With the release of the 2016 Sakura Forecast, here are 15 unique sakura viewing spots through Japan!

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*Note that the spots are not ranked in any way, so take a look at them and decide which best suit your trip!

1. Hirosaki Castle 弘前城 [Hirosaki City, Aomori]

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Before the sakura petals cover the moat.. | Photo source

As one of the most notable sakura viewing spot in Japan, Hirosaki Castle’s moat becomes a sea of pink as fallen sakura petals form a blanket on top of the water. Couples may wish to take a boat tour across the moat for a romantic time! Be sure to visit the other distinguished “residents” of Hirosaki Park (弘前公園) – the oldest somei yoshino (染井吉野) sakura tree in Japan at 120 years old, the famous weeping sakura “Otaki Zakura”. For an unforgettable experience, book a sakura viewing picnic or take pictures at all the recommended spots within the park!

Bloom period: Late April - early May
Access: From Hirosaki Station bus stop, take the Konan Bus Dotemachi Loop bus and 
alight at Shiyakusyo Mae stop.

2. Goryokaku Fort 五稜郭 [Hakodate City, Hokkaido]

Grab your camera for a photo with the "pink star" | Photo source
Grab your camera for a photo with the “pink star” | Photo source

Constructed during the late Edo period, Goryokaku Fort served to defend against Western forces. Modelled after European citadels, the pentagonal design enabled more guns to be installed at the fort. The Battle of Hakodate (函館戦争) was fought here, which marked the end of the shogunate system. Now a public park, this is one of the top destinations for sakura viewing in Hokkaido. Get up to Goryokaku Tower (五稜郭タワー) for a clear shot of the star-shaped fort, which looks amazing in every season!

View of the fort during other seasons is worth a look as well!

Bloom period: End April - early May
Access: From Hakodate Station, take the tram to Goryokaku Koen Mae stop. 
Walking to the fort takes approx. 10 mins.

3. Yanaka Cemetery 谷中霊園 [Tokyo]

Sunburst at sunset in Yanaka, Tokyo
Sunburst at sunset in Yanaka | Photo source

This may be surprising to some, but many Japanese actually enjoy sakura viewing in cemeteries which are clean and well-maintained. Close to Ueno Park (上野公園) lies Yanaka Cemetery, where the bones of the last shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, remains buried. Juxtaposition of life and death is evident in the contrast between dull graves and sweet sakura flowers.

Bloom period: Late March - early April
Access: From Nippori Station, travel on foot for 3 mins.

4. Osaka Mint Bureau’s Cherry Blossom Tunnel 造幣局 桜の通り抜け [Osaka City, Osaka]

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What lies at the end of the tunnel? | Photo source

For only a week, the Osaka Mint Bureau opens its doors to the public as the Cherry Blossom Tunnel is in full bloom. More than a hundred variety of sakura trees crowd the the paths along the Kyu-Yodo River (旧淀川). This spot is well-known for its late-blooming yaezakura (八重桜) varieties, whose flowers have more than 5 petals. They include shogetsu sakura (松月桜) with white petals and “Blossom of the Year“. For 2016, it is satozakura (里桜), a variety that is commonly known as botan sakura (牡丹桜).

Bloom period: One week in mid-April
Access: Approx. 15 mins walk away from Temmabashi Station.

5. Takato Castle Ruins Park 高遠城址公園 [Ina City, Nagano]

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The drum tower serves as a great photo spot! | Photo source

During the Takato Sakura Festival (高遠さくら祭り), thousands flock to see more than 1,500 kohigan-zakura (小彼岸桜) trees in bloom at Takato Castle Ruins Park. This particular variety of sakura flower has a distinct reddish tinge. Be treated to a memorable sakura viewing experience, as the park has several great spots for photographs such as “Ou-Un-Kyo” (Cloud Blossom Bridge) and the drum tower Taikoyagura (太鼓櫓), with the looming Japan Alps as a backdrop!

Bloom period: April
Access: Take a bus to Takato stop from either Chino Station or Inashi Station.

6. Miyajima 宮島 [Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima]

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Blooming sakura trees around Tahoto Pagoda | Photo source

Home to the historic Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社), Miyajima becomes exceptionally scenic in spring when the 1,900 sakura trees are in full bloom. The island offers one of Japan’s top three best views throughout the year, from sakura to momiji. Best spots to get great photographs include the two-storey Tahoto Pagoda (多宝塔), Omoto Park (大元公園), Daishoin Temple (大聖院) and along Momijidani River (紅葉谷公園). You could spend the entire day on the island as there are simply too many sights to see!

Bloom period: Early March - early April
Access: From Hiroshima Station, take  take the JR Sanyo Line to Miyajimaguchi 
Station. From there, change to a ferry to to Miyajima.

7. Takada Park 高田公園 [Joetsu City, Niigata]

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Come here for a great night-viewing experience! | Photo source

Constructed in 1614, Takada Castle is now more accessible with the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo. In particular, it is the site of one of Japan’s top three night illumination. Thousands of sakura trees and the castle’s Three-Tiered Turret/Sanju Yagura (三重櫓) lit up with lanterns, which reflects off the surface of the moat. The illumination also extends to the aptly named Sakura Road!

Bloom period: Mid-April
Access: From Takada Station, walk for 20 mins.

8. Shiroishigawa River’s Thousand Sakura Trees 白石川堤一目千本桜 [Sendai City, Miyagi]

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There’s no better way to enjoy spring! | Photo source

30 minutes by train away from Sendai lies the town of Ogawara (小河原), which boasts the best senbonzakura (千本桜) viewing spot. Known as “Hitome Senbonzakura” (一目千本桜) or “a thousand sakura at a glance”, over a thousand sakura trees line the riverbank of Shiroishi River. Peeking from behind the sakura trees on a hill is a large Kannon statue, surrounded by blossoming plum trees, manicured daffodils and poppies.

Bloom period: Mid - late April
Access: 10 min walk from either Ogawara Station or Funaoka Station.

9. Kajou Park 霞城公園 [Yamagata City, Yamagata]

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Sakura trees outside Ninomaru building and the surrounding moat | Photo source

What was formerly the Yamagata Castle (山形城) grounds has now been transformed into a large park with sports facilities and museums, such as Yamagata Prefectural Budokan (山形県武道館) and Yamagata Prefectural Museum (山形県立博物館) respectively. The more popular attraction is sakura, as thousands of century-old somei yoshino sakura trees decorate the spacious park. Night illumination is available during the bloom, while fallen petals fill the remaining moat.

Bloom period: Mid - late April
Access: From Yamagata Station, walk 15 mins to the park.

10. Mount Yoshino 吉野山 [Nara]

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Gorgeous sunset with Kinpusenji Temple and sakura trees in the foreground | Photo source

The entire surface of Mount Yoshino glows pink during the sakura season, as thousands of trees bloom in the cool mountain air. This spiritual site is home to countless religious buildings, such as Yoshino Mikumari Shrine (吉野水分神社), Kinpu Shrine (金峯神社), Kinpusen Temple (金峯山寺) and Yoshimizu Shrine (吉水神社). Momiji (紅葉) leaves colour the mountain red during autumn while the snowy landscape shines pristine during winter.

Bloom period: Late March - mid April
Access: From Yoshino Station, take the shuttle bus to Naka Senbon area near 
Chikurin-in Temple. Transfer to a mini bus to the Oku Senbon area of Yoshinoyama.

11. Isshingyo no Ozakura 一心行の大桜 [Aso City, Kumamoto]

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A looming figure againts the bright nanohana flower | Photo source

Known in English as the “Great Cherry Tree of Fervent Asceticism”, this this giant yamazakura (山桜) is surrounded by yellow nanohana (菜の花; rapeseed) flowers. With branches that span 21 m from left to right and a height of 26 m, Isshingyo no Ozakura has been a majestic sight for more than 400 years.

Bloom period: End March - early April
Access: From Nakamatsu Station on Minamiaso Railway, walk for 15 mins.

12. Kenrokuen 兼六園 [Kanazawa City, Ishikawa]

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Even without the sakura, Kenrokuen is a great place to visit all year round! | Photo source

This strolling-style garden is one of Japan’s top 3 gardens, incorporating all the six attributes of ancient Chinese gardens (spaciousness & seclusion, artifice & antiquity, water-courses & panoramas). Of the countless rare plants found here, two varieties are especially noteworthy – kiku sakura (菊桜) with over 300 petals per blossom, and kumagaya sakura (熊谷桜) which resemble peony.

Bloom period: Late April - early May
Access: From Kanazawa Station, take the Hokutetsu bus and alight at 
Kenrokuen-shita stop.

13. Lake Kawaguchiko 河口湖 [Yamanashi]

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A postcard-perfect image of Mount Fuji in springtime | Photo source

Do you want your own postcard image of Mount Fuji with sakura? Then visit any of the Fuji Five Lakes, of which Lake Kawaguchi is the most accessible. During the Fuji Kawaguchiko Cherry Blossom Festival (富士・河口湖さくらまつり) from 9 to 17 April, you will have plenty of opportunity to use that camera! Around 300 somei yoshino sakura trees can be found along the north shore Kohoku View Line and Ubugayasaki (産屋ヶ崎) – the place to get that iconic “Upside-Down Fuji” (逆さ富士) shot!

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A reflection of Mount Fuji on the lake with the brightly lit Kawaguchiko Bridge | Photo source
Bloom period: Early - mid April
Access: From Otsuki Station, take the Fujikyu Railway and alight at the last stop,
Kaawguchiko Station. Transfer to buses belonging to either the Kawaguchiko Line 
(eastern and northern shores of Lake Kawaguchi) or Saiko Line (southern shore of 
Lake Kawaguchi and around Lake Saiko).

14. Nagatoro Tamayodo Prefectural Natural Park 県立長瀞玉淀自然公園 [Chichibu City, Saitama]

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The path leading towards Hodosan Shrine | Photo source

Listed as one of Japan’s top 100 sakura viewing sites, Nagatoro (長瀞) becomes exceptionally beautiful during April. Must-see spots in the park include Kita Sakura Avenue (北桜通り) and Minami Sakura Avenue (南桜通り), which has a sakura tunnel respectively. Meanwhile, the paths near Hodosan Shrine (宝登山神社) are lined with sakura trees that becomes illuminated at night, creating the perfect night view. This year, Nagatoro Sakura Festival (長瀞桜まつり) will be held from 26 March to 24 April, so don’t miss it if you are nearby!

Bloom period: Late March - late April
Access: From Ueno Station, take the JR Takasaki Line to to Kumagaya Station. 
Change to the Chichibu Railway and alight at Nagatoro Station.

15. Kakunodate 角館 [Semboku City, Akita]

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Traditional samurai residence with swaying sakura branches | Photo source

Although more famous for its samurai houses along Bukeyashiki Dori (武家屋敷通り), the serene riverside town of Kakunodate is also a great place for sakura viewing. Beautiful weeping sakura trees (shidarezakura; 枝垂桜) soften the impressive old samurai residences, coupled with a sakura festival and illumination in the evening. Another noteworthy spot is the 2 km long sakura tunnel along the banks of the Hinokinai River (桧木内川), located at the town’s southern side.

Bloom period: Late April - early May
Access: 20 mins walk from Kakunodate Station, or take a taxi from the station.

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