Hokkaido’s Cherry Blossoms: 5 Recommended Spots and Related Tips
There's no time in Japan more coveted than the cherry blossom season. Known in Japanese as 'sakura', cherry blossoms have long defined this country's history, philosophy, landscape, and culture quite unlike any other flower.
In late March - April, when the days start to get longer and warmer and the fleeting blossoms are at their peak, the country is filled with a sense of hope and wonderment. It's also incredibly popular for international travelers to visit Japan trying to get in on the action. However, if you want to miss the crowds and see a more intimate side of the country, consider planning a sakura-inspired adventure to Hokkaido.
Because the weather is a little cooler than mainland Japan, Hokkaido's cherry blossoms bloom a little later and longer, typically appearing in April and blooming until May. In other words, if you missed the cherry blossoms in Kyoto or Tokyo, you might just be able to catch the blooms in Hokkaido! The region's later blossoms and pristine landscapes make it ideal for a leisurely spring trip.
We introduce five unique cherry blossom places to add to your Hokkaido itinerary, along with a location that is famous for shibazakura (moss phlox)!
1. Great Views From Above! Goryokaku Tower and Park in Hakodate
If you're lucky enough to be in the historic city of Hakodate during spring, one sight you cannot miss is the bird's-eye view of the iconic star-shaped Goryokaku Fort surrounded by clouds of pink cherry blossoms.
The fort's unique shape is thanks to Ayasaburo Takeda, a professor of European studies, and French military officer Jules Brunet who, under the watch of the Tokugawa Shogunate, created Goryokaku in the likeness of fortified cities of Europe in the early modern period. Its name literally means "five-point fort," and completed in 1866, it took nearly seven years to be built.
This designated historical site, Goryokaku, is a western-style fort built over a century and a half ago. The Hakodate Magistrate's Office at the center of the fort, which was once used as a samurai-run government office, is now open to the public.
From the top of the 107 meter-high Goryokaku Tower, you'll be gifted with unparalleled views of the around 1,500 cherry blossom trees – mainly of the Somei Yoshino species – that bloom in Goryokaku Park, as well as sweeping panoramic views of Hakodate City.
Picture courtesy of Goryokaku Tower
If you've got a sweet tooth, be sure to try the incredibly delicious soft-serve ice cream varieties available at the cafe stand on the first floor of Goryokaku Tower's observatory. In April, for a limited time, they offer the Hakodate Sakura Soft (380 yen), a cherry-blossom-flavored soft-serve ice cream treat. The Mixed Cherry Blossom soft-serve ice cream (380 yen), which combines the sakura and milk flavors, is also very appetizing. Otherwise, try any of the flavors available at the time of your visit; they offer some of the best tasting soft-serve ice cream in Hokkaido.
When you're ready to explore the surrounding area in a little more depth, be sure to make your way to Goryokaku Park for some hanami (cherry blossom viewing) strolling. For lunch, pop by one of the city's most-loved ramen stores Ajisai, which is located adjacent to the tower and park.
2. The Northernmost Castle Town! Matsumae Park in Hakodate
Hakodate's Matsumae Park is not only the proud owner of the title of 'Japan's northernmost castle' thanks to Matsumae Castle (also known as Fukushima Castle) – but it's also one of the nation's best cherry blossom destinations.
Popular with locals but a well kept-secret from international travelers, Matsumae Park boasts a staggering 10,000-large family of cherry blossom trees that transform the landscape from a lush, historical park to a fairytale-esque scene awash with pink sakura blossoms.
The park is home to around 250 varieties of cherry trees, which typically bloom successively from April to late May, a lot later and a little longer than mainland Japan. The park also has a Sakura Museum, located just north of the castle. Here you'll find displays and exhibits outlining the history and development of sakura blossoms as well as specimen samples of what you'll find on the park grounds.
In celebration of the season, Matsumae Park also hosts the Matsumae Park Cherry Blossom Festival, complete with food stalls and live entertainment. For the perfect photo spot, be sure to make your way to the north of the park, toward Mt. Shogun (215 m) and the Hachijuhakkasho Hiking Circuit, which was once a pilgrimage route. Here you'll find an ideally-positioned viewpoint complete with castle and cherry blossom views, the picture-perfect image of Japan in spring.
3. A Splendid Sakura Forest! Moerenuma Park in Sapporo
One of Sapporo City's most loved and uniquely landscaped parks, Moerenuma Park is stunning all year round, but especially in spring when the park's cherry blossom trees burst into full bloom.
The park sits just outside the city – 25 minutes by bus – and was designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi. An icon of Japanese-American art and design, Isamu Noguchi, born in the USA, spent most of his career in Japan, where he designed this dramatic and fascinating park, but unfortunately passed away before it was completed and opened in 2005.
The spacious, open park has a spectacular water fountain called the Sea Fountain, a 62 meter-tall man-made mountain called Mount Moere, a giant glass pyramid, and an artificial beach, Moere Beach. But in spring, the place to be is the park's cherry blossom forest.
Home to around 2,600 cherry trees, the park's cherry blossom forest also features hidden play equipment designed by sculpture artist Isamu Noguchi, making it a unique way to marvel at and take in the magical spring ambience of Moerenuma Park.
With so much to see and do in the park, it's an ideal family-friendly day destination and the embodiment of Sapporo city's creativity and youthful, playful energy.
4. A Historic Road Flanked by Cherry Blossoms! Shizunai Nijukken Cherry Blossom Road
Seven kilometers long, the Shizunai Nijukken Cherry Blossom Road is one of the most picturesque spring strolling spots in all of Hokkaido. Located about three hours from Sapporo city by bus, the town of Shizunai is a much-loved destination for cherry blossom hunters, with over 200,000 visitors making their way to the area each year to see the spectacular spring sight.
The road was initially built in 1903 for the Imperial family's ranch. During construction, the workers spent three years collecting and transplanting the 3,000 or so Ezo yamazakura cherry blossom trees that now line the road and are usually in full bloom in early May.
Most visitors like to make a day of their visit to Shizunai Nijukken Cherry Blossom Road, packing snacks and water and walking from one end of the road to the other. You can start at either end, but one local tip is to get there early if you'd like a more peaceful experience.
When the blossoms are in full bloom during the spring, the road is also home to a seasonal sakura festival complete with food stalls where you can sample local specialities and seasonal treats. If you have a little extra time to spare, be sure to visit the gorgeous, 100-year-old villa Ryuunkaku, which is situated on the east side of Nijukken road. Built for an Imperial visit in 1909, it's only open to the public during the cherry blossom season.
5. A Cherry Blossom Tunnel! Noboribetsu Onsen Flower Tunnel
You might not have known, but one of Hokkaido's most sought-after hot spring destinations, Noboribetsu Onsen is also a prime cherry blossom spotting destination in spring, thanks to the Noboribetsu Onsen Flower Tunnel.
The tunnel was crafted in 1934 in celebration of the birth of Emperor Akihito, who was Japan’s Emperor during the Heisei era (1989-2019), by the citizens of Noboribetsu. It features around 2,000 trees located along the road from the JR Noboribetsu Station to Noboribetsu Onsen.
When the trees reach full bloom, which is typically mid-May, their branches, heavy with flowers, transform the volcanic landscape of the hot spring town.
In spring, Noboribetsu shifts from a rugged, sulphuric moon-like landscape to a picture of tranquil, fleeting Japanese floral beauty. If you have the time, consider spending a few nights in the area, so you can take in the views and soak in the town's world-renowned hot springs.
Pictures courtesy of Takimotokan
Often, the town's ryokan facilities celebrate the season with sakura-themed menus and special seasonal dishes. Takimotokan in Noboribetsu Onsen offers sakura inspired kaiseki set menus available at their Yunosato restaurant and in-room meals during the cherry blossom season. They've also created a cocktail made from a cherry liqueur and Noboribetsu milk called "Japonaisakura"; it's bright pink, sweet, and delicious!
Bonus! Amazing Spring Views in Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park in Ozora
While shibazakura (moss phlox) is technically not sakura, the stunning views of Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park, located in the town of Ozora, are an excellent addition to your Hokkaido spring itinerary.
The park, which is located in the northeastern region of Hokkaido – accessible from Memanbetsu Airport – is a popular flower destination throughout the year's warmer months, but in spring, the views are simply iconic!
When you visit, make your way to the observation deck, where you'll get a better picture of the park's ten hectare-large rolling hills carpeted in various shades of pink moss phlox.
The park has many novel attractions, including a distinctive pink torii gate, flower art – flowers planted to create an illustration – and soft pink soft-serve ice cream. For another perspective on the park, hop aboard the park tram to cruise around and take in the views in style.
Enjoy the Spring Blooms in Hokkaido!
From the historic Hakodate to the fascinating parks of Sapporo and the scenic strolling roads of Shizunai and Noboribetsu, you won't find a cherry blossom destination quite like Hokkaido.
Although the region is typically best known for its winter attractions, Hokkadio's laid back beauty and incredible nature make it a perfect place to fully immerse yourself in the country's four distinct seasons.
All pictures courtesy of Pixta