In light of the recent outbreak of COVID-19, I decided to post sakura stories from previous years to enlighten the mood even just a little.
Note: this post was re-posted from my old website, originally published in April 2017.
I’ve always been wanting to go see sakura properly. Such as the trip I just experienced in Yamagata city, the capital of Yamagata prefecture. At the time I traveled to Yamagata, Sendai has lost most of its sakura beauty. On the other hand, the peak had just started for Yamagata’s sakura.
Arriving in Yamagata station together with my significant other, we straightaway walked to Kajo Park (霞城公園 Kajo-kouen), the center of sakura viewing in the city. The park is very close to the station, just around 10 minutes of walk. In fact, when you travel by train you can actually see the park by the railway just when the train is about to make it for Yamagata.
The park is much, much better than I thought. Advertised with having more than 1,500 sakura trees — most of them of somei-yoshino variety among others, the park offers you plenty of viewing areas as well as photo-opportunity spots. I mean literally, you could spend your whole day here without getting bored at all, just enjoying the view.
Kajo Park is actually built on the grounds of Yamagata castle ruins, known as ‘Kajo’ (霞城), literally means castle of mist or haze. The castle was the center of ruling in Yamagata domain when it was known in as Dewa province back in Muromachi period and was built by Shiba Kaneyori of Mogami clan. In the Meiji era, the castle complex was sold to the government and was used as a military base. Only after World War II, the castle complex was turned into what Kajo Park is now. In addition, Yamagata Prefectural Museum was built near the main gate. I did not have the chance to visit the museum but referring to its website I see some interesting contents there.
Best in all, during sakura season guaranteed you would always find yatai or food carts in sakura viewing spots. Enjoy the staple Japanese street food such as takoyaki (fried octopus covered in deep-fried flour-based batter), yakisoba (fried noodles), choco-banana (you read this right, chocolate-flavored banana), and karaage (deep-fried chicken) among others. Buy something to eat, get some beer and find a nice spot to sit down and you are essentially doing what Japanese people do.
I also visited Mamigasaki River (馬見ヶ崎川), a place similar to Ogawara in Miyagi or Kitakami in Iwate for its sakura-lined riverside. Though less popular compared to those two I mentioned, Mamigasaki is still visited by a great number of people. I saw fewer foreign travelers there and probably it is a good sign for now as you could take your time just lazing around without having to compete with large crowds.
Lies by Mamigasaki River, there is an indoor pool and large swathes of grass for a picnic. Going further there is a path uphill leading to a forest that gives you a trekking course vibe. Supposedly the path ends in a large body of water surrounded by sakura trees. I figure fewer people go this way, though I could not confirm since I did not follow the path until the end.
To end the trip to Yamagata, just as the sun started to go down, I stopped by Bunshokan, the former Yamagata prefectural office now turned into a museum. Nicknamed ‘bunkakan’, the building was built based on the British Renaissance style. The style makes the building stands out from all of its surroundings. I was pleasantly excited to discover this place. Bathed by the sunset light, Bunshokan gives you a slice of Europe in Yamagata.
All in all, Yamagata city has some unexpected spots to see sakura that are less-known than for instance, the famous Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my time in Yamagata, and I hope this writing gives you an insight into how interesting spring could be in the Tohoku region.
I’ll see you again in the next post!
Useful sites: Yamagata Travel Website (English)