The sakura season is starting to speed up as sights across the country continue racing toward the peak. Today Fukuoka became the first major city to have its cherry blossoms reach full bloom, while several other cities, including Nagoya and Tokyo, have entered their best viewing periods (which start slightly before full bloom is reached). Meanwhile, I spent the day in Osaka checking out some of the city's best cherry blossom sights.
The cherry trees around Osaka opened on March 23rd together with those around Kyoto next door. And as expected, the state of the trees looked very much in line with what I saw during yesterday's Kyoto report in that the blossoms are still below the 50% open mark, but are likely to reach full bloom around this weekend.
Kema Sakuranomiya Park
The first stop on my list this morning was Kema Sakuranomiya Park, a pleasant riverside park along about four kilometers of the Okawa River in central Osaka. Nearly 5000(!) trees are planted along both banks of the river making it one of the country's best cherry blossom viewing spots. The trees are planted over walking paths and plenty of green space for picnicking, and can also be viewed from sightseeing cruise boats that ply the waterway.
Exiting Sakuranomiya Station and heading over to the park, I noticed that the cherry blossoms have not progressed much since they opened over a week ago, with less than 50% of the flowers in bloom so far. As a result, the park was rather empty this morning besides the regular joggers and walkers that probably pass through daily. But things are likely to speed up very soon as many of the buds looked to be only 1-2 days away from opening, which implies that full bloom will probably be reached around this weekend. Likewise, the park should be quite a bit more crowded then as the locals come out to enjoy their days off.
My next destination today was Osaka Castle, which is about a 10-15 minute walk south of Kema Sakuranomiya Park. Cherry trees are scattered around the castle grounds, with a few planted around the castle keep and along some of the moats and walls. The bulk, however are located in the Nishinomaru Garden to the southwest of the main bailey. Make note, the garden has its own separate admission (350 yen) and is closed on Mondays. The garden features about 600 cherry trees planted around its expansive lawns, which provide lots of picnicking space for hanami parties. They also feature food stands and a special illumination event during the cherry blossom season with extended park hours to accommodate the evening festivities. This year the light up will run through April 17, and the trees will be lit from 18:00 to 21:00.
The trees around Nishinomaru Garden were slightly ahead of those in Kema Sakuranomiya Park, but maybe only by a day or less. They were also below the 50% mark and I would expect them to really hit their peak around this weekend.
Osaka Expo Park
My last stop today was Osaka Expo Park (aka Expo üf70 Commemorative Park) in the outskirts of northern Osaka. The huge public park was converted from the site of the 1970 World Exhibition, and features around 5000 cherry trees and other flowering trees and plants spread out around the sprawling grounds. Most of the cherry trees can be found around Higashioji Street and the East Plaza, and the majority were just around the 50% open mark. Despite being around the same state, the park was one of the more enjoyable sights to visit today due to the density of the trees and the lively atmosphere from all the families out enjoying themselves picnicking under the blossoms and playing around the wide lawns. During the cherry blossom season the park holds special sakura festival events like an open air craft/food market and illumination events. The sakura festival runs through April 10th during which time the trees will be illuminated until 21:00.
After visiting the Expo Park I headed over to the Expo City shopping mall and entertainment center next door which just opened last November. The huge complex contains a Lalaport shopping mall with tons of popular Japanese and international fashion brands, and combines that with an IMAX theater and several other attractions such as a Ferris Wheel (set to be completed some time after April), Pokemon Expo Gym, Osaka English Village (kinda like Kidzania, but for adults too), Orbi museum and the Nifrel interactive aquarium. Definitely worth a visit if you enjoy nice shopping malls.