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8 ways to enjoy Hitome Senbonzakura’s cherrific sakura

8 ways to enjoy Hitome Senbonzakura’s cherrific sakura

It’s finally April and the season of cherry blossoms (桜 sakura) is upon us. In particular, the region of Tohoku is filled with a multitude of places to enjoy natural scenery, and shines brightest in spring, when the dazzling cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

 

If you were to ask me which place in Tohoku I’d recommend to enjoy these enchanting flowers, my answer would without a doubt be Hitome Senbonzakura (一目千本桜) in Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県 Miyagi-ken). Although COVID-19 disrupted my trip in 2020, I’ve seen and heard enough from acquaintances reaffirming its dazzling and dynamic views…Just look at that scenery!

 

1,200 cherry blossom trees line the banks of the Shiroishi River. (Image credit: U-media)

 

The name “Hitome Senbonzakura” literally means “a thousand cherry blossom trees in a glance”, and it’s not hard to see how it got its name. Lining the banks of the Shiroishi River (白石川 Shiroishi-gawa) are approximately 1,200 cherry blossom trees, which are usually in bloom around early to mid-April.

 

In just one place, you can enjoy a multitude of varying views: Snowy mountains in the background? Check. Passing trains? Check. Water features? Check. Bird’s eye view? Check. You can easily spend a whole day wandering around this area, and best of all, most of these stunning views are free!

 

Map of Hitome Senbonzakura's hightlights. (Image credit: Google Maps)

 

To enjoy the fantastic views of Hitome Senbonzakura, you’ll need to start from either JR Funaoka Station (船岡駅) or JR О̄gawara Station (大河原駅). Walking the entire 3.5km stretch between the two stations takes around 50 minutes, but other than the riverside, there are many more cherrific spots along the way to stop by and revel in the beauty of the cherry blossoms. In this article, I will introduce eight of them. Are you ready to find out what they are? Let’s go!

 

① Sakurahodo Bridge

View from the Sakurahodo Bridge (top) and walking along the riverbank under the bridge. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

Upon arriving at Funaoka Station, let’s head towards the Sakurahodo Bridge (さくら歩道橋 Sakurahodо̄-bashi) to get up close to the river and the sakura. Just a 4-minute walk from the station, the Sakurahodo Bridge is a pedestrian bridge that goes across the Shiroishi River, so you can enjoy a face-on view of the river. To get even closer to the scenery, head on down to the riverbank. With the cherry blossoms gently swaying in the breeze, strolling along the riverbank is both cooling and relaxing.

 

Sakurahodo Bridge (さくら歩道橋)
Access: 4-minute walk from JR Funaoka Station (船岡駅)
Admission fee: Free

 

② Shiroishigawa Seno Park

Colourful flowers at the Shiroishigawa Seno Park. (Image credit: U-media)

 

Continue walking along the riverbank for 20 minutes until we reach our next stop, the Shiroishigawa Seno Park (白石川千桜公園 Shiroishi-gawa Sen’ō Kōen). Here, bright yellow forsythia (レンギョウ rengyō) and daffodils (水仙 suisen) bloom together with the pale pink cherry blossoms to create a colourful symphony of spring. Together with the blue sky and red walking paths, the vibrant scenery you’ll enjoy here is sure to lift your spirits!

 

Shiroishigawa Seno Park (白石川千桜公園)
Access: 20-minute walk from JR Funaoka Station (船岡駅)
Admission fee: Free

 

Walking up the Shibata Senokyo Bridge from Shiroishigawa Seno Park. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

From the park, head on up to our next viewpoint, Shibata Senokyo Bridge, which is a hot favourite with train photography fans (撮り鉄 toritetsu). Do you know why?

 

③ Shibata Senokyo Bridge

Train photography fans snapping away at a passing train. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

Recently built in 2015, the Shibata Senokyo Bridge (しばた千桜橋 Shibata Sen'ōkyō) offers stunning, elevated views of the sakura trees. It almost feels as if you are floating over a canopy of pink! If you’re a train photography fan, this is one spot you don’t want to miss. The Shibata Senokyo Bridge is built directly over the railway tracks, offering a close-up view of the passenger trains and cargo trains that run along the line.  

 

Capture a trio of the train, cherry blossoms, and snow-capped mountains. (Image credit: U-media)

 

The picture-perfect sight of a train running parallel to a seemingly endless row of sakura trees gently swaying in the cool spring breeze, with the majestic snow-capped Zao Mountains in the background, is sure to leave you awestruck.

 

As Tohoku is located in the northern part of Japan, it has a fairly cold climate, and many prefectures have high mountains. During April, the peaks of these high mountains are still covered in snow, blessing your spring sakura scenery with a beautiful backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

 

Shibata Senokyo Bridge (しばた千桜橋)
Access: 20-minute walk from JR Funaoka Station (船岡駅)
Admission fee: Free

 

④ Observation Deck

View from the Observation Deck. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

Cross over to the other end of the Shibata Senokyo Bridge, follow the path up, and you will arrive at the Observation Deck (展望デッキ Tenbō-dekki). From this deck, you can get an even higher view above the bridge, and get a shot of trains together with the bridge. You will also be rewarded with a view of the Shiroishi River, as well as the Zao Mountains in the background.

 

The Observation Deck is a place for visitors to enjoy the scenery, and even has benches for you to rest. As such, do note that tripods are prohibited on the deck.

 

Observation Deck (展望デッキ)
Access: Walk up from the Shibata Senokyo Bridge
Admission fee: Free

 

⑤ Funaoka Castle Park

Funaoka Castle Park. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

From the Observation Deck, follow the path, which will lead you to Funaoka Castle Park (船岡城址公園 Funaoka jōshi kōen). Located on a small hill in Shibata Town, this park used to be the site of a castle, which was demolished during the Meiji Era (1868­–1912). Now, the park is a popular cherry blossom viewing spot, as the view of Hitome Senbonzakura from the hilltop is simply superb.

 

Take a retro slope car up. (Image credit: U-media)

 

Usually, there is a retro slope car that will bring you up through a 300m tunnel of sakura, but due to COVID-19 and maintenance works, its operation dates and times have been changed. Please check the official website for the latest updates on its operation.

 

Enjoy the view while walking up Funaoka Castle Park. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

Funaoka Castle Park itself has around 1,300 cherry blossom trees on its grounds. Even without the slope car, you can still access the top via a walking path, enjoying the views and blooming flowers along the way. Near the top, there is a small community garden filled with over 100 varieties of seasonal flowers. This 1,000sqm garden was planted and designed by the citizens of Shibata Town.

 

The Heiwa Kannon statue near the top. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

Once you pass the 24m-tall statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy (平和観音 Heiwa Kannon), you know you’re near the top. Holding a dove, the symbol of peace, the statue was built in 1975 thanks to a local Shibata Town resident, Mr Noguchi, who wished to pray for the soul of his late wife, as well as for peace and safety of the world. In the past, you could enter the concrete statue, but after the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami, it is not possible anymore.

 

View of Shibata Town from the top of Funaoka Castle Park. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

From the top of the hill, take in a panoramic view of Shibata Town and the Shiroishi River below. Can you see the Sakurahodo Bridge and Funaoka Station, where we came from earlier? The hilltop is about 136m above sea level, so the view afforded is certainly spectacular.

 

View of the Zao Mountains from the top of Funaoka Castle Park. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

On the other side, enjoy a fantastic view of the town and the river with the Zao Mountains in the background. If you want to get an even more impressive view of the Zao Mountains, let’s head back down to the riverbank and onward to our next spot, Niragamizeki Weir.

 

Funaoka Castle Park (船岡城址公園)
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Funaoka Station (船岡駅)
Admission fee: Free
Slope car: Operating hours: 9:00–21:00
     Round-trip: ¥500/adult, ¥300/child
     One-way: ¥250/adult, ¥150/child
     *Operating hours and dates may vary due to COVID-19

 

⑥ Niragamizeki Weir

Niragamizeki Weir, one of the most beautiful spots along Hitome Senbonzakura. (Image credit: U-media)

 

Heading back down to the riverbank, let’s walk towards Niragamizeki Weir (韮神堰 Niragamizeki), one of the most picturesque spots along the river. Just a 15-minute walk from Shibata Senokyo Bridge, this spot offers breathtaking scenery that is often used in promotional posters and images.

 

Perfect reflection. (Image credit: U-media)

 

When the river is still, it turns into a “water mirror” (水鏡 mizukagami). Acting like a mirror, the still waters perfectly reflect the cherry blossom trees, the Zao Mountains, and surrounding scenery, creating a three-layer view: the clear blue of the sky reflected in the river, the soft pink of the blooming sakura, and the gleaming white of the snow-capped Zao Mountains. This mesmerising view is something I could look at for hours! Tip: Early mornings are best for enjoying the “water mirror”.

 

Take a break and enjoy a sweet treat along the riverbank. (Image credit: JR East / Kawashiro)

 

If you’re feeling tired from all the climbing up bridges and hills, this is the perfect spot to take a rest. Many shops have seasonal sakura-themed menus during the spring period, so pack some snacks along to enjoy an afternoon picnic while sitting on the riverbank.

 

Niragamizeki Weir (韮神堰)
Access: 20-minute walk from JR О̄gawara Station (大河原駅) or 15-minute walk from Shibata Senokyo Bridge.
Admission fee: Free

 

⑦ Boat ride along the river

Take a boat ride along the river. (Image credit: U-media)

 

For a unique and fun way to enjoy the scenery, how about taking a traditional yakatabune (屋形船) boat ride along the river? The 30-minute cherry blossom viewing cruise (お花見屋形船 Ohanami Yakatabune) runs along a 2.3km route, between the main event site of the Ogawara Cherry Blossom Festival (おおがわら桜まつり О̄gawara sakura matsuri) to Niragamizeki Weir and back. Looking at the sakura-lined riverbanks from the river itself provides a different field of vision, and a different way of enjoying the view.

 

Ohanami Yakatabune Boat Ride (お花見屋形船)
Access: Main event site of the Ogawara Cherry Blossom Festival, 3-minute walk from JR О̄gawara Station (大河原駅)
Operating hours: 10:00–16:00
Admission fee: ¥1,500/adult
*Due to COVID-19, the boat is not operating in 2021.

 

⑧ Night illuminations

Sakura illuminated at night. (Image credit: U-media)

 

While the cherry blossom trees gently swaying in the spring breeze may be beautiful by day, after the sun sets and the cherry blossom trees are illuminated, the view of night sakura (夜桜 yozakura) is equally magical. The light ups are mainly around the cherry blossom festival sites near JR Funaoka Station and JR О̄gawara Station.

 

Night Sakura Light-up (夜桜ライトアップ)
Access: Along the banks of the Shiroishi River
Light-up hours: 18:00~22:00
*Due to COVID-19, there is no light-up in 2021
Admission fee: Free

 

Enjoying Hitome Senbonzakura

With this exciting variety of views, it’s no wonder that Hitome Senbonzakura is one of the Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan, the only one in Miyagi Prefecture to make it on the list.

 

Getting there

Easily accessible from both Sendai and Fukushima, Hitome Senbonzakura is a perfect day trip to pair with other sakura spots in the region, such as Hanamiyama Park or Miharu Takizakura in Fukushima Prefecture, or Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture. The next time you visit Japan in spring, be sure to check out Hitome Senbonzakura and Tohoku!

 

Funaoka Station platform. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)

 

Hitome Senbonzakura can be accessed from either JR Funaoka Station (船岡駅) or JR О̄gawara Station (大河原駅) on the JR Tohoku Main Line.

 

From Sendai:

  • JR Funaoka Station and JR О̄gawara Station are around a 30-minute train ride from JR Sendai Station (仙台駅), which can be reach in just 1.5 hours from JR Tо̄kyо̄ Station (東京駅) on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line.

 

From Fukushima:

  • JR Funaoka Station and JR О̄gawara Station are around a 50-minute train ride from JR Fukushima Station (福島駅), which can be reach in just 80 minutes from JR Tо̄kyо̄ Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line.

 

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

The new JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are visiting Tohoku, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days at only ¥30,000. You can also make seat reservations online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.

 

Header image credit: U-media

 

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