Japan’s cherry blossom season is renowned as much for its fleeting nature as it is for its beauty. Unlike the, plum blossoms that sweep the country a month or so earlier, the life of the most common variety of cherry blossom, the beautiful five-petaled Somei Yoshino, is very short. Predictions of when they are likely to bloom are reasonably reliable, but the weather in spring is fickle, and strong winds or a heavy rainstorm can put a premature end to the hanami cherry blossom viewing fun.
If you find yourself in Hiroshima after the blossoms in the city center have fallen, you may not be completely out of luck. In fact, you may be just in time to catch a stunning display of some equally beautiful, and quite rare, cherry blossoms at the Hiroshima branch of the Japan Mint.
The grounds of the head office of the Japan Mint are known as one of the best places to see cherry blossoms in Osaka. A branch of the mint was established in Hiroshima during WWII with the purpose of supplying coinage to Japan’s Southeast Asian colonies. Cherry trees transplanted from the Osaka Mint matured over the years, and now, visitors can enjoy their beauty, for one week a year when the grounds are open to the public.
Located in the town of Itsukaichi, a 20 minute train ride from Hiroshima Station, about halfway between the Hiroshima City and Miyajima, the mint has 222 cherry trees within its grounds. Most of them are kinds of Yaezakura. These have more petals and are more robust and longer lasting than Somei Yoshino blossoms, and with over 50 varieties on display, there are blossoms of many different sizes, color and shape; the unusual Giyoiko has green and crimson flowers.
In an average year, the cherry blossoms in Hiroshima city are usually gone by the middle of April. This is just when the blossoms at the mint are at their best. The grounds are open from 10am to 8pm, and lanterns come on as the sun goes down and the trees are illuminated. There are quite a few benches on which to sit and view the blossoms, but this is not a place to party. Picnicking is not permitted and visitors have to keep to the path. It can get crowded, especially when the blossoms are at full bloom, and I recommend avoiding weekends if possible.
There is also a small museum with historical coins and commemorative medals on display, as well as descriptions of the manufacturing process. English explanation is very limited, but it is worth a look around on your way in or out. The commemorative cherry blossom viewing coin sets on sale may also make for a unique souvenir.
The mint is a good 20-30 minute walk from JR Itsukaichi Station, or you can take a shuttle bus which leaves from in front of the station every 20 minutes. No food or drink is available within the grounds, but there are plenty of eateries and shops along the appropriately named Coin-dori ("Coin Street”) which leads to the mint. The street is also lined with statues of animals holding coins which kids might find fun, and there are a few interesting shops too.