Want an awesome location to enjoy the sakura and hanami? Then head to the ruins of Murakami Castle in Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture.
Located atop 135m Gagyu Mountain, only the stone walls of this 16th century castle remain. The walls are, however, large and extensive enough to be visible from more than two kilometers away. Brave the steep hike up Gagyu Mountain and you’ll be rewarded with a miniature Japanese version of Machu Picchu, and panoramic views extending across Murakami City all the way to the Sea of Japan in the west. The Iiderepo Mountains are also visible to the north, south and east. Come at the height of the sakura and you’ll find yourself in a wonderland of pink flowers. Hundreds of sakura trees have been planted all over the castle grounds from the third bailey, to the main bailey and tower foundation. The sakura are thickest in the third bailey and main bailey but the gaps between the trees in the main bailey, the highest point of the entire structure, offer the best views. The benches and more well maintained lawn of the main bailey and the level surrounding it offer the best locations for a picnic. The castle’s out of the way location also makes for greatly reduced crowds. This author has seen sakura in many great locations across Japan, but Murakami Castle’s sakura were far and away the best I’ve yet seen. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Being as far north as Murakami is, the sakura don’t peak until the end of April or the beginning of May. The castle is visible from the main entrance to Murakami Station. It’s 2km from there. Walking will take around 25 minutes, riding a bike (rentals available at Murakami Station - free with an Echigo One Day Pass) will take about half that. Go somewhere different this sakura season. Happy Travels!
Note: parts of the walls are under restoration until 2014. Blue tarps and some construction equipment do infringe upon viewing the castle between the 2nd and 3rd baileys. Overlook that or come when the sakura upstage that castle and you’ll have no problems enjoying this amazing castle.