Each spring, travelers journey across Japan in hopes of catching the fleeting peak of cherry blossom season. While most foreigners head to Tokyo or Kyoto, one of the most popular sites for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) for Japanese connoisseurs is Hirosaki Castle, in remote Aomori prefecture.
It’s no small trek for most of the 2-million-plus aficionados who attend the two-week Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival each year, as the city of Hirosaki is located at the northern tip of Japan’s main island, Honshu, about a 6-hour train trip (including a lengthy stretch on the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train) from Tokyo. Those who make the voyage, however, will find themselves at the gates of a preserved national historic site that includes a centuries-old castle (commissioned by samurai lord Tamenobu Tsugaru in 1603 and completed in 1611) surrounded by 2,600 cherry trees, which resemble puffy pink clouds when the sakura (cherry blossoms) are in bloom.
This year’s festival, which takes place from April 23 to May 5, should be particularly resonant for the people of Aomori. Last year was supposed to mark the celebration’s centennial, but the event was canceled due to the pandemic. In 2021, however, visitors will once again be able to picnic beneath the 52 varieties of cherry tree, ride a boat over a floating carpet of petals in the castle moat, and snap a photo of Sakura Heart, a heart-shaped window in the tree branches that frames the castle. Sakura represent change and renewal to the Japanese, so whether you can be there this year or you’re only planning for the future, this month’s festivities signal a hopeful step forward. en-aomori.com