by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2015/04/23 - Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Report
To round up my short tour of the Tohoku Region, I headed to Akita Prefecture to check out the cherry blossoms in Kakunodate today. The city is famous for its cherry blossoms, especially around the Samurai District where many weeping cherry trees were planted, and along the Hinokinai River where many cherry trees were planted. The cherry trees I saw today were all at full bloom, and look set to remain at their peak for the next few days or so. With beautiful weather forecast for the next few days, I expect the city to be crowded with visitors especially over the coming weekend.
Kakunodate City is about a 45-minute bullet train (shinkansen) ride from Akita and is easily doable in a day trip or a half-day trip if you leave early. The main tourist spots are a 10 to 15 minute walk from Kakunodate Station and there are signs showing the way. During the cherry blossom season, the city has a cherry blossom festival (sakura matsuri) with food stalls along the riverside, and evening light up along the Samurai District. This year, the festival will carry on till May 6, the end of the Golden Week holidays.
April 23, 2015 - full bloom
Hinokinai River runs through Kakunodate and there are about 400 cherry trees planted along the banks of part of the river, creating a two-kilometer long cherry tree tunnel. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from the station to the main festival area along Hinokinai Riverside, and that was where I headed. The cherry trees here were at full bloom today, and it was a gorgeous day to be outdoors enjoying the sunshine and open blossoms.
I saw some visitors there taking advantage of the beautiful weather to picnic along the riverbank, and it wasn't long before the busloads of tour groups arrived to enjoy the sights. The festival food stalls were open and making brisk business, as were the lunch box stalls and convenience shop nearby with people getting food for hanami. I also saw local elementary school kids on a school excursion and they were tasked with introducing the history of Kakunodate to random groups of visitors, which was absolutely cute to watch and listen.
Kakunodate Samurai District
April 23, 2015 - full bloom (weeping cherry trees)
Moving on to the Samurai District, a short walk from the riverside, the weeping cherry trees here were also at full bloom and crowded with people. Despite the road being open to vehicular traffic, I did not once hear any honking even when people were standing in the middle of the road, obstructing traffic to take pictures of the trees. The weeping cherry trees in the Samurai District gave the area somewhat of a austere feel, creating a delicate balance of wabi-sabi when coupled with the architecture of the residences. Quite a different feeling compared to seeing the Somei Yoshino cherry trees, a common cherry tree variety, in large numbers at full bloom.
I also had enough time for a quick hike up to the former site of Kakunodate Castle for panoramic views of the city and the river below. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk from the end of the Samurai District to the top of the hill where the castle once stood.