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Hakodate: Full Bloom

Fort Goryokaku spectacularly in bloom with the Goryokaku Tower in the background

It's now six weeks since this year's cherry blossom season kicked off in Tokyo, and now, after the blossoms have come and gone in the vast majority of the mainland, the season is getting well under way in the northern island of Hokkaido. Following yesterday's trip to Matsumae, today I continued my sakura sleuthing in another city in the south of the island and a popular location for cherry blossom chasers, Hakodate.

The third largest city in Hokkaido, Hakodate has a rich history, being one of the first harbor cities opened to international trade after the country's period of isolation. As well as bearing international influences and boasting great seafood, the city contains some very popular cherry blossom viewing spots that attract droves of tourists as they typically come in to bloom in early to mid-May.

Today I headed to the two most popular of Hakodate's blossom spots, Hakodate Park and Fort Goryokaku, and found a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst the blossoms were looking typically spectacular at the fort, the blossoms in the park looked to have had their optimum viewing period cut short, and not necessarily just by the weather.

Hakodate Park: Petals Starting To Fall

My first stop today was at Hakodate Park, one of Japan's first ever Western-style parks and a favorite cherry blossom viewing spot that typically experiences its best viewing around early to mid-May. I found many of the park's cherry trees to be looking a little further along than I expected this morning, with some branches looking a bit barren and seemingly having already started to lose petals.

Although the area has experienced some relatively strong winds over the past few days, there were clues around the park that a bigger influence on the cherry blossom decline may actually have been wildlife, with signs of damage to the blossoms of the kind typically caused by birds. A worker's words substantiated my suspicions on this one, leaving me to conclude that the season may come to a close here significantly earlier than average. Despite this, the park generally still looked nice this morning and remains well worth a visit. There was even the odd later blooming cherry tree that looked decidedly spectacular.

Food stalls in Hakodate Park surrounded by the pink of cherry blossoms
Some of the better-faring cherry blossoms
Telltale signs; it looked as though birds had got the better of a good number of the park's blossoms
A later-blooming cherry tree adding color to the park beside some slightly more barren trees
Already beautiful despite having not quite reached full bloom.
A few revellers setting up for hanami under slightly bare cherry trees

Fort Goryokaku: Full Bloom

My second and final stop today was at Hakodate's most famous cherry blossom spot, Fort Goryokaku. This Western-style, star-shaped citadel was built in the Edo Period to defend the city against the threat of Western powers. Today, the expansive fort boasts around one thousand cherry trees that attract droves of tourists come spring, making the location one of the most popular cherry blossom spots in all of Hokkaido.

I immediately headed up to the observation area in Goryokaku Tower upon arrival, and despite being crowded the views of the fort from above were worth the jostling. After getting back down on terra firma, I took a jaunt around the fort to explore what looked from above to be a spring wonderland.

I'm happy to report that the views on the ground were just as breathtaking as from above, with the Somei Yoshino that fill and surround the fort spectacularly in full bloom this morning. The weather is predicted to take a turn for the worst at the weekend with wind and rain of the caliber potentially devastating to the cherry blossoms. Before then however, good weather is forecast, and if these predictions prevail, I expect that the fort will stay an idyllic place for cherry blossom viewing up to and including Friday.

Looking out on the fort from the Goryokaku Tower observation deck
The observation deck in Goryokaku Tower was packed this morning
Hanami; scenes like this prevailed in many areas surrounding the moat
The trees around the fort generally lush with petals
Visitors taking advantage of the chance to boat in the moat
The scenes this morning attracted a lot of photographers
Looking out on the sakura tinted, spacious center of the fort, from the Former Magistrate Office
Many people were walking around the fort this morning
The blossoms, the water and the tower
Sampling Hakodate's seafood delights after a morning of reporting