If you feel you’d like a quieter, more local flower-viewing experience, Yamato Koriyama is located conveniently about 20 minutes by either JR or Kintetsu trains from Nara Park. For the cherry blossom season, the site of Koriyama Castle explodes into gentle pink beauty for Oshiro Matsuri, or the Castle Festival.
If you come by Kintetsu railway, your first glimpse of the grounds will be from the train; a dramatic weeping cherry spills from beside the castle wall into the moat alongside the track, attended by whiter puffs of blossoms on either side. Lanterns guide you from the train station to the main grounds, where though there is no longer a main keep, you can follow the original layout within and around the moat.
There is a reproduction of the main gate, along with a small history museum containing original diaries, paintings and the like considered important to the city’s development. And everywhere you go, your eyes are filled with the indescribable beauty of thousands of flowers. They line the paths, the road, circle the small shrine and brighten up the nearby park. Beneath their exquisite exuberance, you will be treated to a huge variety of festival food; giant hot dogs, chocolate-covered bananas, fried squid, and shish kabob. There’s even a special stall that creates custom kanji lollipops by request, in minutes!
Koriyama is quite well known for its goldfish, and the official town store opens in mini near the castle gate, selling everything from goldfish design t-shirts and towels to glass figures and old-fashioned tin toys. Goldfish breeders display and sell their little beauties in tanks arranged ‘round the shrine, and the castle wall seen from the train is open for visitors to view local photography and calligraphy.
Though there is a significant number of visitors, you won’t feel terribly oppressed; I can say, as a proud resident of this town, that I prefer this festival over many of the far more famous available. Beneath the abundance of flowers, pink tunnels filtering light serenely from above, relax, and listen to the music wafting through the branches. As night falls, the lanterns will glow softly along the pathways, lighting up startlingly beautiful night views of trees over the moat.
Find yourself a little, private place, sit down beneath the branches, and just smile for a while. We’re waiting.