Cherry Blossom Viewing

One of Japans oldest and most famous symbols is that of the cherry blossom (sakura). Such is the beauty of this national flower that the practice of “Hanami” (cherry blossom viewing) started over 1000 years ago. Under the sakura trees, people had lunch and drank sake in cheerful feasts. This tradition is as popular now as it was back then. BBQ’s, quiet picnics, lunches and of course, the consumption of beer and wine are very popular all over the country. In Japan, cherry blossoms symbolize clouds due to their nature of blooming en masse, and are said to be an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life.

So! With that in mind, when and where is the best spot in Hokkaido to have a Hanami, get some good cherry blossom pics, or to simply walk around and enjoy the beauty of these flowers?

First, the when. Hokkaido’s cherry blossoms come out in early May! Usually in the first or second week. Cherry blossoms are very fleeting, and the blooming is usually over within 2 weeks. Full bloom (mankai) is usually reached within about one week after the first blossoms (kaika) open. Another week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms are falling from the trees. Strong wind and rain can cut the blooming season even shorter. Hokkaido is the last place in Japan for cherry blossoms to bloom, as the warm weather travels north.

Next, is the where! There are hundreds of great spots to see the cherry blossoms in Hokkaido but the top ten spots in Hokkaido are:

1) Matsumae Park
Noted as one of Japans top sakura viewing spots, Matsumae is Hokkaido’s number one place for viewing cherry blossoms. Sitting at the bottom of Hokkaido it is a trek to get there. There are approximately 10,000 sakura trees. The Matsumae Sakura Festival is held here during the hanami season, usually from late-April to mid-May each year. In addition, The Matsumae Castle, Ryuunin Temple, Kozenji Temple, Sakura Museum, and Matsumae Shrine are a must see and all are inside the park grounds.

2) Fort Goryokaku
Located in Hakodate, Goryokaku is a star shaped fort and was built in the last years of the Edo Period. This beautiful public park is home to more than 1600 cherry trees. There is a 107 meter observation deck where you can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the massive star-shaped fortress filled with tons of cherry blossoms, the Mt. Hakodate range, and the ocean in the distance.

3) Hakodate Park
Also in Hakodate this park is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing and especially for Hanami – picnics and BBQ’s under the sakura trees. In this park there are street food stalls, a fountain, children’s playground and a mini zoo. What makes this spot unique is that it is set up for Yozakura which is night time viewing!

4) Shizunai Nijukken Road
Shizunai Nijukken Road Nijukken Road in Shizunai is also said to be on the list of Japan’s top 100 hanami spots. The road is very straight, about 7 kilometers long and 36 meters wide, and is lined with approximately 3,000 sakura trees. It is said to be the longest row of cherry trees in Japan and offers you an amazing tunnel of cherry blossoms. So, a car is needed and there a places to stop and walk along the path and get some great photos! The best time to see sakura here is from early May to mid May. Also home to the Shizunai Sakura Festival. For more information look at our article on Shizunai Cherry Blossom Festival.

5) Maruyama Park

Cherry blossom season

Maruyama park is located in Sapporo and is easy to get to! Probably, the top place for hanami in Sapporo. There are lots of stalls, and lots of BBQ’s and picnics going on during this time! Maruyama park is also home to Hokkaido Shrine. The path to the shrine is lined with sakura trees so it makes for a breathtaking sight as you look down to and from the shrine. Maruyama also has plum blossoms on the grounds. Though not as stunning as the sakura trees, these stay in bloom much longer and are still worth a look!

6) Moerenuma Park
Designed and built by Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, this park took 7 years to complete. There are many things to see at this park but for cherry blossoms there is a whole section called the ‘Sakura no Mori’ or ‘Forest of Cherry Trees’. It has about 2300 sakura trees of different kinds. There are also huge grass areas where you can have a picnic and unwind. Great spot for walking around!

7) Nakajima Park

Perfect spot for a picnic

Nakajima Park has been listed as one of “100 most popular urban parks in Japan.” Like other planned Japanese gardens, Nakajima Park changes with seasons. Definitely a great place to take a stroll. The park highlights both early and late blooming cherry trees of different kinds. Where as Maruyama park has tonnes of BBQ’s going on, and lots to do, Nakajima park is a lot more tranquil, due to its bigger area. Nakajima park is more suited to a quiet picnic under the trees.

8) Asahiyama Park
Asahikawa is famous for its ramen (chinese noodles) and Asahiyama zoo, which is the biggest in Hokkaido. It also can lay claim to having a fantastic park to view cherry blossoms, so coming in at no. 8 is Asahiyama park in the central city of Asahikawa. This park is an excellent spot for parties, picnics and enjoying the atmosphere to the fullest. The cherry trees here are also lit up at night so yozakura (sakura night viewing) is also on the menu! This park is home to more than 3000 wild sakura trees.

9) Noboribetsu Onsen Sakura Tunnel Noboribetsu Onsen is said to be the most famous hot spring resort in Hokkaido. The road leading from the JR Noboribetsu Station to Noboribetsu Onsen is lined with about 2000 Ezo Yamazakura cherry trees. It’s a fantastic road to cruise along in your car or motorbike, breath in the mountain air and enjoy the cherry blossom tunnel! Mid May is said to be the best time to see these cherry blossoms!

10) Seiryuji Temple Last and coming in at no.10 you will have to travel east, far east to the city of Nemuro. Situated on the eastern most point of Hokkaido the sakura trees are located on the grounds of the Seiryuji Temple. The trees are Chishima-zakura cherry trees and they feature one of the oldest cherry blossom trees, which is 150 years old! These are known as the ‘Trees of Nemuro’. Because Nemuro is one of the last places for the cherry blossom trees to bloom, it is best to go around mid May.

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Hokkaido Guide contributor and editor. Keen photographer with a love of travel, the great outdoors and all things Hokkaido, Japan. Matt Holloway is a professional photographer and holds exhibitions around Sapporo, Hokkaido and Sydney Australia.