The Serenity of Sakura
Known for its striking beauty that only lasts a couple of weeks, the sakura, or cherry blossom is one of the most iconic images of Japan and a primary draw for springtime tourists. The short life of the cherry’s bloom is associated with the appreciation of fleeting things, and the visual bombast is the sign of new life and a new year for schools and businesses in Japan.
Below we detail the most common varieties of blossoms (cherry or no!) and where to find the most beautiful hanami spots (Show me now!).
Sakura (and Other) Varieties
The most abundant type of sakura is the yoshino cherry. When most picture a Japanese cherry tree, it’s the yoshino that comes to mind with its five pale-pink petals. Most yoshino in Japan are grafts from the same source tree, guaranteeing that all yoshino will bloom at the same time in a given temperature zone.
Yamazakura, the “Mountain Cherry”
Shortly after the common yoshino cherry has begun to bloom, the yamazakura, or “mountain cherry,” follows. This sakura variety spouts green and red leaves alongside brilliant white blossoms. Several of these can be found alongside the Asano River in Higashi Chaya. A giant, 400-year-old yaezakura tree is literally bursting through the walls of the Shōgetsu-ji Temple in Teramachi.
Yaezakura Varieties: Kikuzakura, the “Chrysanthemum Cherry”
Later blooming yaezakura are a richer pink color. They’re striking for their lushness, with many more petals in a single flower. There are many subvarieties of yaezakura, including the kikuzakura, or Chrysanthemum Sakura, with 100 petals per flower. Kenroku-en features two large kikuzakura trees prominently.
If it’s not Sakura, it’s likely Plum
The tradition of hanami, the seasonal tradition of picnicking among the sakura trees, actually started with the earlier-blooming plum blossoms. As with the sakura, plum trees come with a variety of flower shapes and colors. This five-petaled white plum is reflected in the symbol of the Maeda family, the daimyo who ruled Kanazawa for three centuries before the Meiji Restoration.
This lush, dark pink variety of plum dominates the Plum Grove within Kenroku-en Garden.
When in doubt of whether you’re looking at sakura, look for the tell-tale “v” nick on each petal. (Plum blossoms lack them.)
Hanami Spots in Kanazawa
Kanazawa has its own wealth of cherry blossoms throughout the city, with multiple spots for hanami Find a favorite spot of your own from popular gardens to open fields, and even hidden nooks and secret slopes.
Between the Castle and the Garden
Whether walking on foot or taking the city’s many convenient buses, making your way to Kenroku-en Garden and Kanazawa Castle for hanami is itself a treat. Sakura trees line the roads on both sides, bordering the garden and castle park, creating a corridor of pale pink flowers.
Hanami-bashi in Kenroku-en Garden
Sakura trees of several varieties are abundant throughout the garden, making the entire park a springtime-must. Don’t miss the photo opportunity at Hanami-bashi, literally meaning “Flower-Viewing Bridge.” This delicate wooden bridge overlooking one of the garden’s many water ways is framed by yoshino cherries.
Edomachi, alongside Kenroku-en Garden
Along Kenroku-en’s series of shops and restaurants in “Little Edo” and the Katsura-zaka Slope, yoshino abound. From the bridge connecting Kenroku-en to Kanazawa Castle Park, visitors can see sakura blossoms spilling over onto the road below.
Kenroku-en Light-up Event
Check the Garden’s Light Up Event during the sakura season peak. The garden is free in the late evening, as the cherry trees are lit from underneath against the night sky.
Kanazawa Castle Park
The grounds of the castle park are peppered with sakura trees, but it’s the outer lawns and gardens that see the most hanami visitors. Pictured above, yoshino and the willow-like “weeping plum” contrast spring’s selection of greens.
Along the grassy knolls near Kanazawa Central Park, pale yoshino are more abundant. Larger groups of families and friends favor this area.
Hirosaka & the 21st Century Museum
Traveling to and from Kenroku-en Garden and Kanazawa Castle Park, you’ll most likely pass through the Hirosaka neighborhood and it’s main road, Hyakumangoku-dori. Sakura trees line the median of this boulevard, raining petals down on local traffic and pedestrians.
The street itself is worth a visit for the Noh Museum and the nearby 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, which also has several sakura varieties on its lawn, including a line of them along one side.
Kazue-machi, Kanazawa’s Most Secretive Geisha District
Kazue-machi, Kanazawa’s most secretive teahouse district, has the best view of sakura overhanging the Asano River, the smaller of Kanazawa’s two rivers. Along the riverside by traditional Japanese restaurants, a sakura canopy shades the promenade.
Nestled within Kazue-machi is a small hidden stairway called Kuragari-zaka, which literally means “the dark slope.” Here, a single, towering cherry tree waits to greet all who arrive. At the base of the stairs is a small gallery honoring a late woodblock artist who resided in Kanazawa.
Higashi Chaya and Utatsu-yama Park
Highashi Chaya, the largest and busiest of the geisha districts has some sakura along the Asano Riverside. If you’re at least a light hiker, head up past Higashi Chaya onto the Utatsu mountain area for Utatsu-yama Park, for a few more sakura as well as a view of the city.
Sai River, West Kanazawa’s Open Park
Before the grasses have even recovered from winter, sakura blooms along the Sai River. This second of Kanazawa’s two major rivers is the city’s workhorse, protecting the city from flooding through its series of dams and providing water for the centuries-old moats that surround Kanazawa Castle. The wide banks of this river are perfect for cherry blossom viewing with a backdrop of the nearby mountain range. Couples, families and school children occupy the abundant shade under overhanging sakura branches.
In 2018, Kanazawa’s yoshino sakura begin to flower March 29th, and reached full bloom April 3rd.
This article will be updated when the 2019 Sakura Forecast becomes available.
Half a decade ago Ryann fell off a bus and then fell in love with this traditional-crafts and ice-cream-consuming capital of Japan. Editor and amateur photographer with a penchant for nature and history. Not actually fifty songbirds in a trench coat.