Although the last gasps of winter may make you think otherwise, come late March, spring is just around the corner, and everyone, from old ladies to young punks, is looking forward to the cherry blossom season. Here's a round up of the of hanami spots in and around Hiroshima city.
Once buds begin to appear on the sakura cherry trees, food wagons start to roll up at top hanami spots and lanterns are hung from trees. These places have the most cherry trees and are spectacular when the blossoms near the mankai full bloom stage. Their popularity can make for a cramped and often rowdy experience, but are also great fun. Ostensibly, an opportunity to admire nature's beauty and contemplate its impermanence, hanami can be hard on the liver. You do see people sitting quietly enjoying bento boxed lunches, but drinking copious amounts of alcohol is often central to the experience.
Below is a roundup of the most popular places in and around the city where you can enjoy listening to karaoke that could seriously damage your health, avoid eye contact with the drunkest bloke in the park, and of course, reflect on the fleeting nature of life as petals fall, gradually covering the comatose. If it is peace and quiet you are looking for, it's best to pack a lunch and seek out one of the many clumps of trees too small to be designated as a "spot". Many of these quieter areas can be found along Hiroshima's many rivers. Or, alternatively, head for the hills in search of wild yamazakura.
Peace Memorial Park
Its central location and the 300 sakura trees that line the banks of the Motoyasu River between the A-Bomb Dome and Peace Boulevard make Hiroshima’s Peace Park a very popular place for hamani. If part of a large group, on weekends you'll have to get here pretty early with your plastic sheet and defend it with your life to be assured of a decent spot. We should mention that some hibakusha A-bomb survivors find drinking and carousing on what they view as a mass grave to be in very poor taste. From the crowds that congregate there every year, it is obvious that this is not a universally held view. However, it is advised that you don’t let yourself get too out of control here and pay particular attention to taking away your own trash.
The grounds of Hiroshima Castle and the banks of the moat are a great place to view the 350 or so cherry trees that come into bloom in early April and it you can get some very nice “Japanesey” photos.
With about 1300 cherry trees lining the paths that weave their way around this hilltop park with good city views, Hijiyama is one of the top hanami spots in Hiroshima. The lights mean it can get pretty lively at night, though you’ll be expected to leave the park by 11pm. Why not take in an exhibition at HMOCA while you're there?
Sakura blossoms always look best on a bright sunny day against a clear blue sky, but Shukkei-en is one place where the somewhat unpredictable weather around hanami season can actually add to the atmosphere. You can also enjoy the blossoms while drinking Japanese tea, and there are sure to be some lovely kimono on display at the annual tea ceremony usually held on the first Sunday in April. But, if you want to enjoy some quiet reflection, to which the park lends itself, you should probably avoid weekends.
Peace Pagoda (Futaba-yama)
There are several large cherry trees on the flat piece of ground around the silver Peace Pagoda that sits on top of Futaba-yama just north of the Hiroshima Station. It is a lovely place to picnic and there are fantastic views. This is perfect for those who wish to combine a bit of hanami with a hike as the path up the mountain takes you under 100 or so vermilion torii shrine gates through a lovely forest.
There are cherry trees dotted around the grounds of Mitaki Temple, and the view of the Tahoto Pagoda framed by cherry blossoms is particularly well known, but it is the upper end of uphill approach to the temple where the blossoms are most impressive.
The usually nondescript little park (not much more than a square piece of dirt) explodes with white and pink blossoms and gets quite crowded with BBQing families. Mitaki is another place that is still very pleasant to visit even on a rainy day.
Chuo-koen Central Park and Motomachi POP’La Dori
There are quite a lot cherry trees which circle the grassy mound in Chuo-park, but by far the best place here is the wide strip of grass running along the Ota-gawa on the west edge of the park, recently rebranded as POP’La Dori. The cycle/pedestrian pathway that runs alongside is lined with beautiful cherry trees.
Hakushima Kukencho Park
A favorite spot for local residents is this (usually) quiet stretch of riverside along the Kyobashi River. It basically runs from Kohei-bashi Bridge (near the Big Wave sports center), is broken by Ushita O-hashi Bridge, and then continues down to Tokiwa-bashi Bridge just before the Shinkansen tracks cross the river. The road that runs just above the narrow park above the section between Kohei-bashi Bridge and Ushita O-hashi transforms into a cherry blossom tunnel, with the overhanging trees above and the freshly fallen petals on the road below - there's no sidewalk though, and cars tend to fly through so take care.