Shibazakura Viewing at Hitsujiyama park, Chichibu – The Colorful Carpet of Flowers!

Golden week had quickly come and gone. In Japan, there are a few long holidays; one of those is Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク). Golden week starts around the end of April till the start of May. This year, April 29th and May 3rd – 6th are holidays; hence, the holidays are divided to 2 parts of 3 days and 4 days with 3 working days in between. Some people may be lucky and get 10 consecutive days of holidays from April 27th to May 6th! My work schedule was a little different. I got holidays on May 1st-6th so I used this time to visit Tokyo again. 🙂

On May 2nd, I visited the famous shiba-zakura (芝桜) park in Chichibu city(秩父市), Saitama prefecture(埼玉県).

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Shiba-Zakura (芝桜) season comes around mid April till mid June, a bit after the sakura season. Shiba-zakura is called moss phlox in English. It is a plant that is similar to shrub-type plants which grows to a height of about 10 centimeters with long leaves and small vividly pinkish flowers. Due to its appearance that is similar to cherry blossom, it has been called ‘shiba-zakura’. I have never seen shiba-zakura before but I have heard wonderful things about it, so I decided to visit the nearest park to Tokyo in Golden Week.

20130507-102602.jpgChichibu city (秩父市) is located in the Northeast of Saitama prefecture(埼玉県), a neighbor prefecture of Tokyo. It is famous for shrines and nature especially for outdoor activities such as flower viewing, picnic, barbecue and strawberry picking. There are also many festivals such as Chichibu night festival in which decorated floats are lighted up at night in a shrine. There was a festival on the day I went as well but time was limited so I couldn’t stay long enough to see. The easiest way to get to Chichibu is by train from Ikebukuro station. I took Seibu-ikebukuro line (西武池袋線)from Ikebukuro station (池袋駅) to Seibu-chichibu station (西武秩父駅). The trip took about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Apparently, there are express trains as well but the tickets were all sold out for the day due to the amount of people visiting during holidays. So, make sure you get the tickets beforehand if you plan to go on holidays.

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When we arrived at seibu-chichibu station, it was around 11 AM. The weather was extremely hot! We followed the crowd and walked up the hills to Hitsujiyama park (羊山公園). Occasionally, we would stop and buy some cold drinks to keep our body cool. We paid a small fee for the entrance and entered. This park is one of the renowned spring destinations with amazingly colorful shiba-zakura that are not only planted in different rows for each color, but also in different shapes making the whole field appears to be an incredible carpet of vividly attractive small flowers. Sometimes, this place is also called ‘Moss Hill‘. I found it very picturesque and just spectacular, similar to a scene from a lively musical movie! There are flower rows in pink, light purple, purple, light blue, white and some are planted in circular or heart shapes. I had to fight the urge to jump into the flowers! At that time, it felt like a thing to do…

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One of the things I love most about Japan is that Japan has a way to make nature very attractive and Japanese people sure know how to appreciate it. They create an event out of what is around and make everything exciting. All year round, there are always new events, things to see and places to explore. It is obvious that this shiba-zakura flower field was well designed and surely has become a great tourist spot out of the wonderful nature. It is just very impressive. In Japan, people definitely have a great sense of beauty.

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There are some other places to view Shiba-zakura as well. One is on the foot of Mount Fuji. Just only imagine a colorful flower field with amazing Fuji view on the background, I could tell it is worth it. Also, there are some other similar places in Hokkaido. (Click here to see other shiba-zakura destinations.)

Shiba-zakura festival near Mount Fuji -> http://www.shibazakura.jp/ (Japanese), News in English -> click here!

Other than Hitsujiyama Park, there are also other places in Chichibu city. I got to visit another park called Chichibu Muse park (秩父ミューズパーク)which is famous for poppies. I took a free shuttle bus from Hitsujiyama park to Muse park and a free shuttle bus to Chichibu station before heading back to Tokyo. However, this time the poppies were not in full bloom yet, so we got 50% discount for our tickets. Despite not being to view the poppies, the park was beautiful. I could see different kinds of flowers which I don’t know what they are but it really didn’t matter since everything was beautiful. I also found a small two-storied stadium on top of the mountain where we can see scenic mountain views. The scenery was breathtaking.

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If you plan to visit these places, don’t forget to bring a hat or a UV umbrella. The weather was so hot that it got me a very bad cold. *boo* So yes, prepare well and enjoy spring! 🙂

Hitsujiyama park official site -> http://navi.city.chichibu.lg.jp/flower/shibazakura/ (Japanese)

Nearest station: Seibu-chichibu station

Muse park official site -> http://www.muse-park.com/ (Japanese)

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Japan Mint Cherry Blossom Viewing, Osaka 2013 – Yaezakura

In a few posts before, I talked about Yae-Zakura (八重桜) which is double cherry blossoms and the event for Yaezakura viewing at Japan mint bureau (造幣局) in Osaka head office which is now officially opened to public from April 16th-22nd.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to go to the event. I choose to go on a weekday expecting that there will be zillions of people on the weekend. As soon as I got out of Temmabashi station (天満橋駅), I could see sign saying ‘Cherry Blossom viewing’ (桜の通り抜け) with police shouting and pointing out the direction toward Japan Mint Bureau.

From the station, we walked across Ogawa river (大川)and turned right.

20130419-092553.jpgSo many food stalls were all along two sides of the road making the place look like a festival.

I got there around 5 pm, just before everyone gets off work so there were not too many people but still…I wouldn’t say there weren’t a lot of people. 😉

As soon as I passed through the crowd into Japan Mint, I was in shock for a few seconds… Most of the sakura were gone! The area was mostly green and some sakura trees had zero blossoms or some with withered blossoms. Before going there, I had some doubts whether the timing of the official event was a bit too late or not too since the weather this year got warm faster than other years. However, despite a little disappointment, some sakura trees were still very beautiful. 🙂

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This one was still full of blossoms. This type of sakura is just beautiful. The blossoms look like little bouquets hanging on a tree.

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Apparently, even among Yae-zakura, there are so many types as well. Unfortunately, this year we could not see the green and yellow Yae-zakura which must have already fallen a couple of weeks ago.

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The area inside Japan mint is somewhat similar to what supposed to be a cherry blossom tunnel with coins and metallic objects factory along side.

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Most sakura trees started to have green leaves indicating that the blossoms are about to fall. Still, it is beautiful. But as we all know, sakura is short-lived. At night, all the sakura trees were lit up and the night sakura view is said to be enchanting. I did not stay till the light up this time.

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There were also so many food stalls from the exit gate of Japan mint till the main road. I had lots of delicious festival food. 🙂

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Then, I walked back to the station pass the beautiful Ogawa river. Across the street, a huge crowd of people who just finished working were marching down to Japan Mint bureau to see Yaezakura.

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Beautiful view of Ogawa river in Osaka city

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People walking from Temmabashi station toward Japan Mint

Website: http://www.mint.go.jp/category/eng

Yae-zakura (八重桜) – Double-layer Cherry Blossom

There are many kinds of  cherry blossom. Yae-Zakura is a double-layer type of sakura which is famous for its beauty and strength. The normal type of one-layer sakura tends to be fragile and easily be blown away by strong wind or rain. I believe that a lot of us have never heard or seen this type of sakura before.

I recently visited Osaka castle wanting to see some sakura but sadly the storm had blown all the blossoms away. However, I did found this one tree of Yae-Zakura that was still full of blossoms. This type of sakura is just truly beautiful! Definitely worthwhile to see.

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I have read somewhere before that it used to be found only in Nara prefecture and mostly up on Yoshino (吉野) mountain where you can go up by rope way to view the whole mountain full of beautiful cherry blossoms. But these days, it seems to be found everywhere. I also found some information about where to see Yae-Zakura in Osaka. Apparently, there are some exhibitions and places to see this particular type of sakura.  Yae-zakura blooms a bit later than the normal sakura and the exhibition is only opened to public officially when they are in full bloom. The hanami may have been over but Yae-zakura is still here!

Where to see: Japan Mint – Osaka Head Office. This organization is an Incorporated Administrative Agency where coins, medals, metallic art objects and others are produced. You can visit the factory and see the facilities and how the objects are produced. This sounds a bit strange as a place to display Yae-zakura but the special thing about this place is not the metallic objects they produce but the fact that it has so many Yae-Zakura trees inside the place.

This year, the official opening for cherry blossom viewing is from April 16th to 22nd. Every night, the lanterns are also turned on so you can enjoy beautiful night views of sakura. Hopefully, I’ll get to visit when the event starts! 🙂

Info on the official event: http://www.mint.go.jp/enjoy-eng/sakura-eng/toorinuke-eng/eng_osaka_viewing2013.html

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Kiyomizudera (清水寺), Kyoto (京都) – Beautiful all year round

Recently, I just moved from Yokohama/Tokyo to Osaka for less than a week. I’m still not at all familiar with life in Kansai yet. However, the good thing about being in Osaka is that it is close to many great places in Japan – Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, etc. So many places to explore. All my weekend schedules are now filled. 🙂

This is probably the 7th time I visited Kyoto ever since I came to Japan and this temple is one of places I never miss every time I go – Kiyomizudera (清水寺), one of the most celebrated temples in Kyoto. Kyoto is definitely one of my favorite cities in Japan. It is an old city with so many beautiful temples and  historic places. Everything is just so charming here.

I came to this temple many times in different seasons. First time in winter..then fall, summer and now spring. Summer is not recommended since the sun will burn you like you are on the beach. Spring and fall are probably the best seasons to visit especially fall when the leaves turn yellow and orange. This temple is just magical in so many ways I can never explain. It is huge and the view from the temple is just amazing.

How to get there: Kyoto station -> Bus number 100 or 206 to Gojo-zaka (五条坂) or Kiyomizu-michi (清水道) stop. Each ride is 220 yen so it is recommended to buy 500 yen 1 day bus ticket.

From the bus stop, you can walk up to the temple. Along the way, there are many shops you can buy Japanese souvenirs, snacks, ice cream and others. One thing I always have to buy here is the Kyoto famous snacks- Yatsuhashi (八ツ橋). It is a thin slice of flour..mochi-like snack with stuffed flavor inside. If you don’t want to buy, don’t worry! Go try some they give out for free with a cup of tea. 😉

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I have some of the pictures from my earlier trip to Kiyomizudera in winter and the recent one in spring. Can’t remember where I put other photos from other trips. You can see that this temple is beautiful all year round.

Winter 2010

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Spring 2013

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Now in spring, sakura is visible and it goes perfectly with the temple. Just beautiful!

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(I wanted to sit on this guy’s spot and take a picture! oh well…)

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Sakura viewing – Hanami in Tokyo!

This year, sakura (桜) started to bloom a bit earlier than it usually does. Normally, sakura should be in full bloom around early April, just in time for entrance ceremony (入学式-nyugakushiki) for schools in Japan. But this year, the season has started from mid-March which is around the time for graduation ceremony (卒業式-sotsugyoushiki). This probably explains why there are a lot of girls in “Hakama (袴)”, a Japanese costume for graduation ceremony, taking photos with beautiful sakura scene.

I used to live in Beppu city, a small city in Oita prefecture, for about 3.5 years. Every year, our only option was always Beppu park (別府公園). So I got a bit excited when sakura started to bloom this year having heard that there are so many good spots here in Tokyo. Last year, I was also away for a company training in Nagano (長野県), a famous city for skiing and winter activities. Therefore, I can say that this year is actually my first time for sakura spotting in Tokyo.

When we talk about going out picnic under the sakura trees or just simple going for a walk along the river with beautiful sakura and others, the word ‘hanami (花見)’ is used. This word literally means ‘flower-viewing’, hana (花)= ‘flower’ and mi (見)= ‘see’ from the verb ‘mi-ru (見る)’ . Thus,  in other words, it means flowers viewing which is particularly imply to sakura.

This time, I visited two places for hanami in Tokyo: Naka-meguro and Yoyogi park.

  • Yoyogi park

Yoyogi park is a famous park in the city center of Tokyo. The closest JR station is Harajuku- one of the most famous shopping area so, it is always packed with people during this season. This time, my friend and I decided to walk into the park just to see the sakura. We did not expect to sit down and have a picnic under the sakura tree at all since we can predict that the park is already full of people. We took a lot of pictures. It was enjoyable just to see beautiful sakura and people having fun with their families and friends. 🙂

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  • Naka-meguro

I have heard a lot of good things about Naka-meguro. It is located in meguro-ku and is only one station away from Shibuya on a rapid train on Tokyu-Toyoko line which is the line I use to commute everyday. The sakura view here is famous since there are sakura trees are along both sides of meguro river. It is an amazing view. 🙂 I had the best time there. I can say it was the best hanami I’ve ever had. The whole area was so beautiful with all the sakura in full bloom. It looks kind of like a sea or a huge cloud of pinkish-white sakura. I can just walk there all day. There are many interesting shops, cafes and food carts all around, too. So the hanami experience in Naka-meguro is definitely worthwhile.

Moreover, in Naka-meguro, they have lanterns hanging on the branches of sakura trees. They light them up at night during sakura festival. This year the festival starts from April 7th which is too late for the season this year. All the sakura will probably be gone by then…

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Some other good spots I have heard of:

1) Shinjuku Gyoen, 2) Ueno park, 3) Sumida park, 4) Inokashira park

…and so many others. Enjoy your hanami everybody!

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