Takato Castle Ruins Park (高遠城址公園, Takatōjōshi Kōen) is reputedly one of the three best locations to see cherry blossoms in Japan, along with Hirosaki Castle and Yoshinoyama. The park is located on a hill in Ina City of Nagano Prefecture, about 60 kilometers south of Matsumoto. About 1500 cherry trees of the pinkish Kohigan variety stand across the park's compound, providing great cherry blossom views each spring. The Kohigan cherry trees are said to have been planted here in 1875, when the park was first opened to the public.
A cherry blossom festival is held annually, usually for the whole month of April, during which many festival stalls are set up around the park. During the peak viewing period, typically from mid to late April, illuminations are held every night from sunset to 22:00. Note that the Takato Castle Ruins Park gets very crowded during this period, and roads to the park get very congested. Visitors are advised to avoid weekends and to come early.
Today, not much is left of the original castle barring some stone foundations, and the few structures seen in the park's precincts are additions of the post feudal era. Standing close to the north gate is Takatokaku, the biggest building in the park, built in the 1930s as a community center. The two-story building is of Showa Period (1926-1989) architecture, showing both local and western influences with a wooden foundation and a red tiled roof. It now serves as space for locals to gather and travelers to take a break. In the center of the park is Ounkyo, a gently curved bridge that is famous as one of the best cherry blossom spots within the park.
Taikoyagura, a uniquely shaped drum tower, is situated on the western side of the park. Looking west from around the drum tower, visitors can catch fine views of the town below the hill and the Central Alps in the distance. Over at the southern end of the park is the Shinshu Takato Art Museum, which hosts temporary exhibitions of varying artforms. In addition, several stone monuments are erected around the park, commemorating popular local characters or memorable poems.
From Tokyo via Chino Station (during blooming season only)
Take a JR Azusa limited express train from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station to Chino Station (around 2 hours, 5650 yen one way, hourly departures), which is located approximately 25 kilometers north of the Takato Castle Ruins Park. During the cherry blossom season, a JR bus runs from Chino Station to Takato Bus Station (50 minutes, 1390 yen one way, every 2-4 hours), from where it is a 15 minute walk to the park. The train and bus rides are fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass and the JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass.
From Tokyo via Inashi Station (around the year)
Instead of getting off at Chino, continue on the Azusa limited express until Okaya Station, make a transfer to a local train on the JR Iida Line and alight at Inashi Station (around 200 minutes, 6620 yen one way from Shinjuku, hourly departures). From Inashi Station, take a JR bus to Takato Bus Station (about 20 minutes, 530 yen one way, hourly departures). The Japan Rail Pass fully covers the train and bus rides, but the JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass does not fully cover the train between Okaya and Inashi stations (additional 510 yen apply one way).
Those visiting by car should note that the roads leading to the park tend to get very congested during the peak of the cherry blossom season. There are various parking areas at distances ranging from 5 to 15 minutes on foot from the castle park. During the cherry blossom season, a 100 yen loop bus runs between Takato Castle Ruins Park, Takato Bus Station and the various parking areas at 20 minute intervals.
Takato Castle Ruins Park
6:00 to 22:00 (peak cherry blossom period within April, illuminations at night)
Outside of the cherry blossom festival, the castle park is open 24 hours