Sean's Japan Travel Journal
by Sean, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2014/05/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsumae

The year's cherry blossom season has entered its concluding phase with the sakura currently blooming in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture. 2014 has been an early year for the cherry blossoms here so far: in many places across the prefecture they have beaten the average opening date by two to seven days.

My destination for the day was Matsumae. Located at the southern tip of Hokkaido, the city is home to the only Japanese style castle to have been built on the island. Each spring, the castle precincts and the adjacent Matsumae Park transform into a brilliant cherry blossom spot, boasting around 10,000 cherry trees of reportedly 250 varieties. The variance in blooming periods of the different varieties results in an extended cherry blossom viewing time frame here, typically starting in late April and ending in late May.

Matsumae Castle and Matsumae Park
May 8, 2014 - petals starting to fall (Somei Yoshino and Naden Zakura)
May 8, 2014 - full bloom (Slightly late-blooming varieties)
May 8, 2014 - just opened (0-10%) (Late-blooming varieties)

Of the many cherry trees at Matsumae Park, those of the Naden variety were the most numerous. These trees flower at around the same time as the mainstream Somei Yoshino, and today I found both the Naden and the Somei Yoshino to be quickly shedding their petals. Being a yaezakura (cherry blossoms having more than five petals), the Naden had the advantage of being able to lose more petals before becoming bald, and therefore they appeared to have fuller crowns when I visited earlier in the day. The season for these varieties will probably not last beyond the weekend.

Tunnel of Naden cherry trees at the eastern side of the park
Some Naden blossoms
Row of Somei Yoshino cherry trees around the center of Matsumae Park, where several temples stand
State of the Somei Yoshino cherries
Fallen petals

It was a pleasure to walk around the park observing the different cherry trees, which were mostly conveniently tagged with their names. This enabled me to learn more about one type called the Itokukuri cherry trees, which were also quite numerous at the site. At the time of my visit, the Itokukuri cherries were in their prime, along with another variety called the Amayadori. Views of these cherry blossoms will be good for another three to five days.

Tags benefit the studious
Lovely Itokukuri cherry tree in full bloom
The Ant
Amayadori cherries are white in color
Visitors stroll the park

Meanwhile, even later blooming varieties like the Fugenzo, the Kanzan and the Shogetsu have barely started to open. These varieties should reach their best with another three days or so of warm weather.

Late-blooming cherry blossoms, clockwise from top-left: Fugenzo, Kanzan, Shogetsu and Ukon
Benches for people to sit around

I continued my tour of the park - my spirits heightened by the pleasant smell of the nearby sea lingering in the air. There are three particularly famous trees at Matsumae Park: the Ezo Kasumi cherry tree at Ryuunin Temple, the Kechimyaku cherry tree at Kozenji Temple, and the Meoto cherry tree (husband and wife tree) at the southeastern gate of the castle, which is actually a Somei Yoshino and a Naden cherry tree co-existing seemingly as one.

Ezo Kasumi cherry tree at Ryuunin Temple had petals falling, but was still looking good
Green was starting to overtake pink on the Kechimyaku cherry tree, the parent tree of the Naden
The Somei Yoshino is probably the male in this union - as you can see it is balding faster
Off to the top of the park

At the northern end of the Matsumae Park atop a hill, nice views can be seen of the park with the Tsugaru Straight in the background. I concluded the day with a visit to Matsumae Castle's keep, from where there were more views looking out to the sea.

Visitors taking a break at the view point atop the hill
Tsugaru Straight in the distance
Matsumae Castle
View from the castle keep

Matsumae is not connected to Japan's railway network. To get here, take a bus from Kikonai Station (1.5 hours, around 1300 yen, one bus every one to two hours). Some buses operate directly all the way between Matsumae and Hakodate (2.5 hours, around 2000 yen, two to three buses per day).

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List of Posts:
2014/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2014/05/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsumae
2014/04/23 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fujigoko
2014/04/17 - Cherry Blossom Report: Takato
2014/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fujigoko
2014/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2014/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hikone
2014/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsuyama
2014/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2014/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2014/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/03/06 - Shopping around Northern Osaka
2014/01/23 - Nikko in Winter

2013/12/31 - Sean's Travel Highlights 2013
2013/12/06 - Kamakura Report
2013/11/26 - Tokyo Report
2013/11/22 - Kyoto Report
2013/11/21 - Miyajima Report
2013/11/19 - Korankei Report
2013/11/18 - Kyoto Report
2013/11/11 - Sakurayama Report
2013/11/08 - Karuizawa Report
2013/10/29 - Nikko Report
2013/10/18 - Nasu Report
2013/10/17 - Nikko Report
2013/10/14 - Mount Fuji Report
2013/10/10 - Oze Report
2013/09/27 - Alpine Route Report
2013/09/13 - Nakanojo Biennale 2013
2013/08/07 - Exploring Tokyo 2: Around the Tokyo Imperial Palace
2013/05/20 - Tottori Sand Museum 2013
2013/05/07 - Fuji Shibazakura Festival
2013/05/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2013/05/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kakunodate
2013/04/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kitakami
2013/04/23 - Northern Kanto Flower Report
2013/04/17 - Cherry Blossom Report: Takayama
2013/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsumoto
2013/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2013/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2013/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Gunma
2013/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2013/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/03/31 - Visiting Shodoshima for the Setouchi Triennale 2013
2013/03/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/03/27 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2013/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagoya
2013/03/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/03/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/03/12 - Tokyo Early Cherry Blossom Report
2013/02/17 - Tokamachi Snow Festival
2013/02/16 - Zao Snow Monster Report
2013/02/15 - Yokote Kamakura Festival
2013/01/10 - Winter Visit to Manza Onsen
2013/01/02 - Tokyo New Year Report

2012/12/31 - Sean's Travel Highlights 2012
2012/12/11 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2012/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Takaosan
2012/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Shosenkyo
2012/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Yamadera
2012/11/06 - Autumn Color Report: Naruko
2012/11/05 - Autumn Color Report: Hiraizumi
2012/11/01 - Autumn Color Report: Kuju
2012/10/26 - Autumn Color Report: Minakami
2012/10/24 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/10/16 - Autumn Color Report: Norikura
2012/10/12 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2012/10/09 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Route 292
2012/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kurodake
2012/09/27 - Autumn Color Report: Kogen Onsen
2012/09/26 - Autumn Color Report: Asahidake
2012/09/17 - Exploring Tokyo: Gate Bridge
2012/08/20 - Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2012
2012/06/27 - Hiking at Mount Azuma
2012/06/18 - Legoland Discovery Center opens in Odaiba
2012/06/18 - Hydrangea Flowers in Kamakura
2012/06/04 - Tokyo Skytree
2012/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sapporo
2012/05/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2012/05/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2012/04/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2012/04/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kakunodate
2012/04/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kitakami
2012/04/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiraizumi
2012/04/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2012/04/24 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukushima
2012/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2012/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiroshima
2012/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2012/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2012/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2012/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2012/03/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/03/08 - Plum Blossom Report from Kairakuen, Mito
2012/03/07 - Trip to Iwaki, Fukushima
2012/02/21 - Plum Blossom Report from Tokyo
2012/01/30 - Skiing in Inawashiro, Fukushima
2012/01/27 - Kusatsu Hot Springs