Francois' Japan Blog
by Francois, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2011/03/31 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto

This year Kumamoto was the first major city to have its cherry blossoms open, about a week and a half ago on March 21st. As predicted, the city is just entering into the ideal period to see the flowers, with this weekend likely to be when the flowers reach full bloom.

Unfortunately, after high probability of clear skies on Friday the weather forecast for the next few days is overcast with a significant chance of rain, but as long as the weather does not become too bad it should be a great time for hanami into next week. Next weekend also has a high probability of being a good time to see the flowers, but by then the flowers will probably be beginning to fall and the season will be coming to an end.

Today was my first chance to use the expanded section of the Kyushu Shinkansen, which is now connected to the rest of the shinkansen network. The section of the Kyushu Shinkansen that runs along the northern half of Kyushu began operation just last month. Fitting for my travel plans, I used the Sakura train category.

An N700 series Sakura train
The reserved seating area of the train

I arrived at Kumamoto Station and disembarked in the new shinkansen area. The station is quite nice, and I remembered visiting it last year when it was undergoing construction.

The train departs from Kumamoto Station
The recently expanded section now prominently shows the shinkansen platforms from the west side

Kumamoto Castle
March 30, 2011 - approaching full bloom (50-80%)

I headed off from Kumamoto Station on one of the city trams to Kumamoto Castle, located in the downtown area. I was happy to see that the cherry blossoms are almost at full bloom, having almost 80% of the flowers open. The castle is currently a great place to visit for cherry blossoms and will continue to be so into the weekend.

A familiar view of the castle keep, stone walls and blooming flowers
A grove of trees along the main approach to the keep
Blossoms in front of the castle walls

Kumamoto Castle is one of the best castles in Japan, thanks to its painstaking reconstruction and its expansive and impressive castle grounds. Although there were quite a few people eating and drinking under the trees today, the castle grounds didn't seem crowded at all. This Saturday and Sunday though it should be a lot busier. Particularly in light of Himeji Castle currently undergoing long term construction, Kumamoto Castle is one of the best places in Japan to get the castle experience.

Hanami parties on the castle grounds
Some staff at the castle wear period clothing, adding to the atmosphere

Suizenji Garden
March 30, 2011 - approaching full bloom (50-80%)

Along the same tram line that connect Kumamoto Station and Kumamoto is Suizenji Garden, a spacious traditional Japanese garden that has a miniature Mount Fuji in its design. Here the cherry trees were at the same state as those at Kumamoto Castle: almost at full bloom, with full bloom expected for this weekend. There is a particularly dense area of cherry trees in the garden's southeastern corner, where there were a few picnickers today.

Cherry trees visible behind the garden's main pond
A close up of some blossoms
A cherry tree near the garden's miniature Mount Fuji
A few of today's picnicker

After today's reporting I once again made use of the new Kyushu Shinkansen. This time the Sakura train I took was the different train model that is currently in service, so I was able to try both the trains today.

An 800 series Sakura train
The reserved seating area of the train

After a short 39 minute ride I disembarked at Hakata station in Fukuoka. This station has also undergone a renovation to coincide with the extension of the Kyushu Shinkansen, which I saw underway during last year's reporting. The expansion of Hakata Station seems to be particularly nice, and I am looking forward to exploring the station more.

The newly opened completed Hakata Station

After having already done today's Fukuoka cherry blossom report earlier in the day, Schauwecker and I may find a place to eat dinner somewhere on one of the building's upper floors if we do not eat at one of the city's famous food stalls.

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List of Posts:
2011/09/01 - Final Post
2011/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sapporo
2011/05/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2011/04/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Aizu
2011/04/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2011/04/16 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2011/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2011/04/13 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2011/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2011/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2011/03/31 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2011/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/02/11 - Shiretoko Fantasia 2011
2011/02/11 - Asahikawa Winter Festival - by night
2011/02/10 - Asahikawa Winter Festival - by day
2011/02/09 - Sapporo Snow Festival 2011 - by night
2011/02/08 - Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi 2011
2011/02/07 - Sapporo Snow Festival 2011 - by day

2010/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2010
2010/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2010/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/24 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/23 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2010/11/05 - Autumn Color Report: Yamadera
2010/10/27 - Autumn Color Report: Kuju
2010/10/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kirishima
2010/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2010/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2010/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2010/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2010/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagoya
2010/03/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagasaki
2010/03/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2010/03/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2010/01/23 - Wakakusa Yamayaki

2009/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2009
2009/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2009/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto Light Up
2009/11/23 - Autumn Color Report: Nara
2009/11/22 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto Ohara
2009/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2009/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto Higashiyama
2009/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto Kurama
2009/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Hakone
2009/10/07 - Autumn Color Report: Hachimantai
2009/10/06 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Akita-Komagatake
2009/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kamikochi
2009/09/24 - Autumn Color Report: Oze National Park
2009/06/18 - Biking the Shimanami Kaido
2009/06/01 - Gunkanjima
2009/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2009/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Himeji
2009/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kobe
2009/04/13 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2009/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2009/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nara
2009/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kobe
2009/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/03/31 - Cherry Blossom Report: Himeji
2009/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/01/19 - Bears in Hokkaido

2008/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Kamakura
2008/10/06 - Autumn Color Report: Lake Akan
2008/08/18 - Miyajima Trip
2008/06/09 - Post Towns
2008/05/08 - Baseball Game
2008/04/14 - ASIMO and Aoyama Cemetery
2008/04/08 - Ninja Restaurant