carpet on top of the water.
5 minutes from the East Gate, you will arrive at the Inner East Gate.
Pass through it and you will be greeted by Japan’s oldest Somei-Yoshino cherry tree.
Since the cherry blossom trees inside the park are pruned using the same methods as those used for apple trees,
you can witness their beauty for yourself from up close.
If you turn your back on the “Oldest Somei-Yoshino Cherry Tree” and head left, you will see the red Gejo-bashi Bridge.
Beyond this is the original position of the castle tower, which has now been moved 70 m away.
Follow the pathway for about 5 minutes and you will reach the spot where you can find the “Cherry Blossom Heart”.
Apparently the caretakers found this place by accident while pruning the trees, after which they continued to maintain it.
The shape of the heart changes slightly depending on where you stand, and crowds of people gather around the good spots.
It seems like fun to try and find your own unique heart shape to photograph.
From there, walk back along the path you came down for about 10-15 minutes and you will come across a picnic square with shops and an entertainment hall.
One of the joys of cherry blossom viewing, which is known as ‘hanami’, is walking around the stores and trying all their different foods.
It’s exciting just looking at the 200 odd stores that are open!
*Opening times: 09:00-21:00
It’s worth trying the area’s specialty sweet corn, known as ‘Dake-kimi’, which is fried on a stick and eaten as a snack,
as well as some sakura miso oden, made by mixing miso with cherry blossom petals!
There’s plenty of space in the square that’s free to use, as well as some under cover for paying customers, so you can easily take a break.
There are also live Tsugaru-shamisen performances taking place in the square so you can relax and recharge.
*Things to bring for cherry blossom viewing:
plastic ground sheet, garbage bags (there are garbage bins within the park, so please gather your litter together and throw it away), wet wipes etc.
Take a look around and you will notice that there is no litter in the park.
Volunteers keep it clean and the park feels nice to be in.
Naturally, we should all make an effort to dispose of our garbage responsibly.
From the square, walk towards the Chuo High School Entrance and about 5 minutes down the road next to the Green Advisory Office,
you will find Japan’s widest Somei-Yoshino at 5.37 m.
This is also an impressive sight worth seeing, so please make sure to stop by.
Along the western moat on the west side of the castle, there is also a 300-meter long pathway lined with rows of cherry trees,
which is known as the “Cherry Blossom Tunnel”.
Here you can enjoy a wonderful view with all the cherry trees lined up in front of you, the openness of the sky,
and the reflection of the blue sky and cherry blossoms on the water’s surface.
Lots of sights to see at night
There are many people around during the day time, and sometimes it's hard to walk (imagine the scramble crossing in Shibuya),
but at night, there are fewer people which means you can walk around the park at a somewhat leisurely pace.
* Evening Light Up:
From sunset to around 22:00
The temperature will drop dramatically at night, so please wear warm clothes.
Did you also know that you can enjoy cherry blossoms in the winter at Hirosaki Park?
When snow piles up on the branches of the cherry trees and the surface of the water in the outer moat is frozen over,
pink lights make it look as though there are cherry blossoms in full bloom spreading out in front of you.
*Winter light-up period: From December 1st to the end of February
Time: From Sunset to around 22:00
They look the most like real cherry blossoms in February when temperatures are below freezing and the snow has piled up,
so make sure to dress warmly when heading out.
There are so many beautiful cherry blossoms that it’s impossible fit them all in a picture, and it’s quite overwhelming.
It would be wonderful if you could enjoy the cherry blossoms, Hirosaki Castle, delicious food and souvenirs, but above all,
enjoy the warmth and sincerity of the great many people who support the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival.