Where and How to Enjoy Fukuoka Sakura

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 1.22.14 PMWhen you put the words “Japan” and “nature” together the first image that comes to mind may be the picturesque landscapes of sakura that the country is so well-known for. What you may not know is that due to Fukuoka’s location, it’s among the first places in Japan to bloom and there are plenty of amazing places to take in a relaxing day of hanami.

Ohori Park

Ohori Park is a spacious park with approximately 1,000 cherry trees circling a pond that was once part of Fukuoka Castle’s moat system. Swan boats are available that allow you to view the blossoming cherry trees from a vantage point of the pond’s waters. The park borders Maizuru Park so it is very convenient to visit both parks in the same day of cherry tree viewing.

Maizuru Park & Fukuoka Castle

Maizuru Park is occupied by the ruins of Fukuoka Castle and a small lake. The two in combination with the spectacle of blossoming cherry trees makes for a memorable experience. The park has many walking paths around and directly under the cherry trees. Maizuru Park, with approximately 1,000 cherry trees, is spacious enough to accommodate many visitors and offers great views from atop the ruins.

Fukuoka Castle was built in the beginning of the 17th century and was destroyed after the Meiji Restoration because it represented a feudal past the Meiji government was trying to forget. As a result, the only things remaining from the once largest castle in Kyushu are a few walls, turrets, and remnants of a moat. However, the contrast of the short lived cherry blossom and an old castle’s ruins still standing only adds to the fleeting beauty of the sakura experience at Maizuru Park. The best time to visit the ruins and Maizuru Park is usually late March and early April.

Atago Shrine

Atago Shrine sits at the peak of a hill approximately 68 meters above sea level. The shrine itself is not particularly large, but the panoramic view of Hakata Bay and Fukuoka City is enchanting. It is believed to be the oldest shrine in Fukuoka City and is one of the major shrines dedicated to the deity Atago. The paths to the hilltop and its shrine are guided by hundreds of cherry trees that are even illuminated at night.

Aburayama

Aburayama is the tallest mountain in Fukuoka City and peaks at 597 meters above sea level. It has well maintained facilities, provides seasonal scenery, and includes a suspension bridge and central lookout. The trails are not too difficult and are listed as acceptable for beginner-level hikers. There are approximately 2,000 cherry trees along the paths to and from the summit. This makes for a great weekend day trip to admire the sakura and panoramic view of Fukuoka from atop Aburayama.

The Japanese Weeping Cherry Tree and Other Types of Sakura

Hanami, or flower viewing, is a popular pastime in Japan. Every year millions of Japanese and tourists from all over the world venture out to the scenic parks, castles, and temples to catch a glimpse of this transient flower. In Fukuoka, the sakura trees usually start blossoming by the middle of March and are in full bloom by the month’s end.

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There are hundreds of different varieties of cherry trees and they all vary according to the shape and color of the flower’s petals. The Shidarezakura, or Japanese Weeping Cherry Tree, is perhaps the most popular and beloved of all cherry trees. The span of the tree’s branches and its overflowing flowers creates an image of a pink waterfall blessing its admirers below. Because of the longevity of these trees, you often see pillars supporting the weight of its branches so that it can continue to grow without breaking.

The most common and widely seen cherry tree in Japan is the Somei Yoshino. This particular cherry tree would have a relatively short life span (20–40 years) if it were not for the assistance of cultivators. The sakura petals of a Somei Yoshino cherry tree are in groups of five and of such a light-pinkish hue that they almost appear white in color.

The Yamazakura cherry tree usually has a large trunk and is rather unique since the flowers begin to bloom at the same time its red leaves begin to show. While not as intense as the Somei Yoshino, the combination of red leaves and light pink and white blossoms leaves a beautiful impression. The Yamazakura is the most common cherry tree variety that grows wildly, unlike the Somei Yoshino, which needs cultivators.

Two other cherry trees to keep an eye out for are Kawazuzakura and Yaezakura. One of the cherry trees whose blossoms see the light first is the Kawazuzakura. The large pink blossoms of this particular cherry tree bloom so early they are often confused with plum or peach trees. The cherry trees that can boast the most petals are the Yaezakura. Yaezakura is not a particular tree, but a general name for any cherry tree that produces flowers with more than five petals that bloom in layers. The flowers of a Yaezakura can have as much as 300 petals, resembling more of a chrysanthemum than a sakura.

3 Tips for Cherry Blossom Viewing in Fukuoka

When visiting the parks or castle ruins during Fukuoka’s hanami season, be sure to bring these necessities with you.

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1. Get there early and bring a large blanket, mat, or tarp to reserve your area because the parks become crowded quickly. Also, if you plan on staying into the evening bring a jacket. The temperature may be comfortable and sunny during the day, but once the sun goes down it can become rather chilly in an instant.

2. Bring plenty of entertainment. Be sure to pack books, speakers for your mp3 player or phone, playing cards, instruments, sports equipment, etc. You can only admire the delicate cherry trees for so long before needing a momentary break in concentration. If you’re wondering what the point is of bringing all this stuff, just remember that the attraction with hanami is the experience! It’s about the here and now—being present in the moment—the viewing of the beautiful short life of a sakura blossom; but beyond experiencing this realization is the opportunity to enjoy the crowds, watch the people, and appreciate the shared time with friends and family. So, it’s always good to have some entertainment on hand!

3. What good is a picnic without food? Be sure to bring plenty of food and drinks—yes, that means sake too! If you’ve been in Japan long enough, you’ll find that it’s almost impossible to find trashcans so be sure not to reinforce the concept that foreigners are slobs; it’s up to you to be a model “hanabier” and pick up after yourself.

If you happen to find yourself in Fukuoka during the cherry blossoms’ off-season, check out our article on Fukuoka seasons to find out what festivals you shouldn’t miss!

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