Sakura Series #4: The lone cherry blossom tree
Japan is home to the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The seasons play a symbolic role in the lives of the Japanese people, each having its own meaning. Spring signifies new beginnings for the locals, and during this time of the year, cherry blossoms (桜 sakura) will bloom all over the country, capturing the attention of both the locals and foreign visitors. Even when bloom cherry blossoms occur every year, they never cease to be enthralling for everyone as their petals scatter in the air and carpet the ground.
Cherry blossom trees can be found in many places throughout Japan and most of them are planted together so that people can take part in viewing rows of trees in bloom during spring. But sometimes, there are a few odd ones that, unlike their usually grouped counterparts, stand on their own. These lone cherry trees (一本桜 ipponzakura) have withstood against the forces of Mother Nature, be it strong winds or heavy snow, and lived through generations that date back as far as 1,000 years back. But to this day they are still standing strong and they remind people of their sheer strength, beauty, and even mysticism.
Locations of lone cherry blossom trees in eastern Japan. (Image credit: Google Maps)
My Sakura Series comes to an end with this article, where I will explore lone cherry blossom trees found throughout eastern Japan. These solitary trees have traits that set them apart from others found in more popular cherry blossom viewing spots, with some even officially designated as Natural Monuments (天然記念物 tennen kinenbutsu).
Lone cherry blossom trees are different from those that people usually see in public parks where many people would gather and enjoy viewing them underneath the trees (花見 hanami), but that’s what makes them special. Seeing a single cherry blossom tree standing out in otherwise plain surroundings makes them all the more majestic, and it’s something that people all over the world should come and see for themselves.
(Note: this is the final part of the four-part Sakura Series, specially focusing on the upcoming spring season in Japan. Take note that the cherry blossom periods below are subjected to weather conditions.)
① Koiwai Farm Ipponzakura (小岩井農場一本桜)
The iconic lone cherry blossom tree. (Image credit: KOIWAI FARM,LTD.)
We start with one of the most iconic lone cherry blossom trees in Tohoku (東北). Located in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県 Iwate-ken) is a solitary cherry blossom tree that sits in the foreground of Mount Iwate (岩手山 Iwate-san). What makes this tree outstanding is the picturesque setting: the juxtaposition of the pinkish-white cherry blossom petals of the tree, the emerald-green grass, the azure-blue sky and the snowy mountain in the backdrop all combined, resulting in a scenery that looks straight out of a painting.
Cherry blossom period: Late April–early May
Location: Koiwai Farm (小岩井農場)
Koiwai Farm in spring. (Image credit: KOIWAI FARM,LTD.)
The solitary cherry tree stands in Koiwai Farm, a privately owned farm not far from Iwate’s capital city Morioka (盛岡市 Morioka-shi). With over 500,000 visitors annually, the farm is immensely popular among the locals, and has been around since its establishment in 1891. In fact, the tree was said to be planted over 100 years ago too, and since then many people have visited the farm during different seasons just to see it. But among all the seasons, spring is often considered the best to see the tree in its full glory.
(Note: I covered this farm in an earlier article, so do have a look at it for more details.)
Take the bus from the JR Morioka Station (JR盛岡駅 Morioka-eki)’s East Exit Boarding Area #10 (Koiwai Line), and get off at Koiwai-nōjō Makiba-en bus stop. The farm is right in front of the bus stop.
② Ishiwarizakura (石割桜)
Ishiwarizakura in Iwate Prefecture. (Image credit: 岩手県観光協会)
The next one is also in Iwate Prefecture, and it’s located right in the heart of Morioka. Ishiwarizakura is a Edohigan (エドヒガン) cherry blossom tree that is unlike others: it grew out from a crack of a large granite boulder, thereby bearing its name (Ishiwarizakura means “rock-splitting cherry blossom”). Its striking appearance has made it one of the beloved and popular cherry blossom trees in the city.
The city almost lost this iconic tree back in 1932, when a fire broke out at a nearby courthouse. Fortunately, thanks to the quick response of firefighters, and the heroic act of a gardener named Fujimura Jitaro (藤村治太郎), the tree was saved. To this day, Fujimura’s family still takes care of the tree as volunteer gardeners. As such, this tree is our first candidate in this article to be designated as a Natural Monument.
Cherry blossom period: Mid-April–late April
Location: Morioka City (盛岡市)
Ishiwarizakura (left) and its trunk splitting a rock (right). (Image credit: 岩手県観光協会)
The tree stands in the heart of Morioka, the capital city of Iwate Prefecture. It is located next to the Morioka District Court, the same building that caught fire decades ago. The city celebrates this tree as one of its icons, and locals and foreign visitors would gather every spring to see it in full bloom.
Take the Central Loop Bus Denden-mushi (clockwise direction) from the JR Morioka Station’s East Exit Boarding Area 16, and get off at Chuodori 1-chome (5-minute bus ride). From there, they can take a 1-minute walk to the tree, which is located next to the Morioka District Court. Alternatively, visitors can take a 5–10-minute cab ride from the station to the tree, or simply walk there from the station for approximately 20 minutes.
③ Isazawa no Kubozakura (伊佐沢の久保ザクラ)
Isazawa no Kubozakura in spring. (Image credit: Yamagata Prefecture)
Next, we move to the mountainous prefecture of Yamagata (山形県 Yamagata-ken), where we can find one of the largest cherry blossom trees in Tohoku. In the city of Nagai (長井市 Nagai-shi) lies the imposing Isazawa no Kubozakura, which is said to be over 1,200 years old.
The tree is supported by several poles because flower buds made the upper body of the tree heavy, overloading the aging trunk and causing cracks in the trunk due to the weight. Hence, the Agency of Cultural Affairs decided to carry out a procedure to restore the tree to its original form by using the poles to support the branches and fertilise the ground using peat moss and charcoal. The tree is also designated as a Natural Monument.
Cherry blossom period: Late April
Location: Nagai City (長井市)
Isazawa no Kubozakura at night. (Image credit: Yamagata Prefecture)
Isazawa no Kubozakura is located in Nagai, Yamagata Prefecture. The city boasts a rich feudal history, beautiful sceneries throughout the year, and even interesting delicacies. The city has witnessed more visitors gradually because of its natural beauty, but it is said that spring offers the best views out of all the seasons.
Take the Yamagata Shinkansen (山形新幹線) from JR Yamagata Station (JR山形駅 Yamagata-eki) to JR Akayu Station (JR赤湯駅 Akayu-eki). From there, switch to the Flower Nagai Line (フラワー長井線 Furawā-Nagai-sen) by Yamagata Railway (山形鉄道 Yamagata-tetsudō), and proceed to Minami-Nagai Station (南長井駅 Minami-Nagai-eki). Upon arrival, they take a 10-minute cab ride to the tree.
④ Miharu Takizakura (三春滝桜)
Miharu Takizakura in spring. (Image credit: Fukushima Prefecture)
In the prefecture of Fukushima (福島県 Fukushima-ken) stands what is considered by many to be the most beautiful cherry blossom tree in Japan. Miharu Takizakura is a Benishidare (ベニシダレ) type of cherry blossom tree that is said to be over 1,000 years old, and whose name means “Miharu Waterfall Cherry Blossom”. The name comes from a combination of the name of the town where the tree Miharu is, and how its wide, drooping branches that span 18–20 metres look like a cascading waterfall.
Miharu Takizakura is one of the “Three Great Cherry Blossoms” (日本三大桜 nihon-sandaizakura), and one out of two that are located in eastern Japan (the other one to be covered later in this article). Although it is located in a rural and remote location, it doesn’t stop as many as 300,000 visitors from coming to witness this floral spectacle every spring. And not only that, but this tree is also the first cherry blossom tree to be designated as a Natural Monument, back in 1922.
Cherry blossom period: Mid-April–late April
Location: Miharu Town (三春町)
Miharu Takizakura illuminated at night. (Image credit: Fukushima Prefecture)
Miharu Takizakura is in the town of Miharu, and a stone’s throw away from the Otakine River (大滝根川 Ōtakine-gawa). The town has witnessed numerous out-of-town visitors every spring just to see the blooming cherry blossom tree, so much that it helps to boost the local economy!
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen (東北新幹線) from JR Fukushima Station (JR福島駅 Fukushima-eki) to JR Kōriyama Station (JR郡山駅 Kōriyama-eki), and then switch to the JR Ban’etsu East Line (JR磐越東線 Ban’etsu-tō-sen) and head to JR Miharu Station (JR三春駅 Miharu-eki). Upon arrival, take a 25-minute bus ride that is available only during the peak of the cherry blossom season (¥1,000 for a 1-day pass, admission to the tree included).
⑤ Nodaira no Ipponzakura (野平の一本桜)
Nodaira no Ipponzakura. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
We move over to the other region of eastern Japan: Shin’etsu (信越), which includes Nagano Prefecture (長野県 Nagano-ken). Although the prefecture is famous for its mountainous splendour (and therefore ski resorts during winter), Nagano is also widely known for its unparalleled natural beauty throughout the year. That especially includes spring, and it is here where visitors can find a particularly picturesque cherry blossom tree.
Nodaira no Ipponzakura is a solitary Oyama (オオヤマ) cherry blossom tree that stands in the backdrop of the majestic Hakuba Three Mountains (白馬三山 Hakuba Sanzan), which comprises of Mount Shirouma (白馬岳 Shirouma-dake), Mount Shakushi (杓子岳 Shakushi-dake), and Hakuba Yarigatake (白馬鑓ヶ岳). The contrast between the pinkish-white hues of the cherry blossom petals, the snowy-white mountain backdrop, and the clear blue sky makes for a picture-perfect scenery which visitors shouldn’t miss if they’re paying a visit to the area in spring.
Cherry blossom period: Late April–early May
Location: Hakuba Village (白馬村)
The solitary cherry blossom tree amidst the Hakuba Three Mountains. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
Nodaira no Ipponzakura is located in the Nodaira district in Hakuba, a village internationally renowned for its ski resorts. Thus, many visitors from all over the world would visit the village mostly during winter, but I think it would be a missed opportunity for anyone to visit only during that season. Spring is just as beautiful as winter (or any other season) in Hakuba, and this is one scenery that they shouldn’t miss.
Take the Limited Express Azusa (特急あずさ) directly from JR Shinjuku Station (JR新宿駅 Shinjuku-eki) to JR Shinano-Moriue Station (JR信濃森上 Shinano-Moriue-eki). Take note that this direct train service departs only once per day at 8am, and the journey is approximately 4 hours. Alternatively, take the Limited Express Shinano (しなの) from JR Nagano Station (JR長野駅 Nagano-eki) to JR Matsumoto Station (JR松本駅 Matsumoto-eki), and then switch to the JR Ōito Line (JR大糸線 Ōito-sen) to JR Shinano-Moriue Station. Upon arrival, visitors can take a 7-minute cab ride to the tree. Another way is to take the Alpico bus from JR Nagano Station to JR Hakuba Station (JR白馬駅 Hakuba-eki), and then take a 10-minute cab ride to the tree. Take note that the JR EAST PASS not valid for this bus service.
⑥ Yamataka Jindaizakura (山高神代桜)
Yamataka Jindaizakura in spring. (Image credit: photoAC)
Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県 Yamanashi-ken) is located in the region of Chubu (中部 Chūbu), and is home to the world-famous Mount Fuji (富士山 Fuji-san) together with Shizuoka Prefecture (静岡県 Shizuoka-ken). It is in this prefecture where we can find one of the most important and oldest cherry blossom trees in the country.
Yamataka Jindaizakura is a Edohigan cherry blossom tree that is said to be approximately 2,000 years old, and with a height of over 10 metres and a trunk girth of 11.8 metres, it is also one of the largest in Japan. Together with Miharu Takizakura, it is one of the “Three Great Cherry Blossoms” in the country, renowned for its distinctive and striking beauty. And like Isazawa no Kubozakura, it was designated as a Natural Monument.
Cherry blossom period: Early April–mid-April
Location: Hokuto City (北斗市)
Yamataka Jindaizakura is located near a temple in Hokuto. (Image credit: photoAC)
Yamataka Jindaizakura is located in the city of Hokuto in Yamanashi. It is situated next to a temple named Otsuyama Jissōji (大津山実相寺), and many visitors would make their way here from the city just to enjoy viewing it. Apart from the iconic tree, the temple’s vicinity is also home to many Somei-Yoshino (ソメイヨシノ Yoshino cherry) trees and daffodils. The whole area is a floral haven, so fans of flowers would not want to miss this place!
Take the Limited Express Azusa from JR Shinjuku Station to JR Nirasaki Station (JR韮崎駅 Nirasaki-eki). Upon arrival, visitors can take a 30-minute bus ride bound for Shimokyo-Raishi from the station and get off at Makinohara (牧の原) bus stop. The tree is a 30-minute walk from the bus stop.
⑦ Wanitsuka no Sakura (わに塚のサクラ)
Visitors taking photos of Wanitsuka no Sakura. (Image credit: 韮崎市観光協会)
Our final solitary cherry blossom tree is also in Yamanashi, just south of Yamataka Jindaizakura. In the city of Nirasaki (韮崎市 Nirasaki-shi) stands Wanitsuka no Sakura, an approximately 330-year-old cherry blossom tree that is iconic to the city and the whole prefecture.
What’s outstanding about this tree is its surrounding: on a clear day, the Yatsugatake Mountains (八ヶ岳連峰 Yatsugatake-renpō) can be seen in the far distance, and it serves as the perfect backdrop for an already stunning tree. Perhaps just as magical an experience is to see the tree after sundown, when it gets shone by a spotlight underneath starry night sky.
Cherry blossom period: Early April–mid-April
Location: Nirasaki City (韮崎市)
Wanitsuka no Sakura at night. (Image credit: 韮崎市観光協会)
Wanitsuka no Sakura is located in the countryside of Kamiyama (神山町 Kamiyama-chō) in the city of Nirasaki, Yamanashi. Despite its rural location, many cherry blossom and photography enthusiasts would make their way here just to have a look at the glorious tree in the spring.
Take the Limited Express Azusa from JR Shinjuku Station to JR Nirasaki Station. Upon arrival, visitors can take a 15-minute bus from the station and get off at Takeda-Hachimangu Iriguchi (武田八幡宮入り口) bus stop. The tree is a 10-minute walk from the bus stop.
Cherry blossom trees continue to marvel people every year, and their symbolic beauty remains to have an indelible effect on their livelihood. As cherry blossoms bloom for only a short period of time—only 7 to 14 days—people only have so much time to enjoy them. They are a reminder of new beginnings and the transient nature of life, and we only have so much time before they fleet away. Whether it’s at a public park where people would flock and see the flowers together, or at a secluded place that people would venture out just to have a look at it, the sight of bloom cherry blossoms will always enrapture people’s hearts.
(INSIDER TIP: get the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), you can travel on the trains mentioned above for free, for ①–④. For ⑤–⑦, consider getting the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area), and you can travel on the trains mentioned above for free too! However, just take note that for the Flower Nagai Line, you have to buy a separate ticket.)
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The new JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. It's only ¥30,000, making it a considerable option for those planning to visit the Tohoku Region. Pass holders can also reserve seats online for up to a month in advance for free, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.
JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)
The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)
The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. It's only ¥27,000, making it a considerable option for those planning to visit Nagano and Niigata from Tokyo. Pass holders can also reserve seats online for up to a month in advance for free, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.
The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)
Header image credit: Fukushima Prefecture