In spring, cherry blossoms are everywhere in Japan, but if you are in Tokyo there might just be more people than cherry blossoms at all the popular places! Turn your back on Tokyo's over-crowded parks and riverbanks, and take the train into Yamanashi Prefecture. There are so many great cherry blossom spots to choose from. You can just visit one spot, or cram several of them into one day. This is by no means a complete list.
The following places are all easy to get to, by which I mean walking distance from a train station.
This mountain in Otsuki City has over 300 cherry trees. The trail entry is about 20 minutes walk from Otsuki Station. It takes about one hour to climb to the summit where you'll be rewarded with one of the best Mount Fuji views in the Kanto area. If that's not enough, the cherry blossoms are lit up at night.
Shiogama Shrine and Chureito Pagoda
This is the spot to get your own classic photos of Mount Fuji with a red pagoda and cherry blossoms. However your success will be dependent on clear weather! There are a lot of stairs to climb, but you can enjoy the blossoms on the way, and at the top is is the striking red pagoda. If you want to see this place, get off at Shimoyoshida Station on Fujikyu-Otsuki Line.
Canal at Isawa Onsen
Isawa Onsen is a hot springs town, and many of the onsen hotels are built along a street with a canal in the center. There are cherry trees both sides of the canal and the effect when they are in bloom is stunning. Last time I was there I learned that you can borrow bicycles for free at Isawa Onsen JR Station Visitor's Center. If you don't fancy cycling it's close enough to walk too. Another great thing about Isawa Onsen is the free foot-bath next to the station.
Maizuru Castle Park
Just a few minutes walk from Kofu JR Station will bring you to Maizuru Castle Park. The castle was dismantled in the Meiji Era and eventually turned into a park, however many of the castle foundations remain, and some of the castle structures have been authentically rebuilt. There are hundreds of cherry trees in the park and the blossom looks amazing against the old stone foundations. You can also enjoy views over Kofu City, and if the weather is clear you can even see Mount Fuji. Unfortunately I don't think you can enjoy a picnic lunch in this particular park, but there are plenty of other places for that.
Takeda Shrine & Gokoku Shrine
The 2 kilometer way between Kofu JR Station and Takeda Shrine has been planted on both sides with cherry trees. While you could take a bus, it would probably be nicer to stroll beneath the petals. Once you reach the shrine, there are many cherry trees within the shrine grounds as well. At nearby Gokoku Shrine there is a cherry blossom 'tunnel', and the shrine is famous for cherry blossom.
This temple is about 20-30 minutes walk from Kofu JR Station. You could also take a train to Zenkoji Station on Minobu Line, which is what I did. The station was magical because there were cherry trees all around it, with petals drifting down on the breeze. It took about 5 minutes to walk from the station to the temple. Kofu Zenkoji, also known as Kai Zenkoji, is a lovely old temple with a pretty garden and pond. Don't forget to look for the golden carp while you are there.
These places are more difficult to get to. You may need to use a bus, take a taxi or hire a car, but for all you motivated explorers out there, it will be worth it!
This beautiful temple in Enzan has a garden designed by famous monk Soseki Muso. There are lots of cherry trees, and in spring their petals cover the pond and carpet the ground. There are stalls selling food, and car parking if you are driving. Non-drivers can take a bus from Enzan Station.
Fuefukigawa Fruit Park
A terraced hillside planted with many fruit trees including lots of cherry trees, and you can see Mount Fuji from here too. The park is a wonderful place to take children. The nearest station is Yamanashi JR Station on Chuo Line. From the station you can take a taxi, or there are 3 buses per day departing at 10:30 am, 1:40 pm and 4:45 pm (return buses leave the park at 10:43 am, 1:53 pm and 5 pm.
Yamataka Jindai Sakura
How old do you think the oldest cherry tree in Japan is? At a temple named Jisso-ji, there is an ancient cherry tree believed to be 2000 years old! If you want to check it out, get off at JR Nirasaki Station and take the 30 minute Seiryu/Kai-Komagatake bus ride to Jisso-ji.
Although it's quite an effort to get to this mountain village in Hayakawa, the cherry blossoms combined with the beautiful old buildings and stone-paved road really make it worthwhile. The village often hosts are exhibitions, so you may be able to enjoy art as well as cherry blossoms. There are details about getting to Akasawa Juku in this article.
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I fell in love with Japan long before I came here in 2003 to teach English, and it has proved to be a lasting romance. I love the history, the traditional architecture, the food, the strange and sometimes ridiculous contrasts, and the beautiful countryside. I lived in Shiga prefecture for one year, and in Kyoto for nine years, and now I live in Machida in Tokyo. I've traveled a little in Japan, but not nearly as much as I'd like to. I like traveling by train, but my favorite way to travel is bicycle.