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Go loco for sakura: At-track-tive views of trains and cherry blossoms

Go loco for sakura: At-track-tive views of trains and cherry blossoms

Springtime in Japan is synonymous with the pretty, pink, and delicate sakura (桜 cherry blossoms). Eagerly awaiting the blooming of these short-lived flowers, locals and foreigners alike gather from all over just to admire their beauty. While sakura in full bloom are certainly mesmerising on their own, for those who enjoy something more dynamic, or something more fleeting, how about checking out some at-track-tive views of sakura with trains?

 

Trains remain the most used means of transport in Japan, and there is something especially captivating about watching moving trains against a backdrop of colourful, blooming flowers, don’t you think so? The scene only lasts a few seconds (or minutes if you’re lucky), so the anticipation and actually being able to catch that moment is very exciting!

 

Map of places introduced in this article. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Many train stations and railway lines have surrounding sakura, but the places in Eastern Japan that I will introduce in this article offer eki-ceptional views that go beyond just cherry blossom trees. Are you ready? Let’s go~

 

① Ashino Park | Aomori Prefecture

Viewing period: late April to early May (varies each year)

Access: From JR Goshogawara Station (五所川原駅), transfer to the Tsugaru Railway Line and get off at Ashinokо̄en Station (芦野公園駅).

 

View from the train platform at Ashinokо̄en Station. (Image credit: 青森県観光連盟)

 

The first place on our list, Ashino Park (芦野公園 Ashino Kо̄en), lies tucked away in the Tsugaru region of Aomori Prefecture, the northernmost prefecture on Japan’s main island of Honshu. Right after getting off at Ashinokо̄en Station (芦野公園駅) on the Tsugaru Railway Line, you will be greeted by the sight of cherry blossoms on both sides of the track.

 

The bright orange train going through the sakura tunnel is truly an enchanting sight that charms thousands of visitors each year. Ashino Park has around 1,500 cherry blossom trees, which are mostly of the pale pink someiyoshino variety. The park is also one of the Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan (日本さくら名所100選), a list curated by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association.

 

You can enjoy sakura at the platform, in front of the former Ashinokōen Station building, on a pedal boat, and more. (Image credit: 青森県観光連盟)

 

From late April to early May, the Kanagi Sakura Festival (金木桜まつり Kanagi Sakura Matsuri) is held at Ashino Park, with many events for visitors to enjoy. These events include illuminations at night, fireworks, and highly anticipated shamisen (三味線 traditional Japanese string instrument) performances—the Tsugaru region is famous for having skilled shamisen players. During the festival period, the park stays open until 21:00, so you can also enjoy the view of sakura in the nighttime (夜桜 yozakura).

 

② Shibata Senokyo Bridge at Hitome Senbonzakura | Miyagi Prefecture

Viewing period: early to mid-April (varies each year)

Access: 10-minute walk from JR Funaoka Station (船岡駅) on the JR Tohoku Main Line.

 

A train running alongside Hitome Senbonzakura's cherry blossom trees, with Mount Zao in the background. (Image credit: U-media)

 

Next, we head south to the banks of the Shiroishi River (白石川) in Miyagi Prefecture, to a place called Hitome Senbonzakura (一目千本桜), which has a name that literally means “1,000 sakura trees in one glance”. The majestic sight of a train running parallel to a seemingly endless row of sakura trees gently swaying in the breeze, with the snow-capped Mount Zao in the background, is sure to leave you awestruck! This view can be easily seen from atop the Shibata Senokyo Bridge (しばた千桜橋 Shibata Sen’о̄kyо̄), which was built recently in 2015.

 

Beautiful views around Hitome Senbonzakura. (Image credit: U-media)

 

Other than the view from Shibata Senokyo Bridge, you can also experience a variety of dynamic and panoramic views as you stroll along the Shiroishi riverside. Sightseeing boats run along the river, and the view of the cherry blossoms, snow-capped mountains, and azure sky perfectly reflected in the river’s waters is a stunning sight to behold. With this exciting variety of views, it’s no wonder that Hitome Senbonzakura is also one of the Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan.

 

Nearby, there is also the Funaoka Castle Ruins Park (船岡城址公園 Funaoka Jо̄shi Kо̄en), where you can enjoy the view of not a train, but a retro slope car running through a 300m tunnel of sakura!

 

③ Kajo Park | Yamagata Prefecture

Viewing period: mid to late April (varies each year)

Access: 10-minute walk from JR Yamagata Station (山形駅) on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line / JR Ou Main Line / JR Senzan Line / JR Aterazawa Line.

 

E3 series Tsubasa train running past Kajo Park. (Image credit: annintofu / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

Are you a fan of Japanese castles? Over in Yamagata Prefecture, just a 10-minute walk from JR Yamagata Station (山形駅) is Kajo Park (霞城公園 Kajо̄ Kо̄en), which houses Tohoku's largest castle by area—Yamagata Castle. The railway tracks were built right beside the park, so you can enjoy the view of the castle's stone walls, moat, cherry blossoms, and the passing shinkansen (新幹線 bullet train). But be quick when taking your photos, because although the shinkansen won't reach top speeds here due to its proximity to the station, it still moves at a very high speed!

 

Other than shinkansen, regular trains servicing the JR Ou Main Line, JR Aterazawa Line, and JR Senzan Line also run on these tracks, but since you've come all the way here, might as well wait for the shinkansen, right? On weekends and public holidays, if you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse the Toreiyu Tsubasa, a bullet train equipped with a footbath.

 

A local train running past Kajo Park in the evening. (Image credit: annintofu / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

In the evenings of the peak blooming period, the cherry blossom trees are illuminated, creating a beautiful sight when reflected in the moat's still waters. Since the moat has relatively still waters, after the sakura petals drop off the trees, they fall into and accummulate on the moat, forming a pink sakura carpet. (花筏 hana ikada). 

 

④ Yamagata Railway Flower Nagai Line | Yamagata Prefecture

Viewing period (sakura): mid to late April (varies each year)

Access: From JR Akayu Station (赤湯駅) on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line, or JR Imaizumi Station (今泉駅) on the JR Yonesaka Line, transfer to the Yamagata Railway Flower Line (山形鉄道フラワー長井線).

 

Enjoy the view of rows of sakura trees with snow-capped mountains in the background. (Image credit: 山形県庁)

 

Also in Yamagata Prefecture, next up we have not a specific spot, but an entire train line—the 30.5km long Yamagata Railway Flower Nagai Line (山形鉄道フラワー長井線)—to enjoy the view of trains and flowers. The most famous view is the one featured above, showcasing a train running alongside cherry blossom trees, with the snow-capped Asahi Mountain Range in the background. This sight can be enjoyed right after the train crosses the Mogamigawa Kyо̄ryо̄ (最上川橋梁), Japan’s oldest railway bridge, which is approximately a 15-minute walk from Arato Station (荒砥駅).

 

Trains cars with blooming cherry blossoms, daffodils, sunflowers and irises. (Image credit: 東北観光推進機構)

 

As its name suggests, the Flower Nagai Line is named for the beautiful flower spots that can be enjoyed along the railway line in spring and summer. Other than the beloved cherry blossoms, you can also bask in a plethora of other colourful flowers, such as irises (菖蒲 ayame), safflowers (紅花 benibana, Yamagata’s prefectural flower), daffodils (水仙 suisen), dahlias, sunflowers, and more!

 

Enjoy the view of train cars wrapped in floral motifs running against a backdrop of relaxing countryside scenery. (Image credit: 東北観光推進機構)

 

To make things even more interesting, some train cars are wrapped in colourful floral motifs that vary with the season. Yamagata literally means “mountain shape”, and is a mountainous prefecture, so along the Flower Nagai Line, mountains can often be seen in the background. Buildings are far and few along this line, so you can really enjoy an unobstructed countryside view with snow-capped mountains as well as rice paddies reflecting the scenery.

 

⑤ Nicchu Line Weeping Cherry Blossoms | Fukushima Prefecture

Viewing period: mid to late April (varies each year)

Access: 20-minute walk from JR Kitakata Station (喜多方駅) on the JR Ban’etsu West Line.

 

A retired steam locomotive train among the sakura trees. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Moving over to Fukushima Prefecture, in the little town of Kitakata we have the weeping cherry blossoms trees (しだれ桜 shidare-zakura) along the Nicchu Line Memorial Cycling Pedestrians’ Path (日中線記念自転車歩行者道のしだれ桜並木 Nicchūsen kinen jitensha hokōshadō no shidare-zakura namiki), a mouthful of a name that is usually shortened to Nicchūsen no Shidare-zakura (日中線のしだれ桜 Nicchu Line Weeping Cherry Blossoms).

 

Along the path is a retired steam locomotive (SL) train on display. Although it’s not a moving train, I’ve included this spot for people who want to get a look at an SL train, but cannot catch one due to their limited operations dates. The train has a sleek black body that makes for stunning pictures when photographed with the pretty pink blossoms.

 

Weeping sakura trees along the Nicchu Line Memorial Cycling Pedestrians Path. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Here, the Nicchu Railway Line’s old tracks have been repurposed into a 3km path for cyclists and pedestrians, and lined with approximately 1,000 weeping cherry blossom trees. Unlike the common someiyoshino cherry blossoms, weeping cherry blossom trees have branches that hang downward, and petals that are a deeper shade of pink. Doesn’t it look like it would be relaxing to walk under these curtains of pink cherry blossoms?

 

⑥ Aizu Railway Yunokami-Onsen Station | Fukushima Prefecture

Viewing period: mid to late April (varies each year)

Access: From JR Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (会津若松駅) on the JR Ban’etsu West Line, transfer to the Aizu Railway Aizu Line and get off at Yunokami-Onsen Station (湯野上温泉駅).

 

Train entering Yunokami-Onsen Station. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Also in Fukushima Prefecture is Aizu Railway’s Yunokami-Onsen Station (湯野上温泉駅). What’s unique about this station is that the station building has a rare straw roof (茅葺屋根 kayabuki-yane), the same type used in the nearby О̄uchijuku (大内宿), a former post town with around 40 straw-roofed houses.

 

Yunokami-Onsen Station’s two unique features are its straw roof and footbath. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

At Yunokami-Onsen Station, you can relish the nostalgic sight of arriving and departing trains together with someiyoshino cherry blossoms and the station’s unique straw roof, a scene which transports you back to the past. Another interesting feature of Yunokami-Onsen Station is its footbath (足湯 ashiyu), which overlooks the platform and is free to use. The footbath is especially satisfying to use in the chilly spring season, when you can enjoy its warmth together with the view of the cherry blossoms.

  

⑦ Watarase Keikoku Railway Gо̄do Station | Gunma Prefecture

Viewing period: early to mid-April (varies each year)

Access: From JR Kiryū Station (桐生駅) on the JR Ryomo Line, transfer to the Watarase Keikoku Railway Watarase Keikoku Line and get off at Gо̄do Station (神戸駅).

 

A tunnel of cherry blossoms and hanamomo peach blossoms liven up Gо̄do Station. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Departing the Tohoku region and moving closer to Tokyo, next up we have the Watarase Keikoku Railway. Running between Gunma and Tochigi Prefectures in the Kanto region, this railway line passes by the picturesque Watarase River and scenic gorges, with views which you can enjoy from the train windows. As you approach Gо̄do Station (神戸駅), you will be greeted by a tunnel of pink flowers. (Side note: Gо̄do Station has the exact same kanji as Kо̄be Station in the Kansai region, so don’t get confused!)

 

Beautiful cherry blossoms and peach blossoms around Gо̄do Station. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Although there are many spots along the entire Watarase Keikoku Line where you can enjoy the sight of sakura and trains, many will agree that the best is definitely around Gо̄do Station, where the contrast of pale pink someiyoshino cherry blossoms and dark pink hanamomo (花桃 decorative peach blossoms) create a fantasy-like atmosphere. These hanamomo were only recently planted in 2000, but have since become a big hit among visitors and tori-tetsu railway fans.

 

Seiryu, a restaurant operating in an old train car. (Image credit: : : Ys : : /   CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

Feeling hungry? Something interesting about Gо̄do Station is that on the train platform there is a restaurant, Seiryu (清流), that is built in two old 1720 series train cars that used to service Tobu Railway! If you visit, be sure to try out some of their recommended dishes like mushroom curry (きのこカレー), maitake soba (舞茸そば), and grilled ginger pork set meal (しょうが焼き定食). You can also purchase ekiben (駅弁 lunch boxes for eating on the train) here.

 

⑧ SL・Sakura・Nanohana Road | Tochigi Prefecture

Viewing period: late March to early April (varies each year)

Access: From JR Shimodate Station (下館駅) on the JR Mito Line, transfer to the Mо̄ka Railway Mо̄ka Line and get off at Kitamо̄ka Station (北真岡駅). The viewpoint is an 8-minute walk from Kitamо̄ka Station.

 

A picture perfect view of the SL Moka, sakura, and nanohana. (Image credit: JR East / Shinoda)

 

What’s better than a view of sakura and trains? A view of sakura, bright yellow nanohana (菜の花 rapeseed blossoms), made even better with an SL train and billowing steam! The SL・Sakura・Nanohana Road (SL・桜・菜の花街道  SL Sakura Nanohana Kaidо̄) along the Mо̄ka Railway Mо̄ka Line offers just that. Approximately 1km east from Kitamо̄ka Station (北真岡駅), this spot at-track-ts railway fans from all over the country, who come especially to see the SL train, the SL Moka (SLもおか号 SL Mо̄ka-gо̄).

 

The SL Moka only runs on two days per year, over one weekend during the sakura full bloom period. It makes one round trip per day of operation, passing by the SL・Sakura・Nanohana Road between 11:13–11:25 and 15:11–15:28. (Note: These times may vary each year. Due to COVID-19, the SL Moka may not operate. Please check Mо̄ka Railway’s website for the latest information.)

 

Views of Mо̄ka Railway's regular trains from along the SLSakuraNanohana Road. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

The SL・Sakura・Nanohana Road is lined with around 800 someiyoshino cherry trees and 200 weeping cherry blossom trees, with expansive fields of nanohana on the side. Even if you cannot make it to catch the SL Moka on the two days it runs on, it’s still worth a trip to enjoy the view with Mо̄ka Railway’s regular trains, which have an adorable checkered green top and vermillion bottom!

 

⑨ Kominato Railway Line | Chiba Prefecture

Viewing period: late March to early April (varies each year)

Access: From JR Goi Station (五井駅) on the JR Uchibo Line, transfer to the Kominato Railway Line.

 

“Water mirror” near Itabu Station. (Image credit: 千葉県観光物産協会 and photoAC)

 

Finally, to wrap things up, over in Chiba Prefecture we have the Kominato Railway Line, which also offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy both sakura and nanohana. One sight you can’t miss the is the “water mirror” (水鏡 mizukagami) near Itabu Station (飯給駅). Here, still waters of rice paddies act like a mirror, perfectly reflect the passing train and surrounding scenery—a view which becomes even more magical at night when the trees are illuminated.

 

Sakura and nanohana can be enjoyed along the Kominato Railway Line. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Together with the cherry blossoms, you can also enjoy nanohana at various points along the line. A vast expanse of nanohana fields can be reached via a 15-minute walk from Yōrōkeikoku Station (養老渓谷駅), just three stations away from Itabu Station.

 

Along the Kominato Line, a special open-air train—the Satoyama Torokko Ressha (里山トロッコ列車)—is usually operated only on weekends and public holidays, but during the sakura and nanohana blooming period, it also runs on weekdays. Running on clean diesel, this train features a mock SL train head, a tribute to the phased-out SL trains which used to run on the Kominato Line.

 

Getting there

The Eastern Japan region is filled with a multitude of places to enjoy natural scenery, especially flowers in spring. The floral views are made even more captivating with passing trains, which provide a dynamic element. The next time you visit Eastern Japan in spring, be sure to check out some of these spots!

 

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

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

 

If you are visiting the Kanto and Tohoku regions, 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 ¥20,000, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Aomori (~¥36,000). You can also make seat reservations online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here. 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.

 

NOTE: From 1 April 2021, there have been some changes in the validity and pricing of the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area). For more information, please check here.

 

JR TOKYO Wide Pass

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are planning to visit just the Kanto region (⑦〜⑨), check out the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days. At only ¥10,180, it is cheaper than a round-trip between Tokyo and Kiryu Station (~¥11,000). The JR TOKYO Wide Pass can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.

 

Header image credit: JR East / Shinoda

 

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