A guide to cherry blossom viewing in Hiroshima-ken

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Iwakuni hanami. (Photo by Joe Meadows)

By Gail Cetnar Meadows

After a long winter spent shivering around the kotatsu, some of us could no doubt use a reminder why so many people back home are jealous of us for living in Japan.

The pink glow on the horizon? Cherry blossom season!

At the end of March the Japanese landscape explodes into a cloud of ethereal pink blossoms, accompanied by the traditional hanami parties, or cherry blossom viewing parties. Not ones to let such beauty pass unappreciated, the Japanese pack the parks to wile away their afternoons sipping sake and relaxing under the cherry trees.

With the season so short-lived — the blossoms only last about 10 days — there’s a small window of time to visit many of the area’s most spectacular spots. That’s why we’ve compiled this Hiroshima-ken Hanami Guide to help you find the most beautiful cherry blossom sites. A big thanks to all those who recommended their favorite spots!

So grab a blue tarp, your tomodachi and your favorite sake and prepare to enjoy Japan at its best at these top sites.

Senkoji Park, Onomichi City

Senkoji Park covers Mt. Senkoji, behind JR Onomichi Station. With 10,000 cherry trees, Senkoji Park has been rated one of Japan’s 100 best sites for hanami. It’s a mystery who makes these lists, but with that many trees, Senkoji Park is a safe bet for beautiful views.

Directions: JR Onomichi Station is on the Sanyō Line. Take a bus from the station to the Nagae-guchi bus stop (about 7 minutes). Or you can just walk — it’s only 15 minutes. Then ride the Senkoji Ropeway to the top of the mountain.

Shukkeien Garden, Hiroshima City

Shukkeien Garden, constructed in 1620, boasts several different varieties of cherry trees and is quite a pleasant place for a stroll among the blossoms. Climbing up some stairs near one spot in the park, visitors may feel as though they’re walking into a cloud of cherry blossoms. Admission is 250 yen. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until March 31, with hours extending to 6 p.m. in April.

Directions: It is a 15-minute walk from Hiroshima Station. Go out the south exit (not the Shinkansen side) and go straight out from the station until you get to the river. At the river, take a right and follow the river. After you cross the second bridge (the Sakaebashi bridge) take the next right (near Noborimachi Junior High School) and follow the road around the bend until you see the garden.

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Sakura and the Atomic Bomb Dome. (Photo by Adam MacDonald)

Peace Park, Hiroshima City

A long row of cherry trees blankets the banks of the Motoyasu River in Peace Park, making it an excellent place to enjoy sakura and sake while contemplating the historical significance of the spot.

Directions: From Hiroshima Station, take the streetcar to Genbaku Dome-mae (the Atomic Bomb Dome) stop.

Hijiyama Park, Hiroshima City

Hijiyama Park is situated on a small hill in the eastern end of Hiroshima city by the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art and the Manga Library. There are fine views of the city from this park, including Peace Boulevard, and the hillside is covered with 1,300 cherry trees. This place is packed on weekends during cherry blossom season, so be sure to get there early to snag a good spot.

Directions: From Hiroshima Station, ride the streetcar 15 minutes to the Hijiyama-shita stop. From there it’s a 10-minute walk up the hill. There is also a free shuttle bus up to the Contemporary Art Museum. If you approach the hill on foot from the east, you’ll see a tunnel and the Hijiyama Koen Skyway, where you can hitch a cool (and free!) ride on a long escalator to the park at the top of the hill.

Miyajima

What list of “pretty places to see in Japan” would be complete without a mention of Miyajima? Combine cherry blossoms with the island’s five-story pagoda and you’ve got some fantastic photo opportunities. Omoto Park is another pretty place to see the blossoms, as well.

Directions: Take the JR Sanyo Line west to Miyajima-guchi Station. Go out the south exit and walk about 200 meters to the ferry port. Take the ferry to the island.

Ueno Park, Shobara City

If you’d rather avoid the crush of crowds at the more urban hanami spots, then this is one recommended inaka destination. Ueno Park sits on a hill in Shobara City in northeastern Hiroshima-ken. Inside the park is a 4-kilometer long pond surrounded by cherry trees and paper lanterns, which make for a lovely sight at night with the blossoms reflected on the water’s surface.

Directions: Shobara is accessible by highway from the Chugoku Expressway, Route 183 or Route 432. The JR West Geibi Line runs through Shobara. From Bingo Shobara station, head south on Route 231 and turn left at the second stop light onto Route 422. At the next stop light Route 422 veers to the right. Keep following 422 until you get to the lake. Turn right and follow the lake shore to the park.

Kagamiyama Park, Saijo City

Kagamiyama Park, near Hiroshima University, is covered in blossoms and is a favorite party spot for the college crowd, so its atmosphere can get quite lively.

Directions: JR Saijo Station is on the Sanyo Line. From the station, buses run to the park.

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(From left to right) Sachiko Nagamine, Chris Heagle and Tanya Carter looking fabulous under the cherry blossoms in Hiroshima’s Peace Park. (Photo by Adam MacDonald)

Haji Dam Nodogoe Park, Haji, Yachiyo-cho, Akitakata City

This spot is also unquestionably inaka, but it sounds like the trip would be worthwhile. Former JET Russ Tyler tells us “Haji Dam is the absolute dog’s bollocks! There’s so many trees!!!” An older teacher at my school also said he considers the dam, which is surrounded by 3,000 cherry trees, to be one of the prettiest places for cherry blossoms in all of Japan.

Directions: It’s 10 minutes by car from Chiyoda Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway, and it’s probably best to get their by car. Buses do run there from Hiroshima Bus Center, but time schedules can be inconvenient. It takes just over an hour. For maps and access information, see a Google translated version of the Akitakata’s Web site at http://tinyurl.com/coyod2. Click on the “Overview of the town” link on the left side, and then click on “Access.”

Nikko Gorge Park, Kure City

Nikko Gorge Park and the area along the Nikogawa River are the best places in Kure to see cherry blossoms. Fellow JET Jonathan Fisher says, “I’m told it gets fairly crowded as Kure events go, but it’s off the beaten track, and its a good excuse to spend a day in Kure (like you need an excuse!). The Gorge is actually a good bet all year round for escaping the crowds.”

Directions: Nikogawa River is about three blocks north of JR Kure Station, which is on the Kure Line. Follow the river into the hills (a 20 minute walk) and you’ll reach Nikko Gorge Park.

Fukuyama Castle, Fukuyama City

The abundant cherry trees surrounding Fukuyama Castle make it the finest place in Fukuyama to enjoy the blossoms.

Directions: Take the train to JR Fukuyama Station on the Sanyo Line. Exit Fukuyama Station on the north side and you can’t miss it. The castle is right there in Fukuyama Park.

Bamboo Joy Highland Bamboo Arts Center, Takehara City

The park surrounding the center is a nice place to enjoy the blossoms and go for a stroll on the walking trails. While you’re there, you can check out the bamboo museum and the wind instrument made of 270 bamboo poles.

Directions: Take the train to JR Onori Station on the Kure Line. Get off and walk up the hill. It takes about 20 minutes. You may also be able to catch a bus from the station, but it’s unclear how often it runs.

Kintai-kyo Bridge, Iwakuni City, Yamaguchi-ken

OK, so it’s not in Hiroshima-ken, but close enough. Large crowds flock to Iwakuni to take in the spectacular sight of the sakura and lanterns lining the shore along the hilly Kintai-kyo. Get there early to stake out a nice spot under a cherry tree.

Directions: Iwakuni Station is on the JR Sanyo Line. From Iwakuni Station, there’s a regular bus that runs to Kintai-kyo. Buses also run to the bridge from Hiroshima Bus Center.

TRACKING THE SAKURA
by Roisin McGowan

The blooming of cherry blossoms, or sakura in Japanese, is a significant event in Japanese society. Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, should not be confused with hanabi, which is watching fireworks.

The practice of hanami was imported from China, but the meaning is slightly different in Japan. Some say that the transience of the cherry blossoms is symbolic of human mortality and their beauty should be enjoyed as much as possible.

In the run-up to the actual floewring, regular updates can be seen on the news everyday. In March, the Japan Meteorological Agency also posts a cherry blossom forecast on its Web site, http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html.

Signs will be posted in many of the train stations so you can track the status of the cherry blossoms in various locations.

That way, you can be sure to enjoy every minute of the cherry blossoms while they last.