With this year's cherry blossom season having largely come to an end in Japan's more southern regions, now it is the northern and higher altitude portions of the country that take center stage, as many of them approach (if not having already entered) their best viewing period. While areas in Hokkaido are poised to begin their season over the next couple of weeks, many locations in the north of Honshu, including parts of Tohoku and Takayama are progressing nicely, which is good news for travelers to these areas.
After reporting the end of the season in Kyoto yesterday, today I traveled across the country to the historic castle town of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture to see what I could find. I'm glad to say that although the city has experienced some relatively strong winds over the last couple of days, the blossoms in the city are still looking good and should do for another two to three days.
My first stop today was at Matsumoto Castle, widely renowned as one of Japan's most complete and beautiful original castles. The castle is home to hundreds of Somei Yoshino (Japan's most commonly found cherry tree variety), making it a popular spot for cherry blossom chasers during spring.
This morning the castle grounds were looking great, with the trees slightly past full bloom but still lush with petals. What's more, this early stage of decline is usually good for hanafubuki, or petal blizzards, and today there were plenty, much to the enjoyment of the crowds. There were some strong winds today that looked potentially damaging to the blossoms, but they were short-lived, with calmer weather now predicted for the rest of the week. If the winds stay relatively gentle, I expect that the Somei Yoshino will stay beautiful here for another two to three days before the season starts to wind down.
My second and final stop today was at Koboyama Park in southern Matsumoto. The park is reachable in around 30 minutes on foot from Minami Matsumoto Station and consists of a large mound that is home to some 2000 cherry trees. From the top of the mound breathtaking views of the North Japanese Alps can be had, and this, along with the typically spectacular sakura displays, make this place a popular hanami spot.
I'm happy to report that despite the strong winds battering the hill this morning, the blossoms seemed to be faring well, looking strong but releasing intermittent petal blizzards onto the visitors. Particularly stunning was the contrast between the pastel pink of the Somei Yoshino and the deeper pink of the yae shidare zakura that grow here, all before a majestic, mountainous backdrop.
Exposed and at the mercy of the wind, I am hopeful that the weaker winds projected for this week won't continue the battery that I witnessed on the mound earlier, and if this is the case, I expect the blossoms to not exceed their peak viewing here for around another two days.