I’ll try to be concise - Hirosaki’s castle grounds are one of the finest places in the country for blossom viewing. Several thousand sakura cherry trees simultaneously greet spring, with breathtaking results.
Tall somei-yoshino trees form tunnels of pink flowers above your head and fill the moats with petals, while breezes fill the air with delicate blizzards. Young couples row small boats through the soft pink channels, ducking under weeping shiidare-sakura trees that line the banks.
It’s stunning, and my words honestly cannot do it justice - now bear in mind that something like this absolutely is not a secret. Companies offer inclusive accommodation and bus tours to Hirosaki from all over the country, and it’s estimated that in a week, more than a million people pass through an otherwise uneventful, isolated town.
This makes photography testing and quite stressful. Though casual snappers will be sensible enough not to let it get to them, perfectionists and professionals had best keep heavy lenses, tripods or anything that can be improvised into a club well out of arm's reach. All the best angles for photography here are chockablock.
If you want to see Hirosaki at this time, and I recommend that you do, PLAN AHEAD. Don’t even think about leaving anything to chance – every hotel, hostel and ryokan will be booked to capacity, from Odate to beyond Aomori City. Towns around the periphery are a good idea, as they will be less expensive and only a short train journey away.
If you try your luck, you WILL be sleeping outside – and Aomori isn’t so warm and pleasant at this time of year, not to mention that the police take a very dim view of vagrant foreigners. You must organise a bed well in advance as most places are full weeks before.
Also, do be aware of the possibility of a late storm ruining everything. Sakura is notoriously fragile, not lasting longer than a week at the best of times, and in bad weather, the gossamer flowers can disappear overnight. At risk of offending residents, I would say that without the sakura, Hirosaki isn’t really worth such a long journey.
Getting so far away from central Japan can be a headache – if you go much further north, you’ll be in Hokkaido. A shinkansen will get you there quickly, but will demand it’s usual pound of flesh. Coaches are an option from much further away than you’d think. It’s possible to drive to Hirosaki and back in a day from Iwate, but that’s not an easy trip.
Personally, I made a week’s journey northwards through Tohoku, with Hirosaki as one stop among many. It spread the cost and allowed me to see a lot more for my money – rather than blowing a week of travel money on a single exhausting trip. This method depends on how much time you have, but those of you living in Japan or traveling seriously may find this method more rewarding.