Visitors can get a head start and enjoy early-blooming cherry blossoms in Kawazu, Japan, that start blooming in February, about a month before most of the cherry blossoms in the rest of Japan. The climate in Kawazu on the Izu Peninsula is generally warmer than other parts of Japan even though it is still winter. Then, you can extend your cherry blossom adventure by moving north.
For example, in Hikone on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa in Central Japan, about 1 hour north of Kyoto, you should be able to see the beauty of the cherry trees by the end of March or first part of April. I was not in Hikone at cherry blossom time, but I did visit Hikone in May which is also a very pleasant time to visit.
A good historical landmark that also provides plenteous cherry blossom viewing is Hikone Castle. There are many castles in Japan, but this is one of only four castles in Japan designated as national treasures. Cherry trees are scattered throughout the grounds adding additional seasonal beauty to the appealing landscape.
Hikone Castle is an interesting stop. Allow plenty of time if you enjoy exploring the history and architecture. Just a few highlights are:
- The castle is surrounded by a moat and the Irohamatsu Pine Tree Path. It is said that pine trees were chosen to line the path because their roots to not stick out of the ground causing obstructions to walking and marching, which was important for the feudal lord’s processions.
- From inside the third floor of the castle one can look out over the landscape dotted with blooming cherry trees and see the city along Lake Biwa in the distance. Of course, this view as well as the landscape and garden-pond views around the castle are gorgeous during the summer, too. You do not have to restrict your visit to cherry blooming time! Moreover, Hikone does get its share of snow if you enjoy snowy winter scenery.
- The castle is home to Japan’s only extant horse stable within a castle; very unique.
- The curved tree trunks used for ceiling beams are unique.
- The almost straight-up stairs you have to climb to access the upper floor are fun.
- Oh, be prepared to take off your shoes upon entering the castle. You will be issued slippers to wear throughout the building.
Now, Japanese cherry blossoms are also special in the United States if you can’t get to Japan in time for viewing. The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. commemorates the gift of 3,000 cherry trees in 1912 from the Japanese mayor of Tokyo. The festival is a three-week festival beginning the end of March with many memorable events including the largest Japanese Cultural Festival in the United States. Today, these cherry blossoms have come to symbolize the natural beauty of the U.S. capital city and this festival is now the nation’s greatest springtime celebration.