Sapporo: The City of the Fleeting Cherry Blossoms



 Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. The island of Hokkaido is north of the main island of Japan and that’s why the spring arrives in Hokkaido later than Honshu. The symbol of spring in Japan is of course cherry trees in full bloom. The white and pink clouds of cherry blossoms, or sakura (桜) in Japanese, fill the parks, river banks, and roadsides everywhere in the country. In Hokkaido, the best time for cherry blossom viewing is in the latter half of April and early May.

 In this blog column, you can read all about cherry blossoms in Japan: What kind of cultural meaning cherry blossoms have in Japan, what kind of different ways there are to enjoy cherry blossoms, and what kind of different cherry blossoms there are. In addition to that, you find out which are the best places to view these awe-inspiring blossoms in Hokkaido and in Sapporo especially.

 If you are itching to read more about Sapporo, we have several other blog columns about the city. You can find them here: All  Hokkaido Treasure Island Travel’s blog columns about Sapporo


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Blooming city of Sapporo

 Sapporo is the largest city in Hokkaido, and there is always something interesting going on. There are numerous festivals and events held in the city both during the winter and other seasons. Sapporo is famous for its hearty cuisine: delicious Sapporo miso ramen, mouthwatering jingisukan or grilled mutton with vegetables, spicy soup curry, and winter-specialty snow crab. The ingredients are of course the finest seafood and meat you find in Japan. In addition, Hokkaido’s fertile soil is excellent for farming, so the vegetables you can eat in Sapporo come from nearby farms and are the freshest you can wish for. If you are looking for fun, the Susukino area to the south of Sapporo station and Odori park is the second biggest entertainment district in Japan after Tokyo’s Kabukicho. The numerous shopping malls in Sapporo offer visitors endless opportunities for shopping lovers. To put it short, Sapporo has definitely something to offer for everyone.

 Besides being a dynamic and busy metropolis, Sapporo is also a city full of natural attractions. One of the most important aspects of those is flowers. What flowers come to your mind when you think about Sapporo? It might be lilacs because it’s the flower of the city. Lilacs are celebrated at the Sapporo lilac festival in May in Odori park, and you can find them in other parks of the city and for example at Hokkaido University campus, too. What if you think about Hokkaido in general, what flower comes to your mind? Lavender, and the beautiful purple flower carpets of Furano, perhaps. How about Japan, then? Maybe a chrysanthemum that is the symbol of the Japanese emperor or maybe… cherry blossoms?

 Sapporo being a Japanese city has of course many cherry trees that boast their beautiful flowers from late April and up until mid-May. This leads us to the main topic of this blog column, that is, cherry blossoms and where to view them. I need to warn you: if you keep on reading, you will not only be fascinated by the beauty of cherry blossoms in Sapporo and Hokkaido but also want to experience Japanese culture through cherry blossoms!

The cultural meaning of the cherry blossoms in Japan

 Cherry blossoms are flowers of trees belonging to the genus Prunus or Prunus subg. Cerasus. These trees can be found all over the Northern hemisphere, but the trees native to Europe and North America do not produce very large flowers. On the other hand, the variants in Northeast Asia China, Japan, Korea, and Russia—especially the Japanese varieties—are famous for their beautiful large flowers. The cherry trees of Prunus subg. Cerasus are also known as Japanese cherries or with their Japanese name sakura (桜) because they are so abundant on the Japanese islands. Sakura generally refers to the ornamental cherry trees, not the ones that produce cherries.

 The culture of flower viewing has a long tradition in Northeastern Asia. In China, flower viewing has been concentrated on plum blossoms, since the local cherry blossoms are not that large and impressive. In Japan, however, especially the wild species Oshima cherry, Edo higan, and Yamazakura and the cultivars based on these species produce large beautiful flowers, so in Japan, flower viewing has been especially about cherry blossoms for a long time. Cherry blossom viewing or hanami (花見) can be traced back to Japanese history for hundreds of years. The most beautiful cultivated cherry tree varieties also originate in Japan where new cultivars have been created since Heian Period (794–1185). While the number of wild cherry tree species in Japan is 10 or 11, there were at least 200 known varieties of sakura already in the Edo Period (1603–1868), and today up to 600 cultivars depending on the taxonomy.

 In addition to enjoying the beauty of the cherry blossoms, the Japanese have a deep cultural relationship with sakura. Some of the wild species of sakura are extraordinarily longlived: there are some cherry trees that are as much as 2,000 years old. Many of these old trees are close to Shinto shrines and in many cases, the tree was there first and the shrine was built to respect the tree. Japan is also a country of many natural disasters. In the old times, an earthquake, a tsunami, a flood, or a typhoon could sweep a whole village into oblivion in an instant. This has made the Japanese very keenly aware of the transience of life. For the Japanese, the cherry blossom symbolizes the ephemerality and transient beauty of life, especially since scholar Motoori Norinaga’s writings about ‘the pathos of things’ (mono no aware / 物の哀れ) or ‘transience of things’ were published in the 18th century.

 On the other hand, the cherry blossoms have been for a long time a symbol of spring, renewal, and new life. For example, if a haiku poem mentions sakura, it hints that the story the poem tells is set in the spring. Now they also symbolize the start of a new school and fiscal year. The other things cherry blossoms symbolize are beauty, samurai spirit, and good education. Historically cherry blossoms have been used as motifs in family crests, and they are also a popular theme in Japanese irezumi tattoos. Sakura is the national flower of Japan and it can be found for example on the obverse side of the 100 yen coin.

How to enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan and Hokkaido: Hanami and sakura products

 Hanami (花見) means literally flower viewing and it is the custom of gathering out in the parks and river sides with family, friends, and colleagues to appreciate the beauty of the cherry blossoms. On the weekend when the flowers are in full bloom, the parks become crowded with people sitting on blue plastic sheets or at picnic tables under the trees to enjoy the sight. It is just a pure delight to sit under the clouds of pink and white blossoms with an occasional petal falling down in the gentle spring breeze. The most popular spots are taken early, so especially companies often send their junior workers to go and reserve a good spot early in the morning.

 Hanami is of course not just about the flowers. An essential part of the hanami party is eating and drinking. For some hanami partiers, the eating and drinking part sometimes seems to be more important than the flowers. The saying hana yori danko ‘dumplings over flowers’ (花より団子) refers to a situation in which a person came to view the blossoms but is concentrated on the food eaten during hanami instead. The saying means that someone gives more value to practicality than aesthetics. In Hokkaido, a typical way of enjoying hanami is to have a barbeque party under the cherry trees. And when in Hokkaido, the type of barbeque must be jingisukan mentioned at the beginning of this blog column. Jingisukan is mutton and a mix of vegetables, such as cabbage, onion, bean sprouts, and pumpkin, grilled and dipped in a delicious barbeque sauce.

 The cherry blossoms have also practical usage. The cherry trees planted because of their beautiful flowers do not produce cherries that can be eaten. Their flowers and leaves are used as food instead. The flowers and the leaves can be pickled in salt. The flowers are used for example in sakura tea, as a side dish or to decorate other dishes, such as rice or cookies. The pickled leaves are an essential part of sakura mochi: A traditional Japanese confection made with pink-colored rice with sweet bean paste and wrapped in a sakura leaf. Other products make use of the sakura motif, too. When spring arrives, a flood of spring specialty products with sakura patterns can be found everywhere: from beer cans to make-up products and from Starbucks thermos mugs (and sakura strawberry latte) to clothes.

The cherry blossom front—Estimating the blooming time of sakura

 In the spring, everyone is eagerly waiting for the cherry blossom buds to open, not least so that they can decide the date for their hanami party. The forecast for the start of the blooming and the peak of blooming is made every year. When the time for the sakura gets closer, tracking the cherry blossom front (sakura zensen / 桜前線). Cherry blossom front means simply the follow-up on the advance of cherry blossom blooming through Japan like a weather forecast would track the advance of a rain front or a cold front. The cherry blossom front is featured in the news and weather reports when the sakura season is about to start.

 The Japan Meteorological Agency has historical data on the advance of cherry blossom blooming and comparing the conditions in the previous years, the agency predicts the current year’s time for the opening of the cherry blossoms buds (kaika/開花) and when they are in full-bloom (mankai/満開). Both the opening and full-bloom times change a bit from year to year.

 The blooming starts in Okinawa in February and when the weather gets warmer, the front moves to the southern tip of Kyushu island and southern parts of the Japanese main island Honshu in late March. The front starts to move to the north up until Aomori, then to southern Hokkaido in mid-to-late April, and finally reaching the northern and eastern shores of Hokkaido by mid-May. The Seiryuji temple (清隆寺) in Nemuro in eastern Hokkaido is said to be the endpoint of the cherry blossom front.

Songs about cherry blossoms

 Reading this far, you have surely noticed that cherry blossoms have a huge impact on all aspects of Japanese culture. Music is of course of those aspects and there are probably thousands of songs about cherry blossoms. Here, I have collected a couple of them for you to enjoy.

 Let’s start with a traditional children’s song Sakura, sakura, or ‘cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms’. This is a song everyone in Japan knows, and you have probably heard at least the melody, too.

 Many enka (演歌) or popular ballads also take cherry blossoms as their theme. Here is a piece from Sakamoto Fuyumi from 1994.

 To move into modern music, THE cherry blossom song is of course Ikimonogakari’s SAKURA. The song was released in 2006 and has been everyone’s favorite since.

 If you like heavier music, the Wagakki band’s Senbonzakura ‘1,000 cherry trees’ might suit your taste. Wagakki means ‘Japanese instruments’ in English and the group plays a mix of traditional Japanese instruments and instruments you can see in any rock band.

The cherry varieties growing in Hokkaido

 Cherry trees are classified as a member of the Rosaceae family, which includes more than 400 species of cherry trees, as well as plums, peaches, and apricots. Of the 50 species of wild cherries growing in northern Asia, Europe, North America, and other regions, Japan is home to nine of them (some say ten or even eleven because it’s sometimes unclear if a species should be divided into subspecies or not). The wild cherry trees of Japan are Yamazakura/Mountain cherry (ヤマザクラ), Oyama-zakura/Sargent’s cherry (オオヤマザクラ), Oshima-zakura/Oshima cherry (オオシマザクラ), Kasumi-zakura (カスミザクラ), Edohigan (エドヒガン), Mame-zakura/Fuji cherry (マメザクラ), Takane-zakura/Japanese alpine cherry (タカネザクラ), Choji-zakura/Clove cherry (チョウジザクラ), and Miyamazakura/Miyama cherry or Korean mountain cherry (ミヤマザクラ). The two difficult-to-categorize cases are Kinkimame-zakura (キンキマメザクラ) and Okuchoji-zakura (オクチョウジザクラ).

 The wild varieties above have been used to create the numerous cultivars of cherry trees Japan has today. In the beginning, yamazakura was the main target of cherry blossom viewing. The cultivars were developed to satisfy the sense of aesthetics of the viewers by breeding wild individuals that had some special characteristics, such as a high number of petals, beautiful color, or other rare mutant characteristics. Of the +200 cherry varieties and over 600 cultivars growing in Japan, many need a specific kind of place to grow: a certain amount of light, rain, warmth, and never too much coldness. That’s why many of the cherry trees that thrive in Honshu or Shikoku or Kyushu or Okinawa don’t necessarily enjoy the cold climate of Hokkaido and they will wither during the winter. Here you can read more about the cherry varieties that you can see in Hokkaido.

Somei-yoshino/Yoshino cherry

 80% of cherry trees in Japan are Somei-yoshino (染井吉野/ソメイヨシノ) or Yoshino cherry variety. They are hybrids of two of Japan’s wild cherry species Oshima cherry and Edo higan. Yoshino cherries are so popular because their flowers bloom before the leaves develop, they have a tendency to grow rapidly into large and relatively tall trees, and they have beautiful pale pink to white flowers (the flowers turn white when the tree is in full bloom). The flowers have five petals.

 Yoshino cherries also grow in Hokkaido, especially in southern Hokkaido, but they do not thrive in the cold northeastern areas of Hokkaido. So, the best places to view Yoshino cherry blossoms in Hokkaido are in southern and central Hokkaido. Yoshino cherries bloom from late April (Hakodate, Matsumae, and southern Hokkaido in general) to early May in Hokkaido (Sapporo and its vicinities). Since Yoshino cherry is the most widely spread cherry variety in Japan, the cherry blossom front forecasts are based on the blooming of Yoshino cherry.

 Goryokaku park in Hakodate city has about 1,600 Yoshino cherries and is probably the best place to view this variety. Also Hakodate Park and Sakuragaoka street have Yoshino cherries. Other southern Hokkaido cities and towns to see Yoshino cherries are Hokuto city (Ruins of Togirichi Camp of the Matsumae Domain) and Matsumae town (Matsumae Park). Moving a bit north, you can spot these cherry blossoms in Yoichi town (Cherry blossoms at the Yoichi Riverside), Ishikari City (Toda Memorial Cemetery Park), and Bibai City (Tomei Park).

Ezo-yamazakura/Ezo mountain cherry/North Japanese hill cherry

 Ezo-yamazakura (エゾヤマザクラ) or Ezo mountain cherry or North Japanese hill cherry is the most common cherry species in Hokkaido. Ezo is the old name of Hokkaido but on the main island Honshu, the variety is known as Oyama-zakura. While both of these varieties are resistant to cold and have their flowers bloom and leaves unfold at about the same time, the pink color of Ezo mountain cherry is deeper than that of Oyama-zakuras. It is said that the darker pink color is because of the severe coldness of the winter in Hokkaido and the colder the growing area, the deeper the color. The Ezo mountain cherries of Kunitaiji temple in Atsugishi town in eastern Hokkaido are the most celebrated for their beautiful deep-pink color. The cherry trees grow about 12 meters tall (about 39 feet) at most but are one of the most cold-resistant cherry species there is and it grows fast. That’s why it is a popular ornamental tree also outside Japan in the Northern Hemisphere.

 In Hokkaido, these trees can be seen virtually everywhere. One of the most famous places to view Ezo mountain cherries is Nijukken road’s cherry blossom lane in Shin-Hidaka town (you can read more about this venue a bit further down this blog column). Another good place for Ezo mountain cherry hanami close to Nijukken road is Yushun Sakura Road (優駿さくらロード) in Urakawa town. In Sapporo city, Ezo mountain cherries can be viewed for example at Maruyama Park, Odori Park, and Asahiyama Memorial Park. In Otaru, good places are Temiya Park, Otaru Park, and Suitengu Shrine. Another good place for viewing is Kami-tokoro-Kintohirayama in Kitami City.

Chishimazakura/Kurile cherry

 Chishimazakura (チシマザクラ) or Kurile cherry is a variety of Japanese alpine cherry, one of the hardiest cherry varieties. It can also be found everywhere in Hokkaido but they thrive especially in the colder northern and eastern Hokkaido. Kurile cherry is more of a bush than a tree and it grows only to a height of about 5 meters (16 feet) but it spreads its branches horizontally. The low size of the trees is why people don’t usually sit under Kurile cherries in hanami but on the other hand, kids enjoy this variety because it gives them a chance to see the blossoms up close. The blossoms are pale pink until they open completely and turn white. Differing from the Ezo mountain cherry, the leaves of Kurile cherries unfold only after the blossoms have fallen. The Seiryuji Temple in Nemuro is famous for being the only place in Japan where no other cherry trees grow than Kurile cherries. The Kurile cherry tree at Notsuke Elementary School in Betsukai Town near Nemuro is said to be the most giant Kurile cherry tree in Japan.

Kasumizakura/“Haze cherry”

 Kasumizakura (カスミザクラ・霞桜) is one of the wild cherry trees of Japan and Korea where it likes to grow in mountainous areas. It doesn’t have an established English name but its Japanese name Kasumizakura means ‘haze cherry.’ The name comes from the fact that the blooming tree looks like a haze when you look at it from the distance.

 Kasumizakura has short hairs on its flower stalks, which has gained it another name: Keyamazakura or ‘hairy mountain cherry.’ Kasumizakuras grow over 20 meters tall and they have medium-sized white flowers but some individual trees have flowers with a red tinge. The trees develop flowers and leaves at the same time. The leaves are green when they unfold. Kasumizakuras can grow in rocky areas with poor soil from Hokkaido to northern Kyushu. They are one of the last cherries to bloom. It is sometimes thought to be the same variant as yamazakura even though it has smaller flowers, distinctive hairy flower stalks, and blooms later than yamazakura. Kasumizakura bloom from late April to early May in southern Hokkaido, in early to mid-May in the Sapporo area, and in around mid-May in northern and eastern Hokkaido.

Yaezakura (八重桜・ヤエザクラ)

Yaezakura or ‘double-flowered cherry tree’ is a generic name for all the cherry trees that have double layers in their flowers. The other cherry varieties introduced earlier in this blog column are single-petaled, that is, they have five petals. The varieties that have six or more petals are called double-petaled cherries or yaezakura. Some of the yaezakura cultivars have been created hundreds of years ago, already during the Heian period (794–1185). What comes the contemporary cultivar creating, especially productive has been cherry researcher Masatoshi Asari hailing from Matsumae town in southern Hokkaido. Asari has created over 100 cultivars of yeazakura.

Many yaezakura varieties have tens of petals and the flowers are large, round, and fluffy in shape. The color of the flowers varies from white to pale pink and from deep pink to light green. The flowers of yaezakura last also a bit longer than single-petaled varieties, so there is a better chance to see yaezakura in bloom that the other varieties. Yaezakura blooms about one to two weeks later than Yoshino cherries, so the peak time for blooming is from around the start of May in southern Hokkaido, to the early and mid-May Sapporo and its vicinities, and around mid-May in northern and eastern Hokkaido.

Many yaezakura varieties belong to the satozakura (里桜・サトザクラ) group. Satozakura is an umbrella name covering several cherry tree cultivars. Satozakura is derived from the Oshima cherry tree and the varieties are hybrids of various wild species, for example, yamazakura, Edo higan, kasumizakura, and mamezakura. Satozakura is also called botanzakura or ‘peony cherry’ because its flowers resemble those of peonies. The satozakura blossoms have the same characteristics and the same peak blooming time as yaezakura.

Shidarezakura (枝垂れ桜・シダレザクラ)

 Shidarezakura or ‘weeping cherry’ is a soft-branched cherry cultivar. The soft drooping branches are caused by a mutation, which can be seen in other trees, such as ginkgo, zelkova, and chestnut, too. The mutation is caused by a lack of the plant hormone gibberellin which makes the branches rigid. In a broad sense, any cherry tree cultivar with drooping branches can be called shidarezakura but in the strict sense, only the ones that come from certain Edohigan strains are shidarezakura. The latter type of weeping cherries grow over 8 meters (26 feet) tall and they have small, single-petaled pink blossoms.

Shidarezakura is an old variety that existed already in the Heian period (794–1185). Weeping cherries bloom mainly in the southern parts of Hokkaido but there are some growing up in central Hokkaido, too. In southern Hokkaido, they can be viewed from late April to mid-May, and elsewhere where they grow from early to mid-May and even late May.

The best places for cherry blossom viewing in Hokkaido

 Every prefecture and region in Japan has some spots that are thought to be THE cherry blossom viewing spots in the region. Hokkaido is no exeption to this. Before entering the main topic of cherry blossom viewing in Sapporo, here you can read about the most famous cherry blossom viewing places in Hokkaido.

Nijukken road’s cherry blossom lane (二十間道路の桜並木)

One of the most famous cherry blossom viewing spots in Hokkaido is Nijukken road’s cherry blossom lane (an outbound link) in Shizunai, Shinhidaka town, in the Hidaka area in southeastern Hokkaido. The cherry tree-lined Nijukken road is about 7 kilometers (4.35 miles) long and boasts about 3,000 cherry trees. The tree varieties you can see here are Ezo-yamazakura and Kazumizakura and the tallest trees are about 13 meters (42.5 feet). (The name of the road, Nijukken, refers to the width of the road: it’s 36 meters (118 feet) wide or using a traditional Japanese unit of length ken, 20 ken wide. In Japanese twenty is niju).

The best time to view the cherry blossoms in Shizunai and Nijukken road is from early May to mid-May. The highlight of the peak season is the Shizunai Cherry Blossom Festival which attracts about 200,000 visitors every year. During the festival, Ryuunkaku (龍雲閣) —the old residence of the imperial family during their visits—is open to the general public. If you want to read more about the Hidaka area, take a look at the blog column The Hidaka Area: Majestic Mountains and Untamed Rivers.

In the early 20th century, the Imperial Ranch of the Imperial Household Agency was located in Shizunai. When the imperial family visited the farm, they would use Nijukken road on their journey to the ranch. It took three years starting from 1916 to move the cherry trees to the roadside from the nearby mountains. The hard work was rewarded and the road was titled the best cherry tree-lined road in Japan. The historical importance of the road has earned it the title of a Hokkaido Heritage Site. It is also one of the Top 100 Scenic Roads in Japan. Nijukken road’s cherry blossom lane has also been selected as one of the Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan. The is at least one place from each prefecture of Japan on the list, but from Hokkaido, there are only two: Nijukken road’s cherry blossom lane and Matsumae castle park.

Matsumae castle park (松前公園)

Another great spot for cherry blossom viewing is Matsumae park (an outbound link) surrounding the Matsumae castle in southern Hokkaido. Besides Nijukken road’s cherry blossoms, Matsumae park is the other of the two Hokkaidoan Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan. Matsumae park is also the starting point of the cherry blossom front in Hokkaido. There are whooping 10,000 cherry trees of about 250 different varieties growing in the park.

The peak time for the flowers is different for each variety, so the blooming in Matsumae park lasts longer than most of the cherry blossom viewing spots, from late April up until late May. Many of the varieties that you can see in Matsumae park are varieties made in Matsumae, for example, Nanden, Kanzan, Itokukuri, Amayadori, and Ichiyo. The Matsumae castle is the only old Japanese castle in Hokkaido and it also is a Hokkaido Heritage Site, so the park is definitely worth visiting. Read more about Matsumae in one of our earlier blog columns History of Hokkaido: Kitamaebune Cargo Vessels in Matsumae and Esashi.

Goryokaku (五稜郭) and Sakuragaoka street (桜ヶ丘) in Hakodate (函館)

 Another great place for cherry blossom viewing in southern Hokkaido is Hakodate and especially the park of Goryokaku fortress (and outbound link) and Sakuragaoka street. Goryokaku is a star-shaped fortress built in the late 19th century and serves today as a park. There are almost 1,600 cherry trees in the park, most of them yoshino cherries.

 The peak time for the cherry blossoms at Goryokaku is usually around the last week of April and the flowers can be viewed until the beginning of May. Since this is a park, you can sit down under the trees and have a wonderful hanami picnic. Also, the view over the park from the adjacent Goryokaku Tower Observation Deck (60m) is amazing when the trees are in full bloom, so take a visit to the tower, too.

 Another popular place to view the cherry blossoms in Hakodate is Sakuragaoka street. There are about 100 cherry trees growing on both sides of the 800-meter street and when in full bloom, the street becomes a tunnel of cherry blossoms in early May. The street is in a regular residential area, so it’s not suitable for a hanami picnic but it makes a really nice walk and it’s also great for taking pictures.

The perfect cherry blossom viewing spots in Sapporo

 Let’s look back very briefly at the previous block, which made you realize the existence of “cherry blossoms” as an integral part of Japanese life and culture, and finally, in this block, let’s introduce some cherry blossom viewing spots in Sapporo and have you appreciate them once again with pictures that will look good. It would be perfect if you feel as if reading this column itself is a simulated hanami experience. Now, let’s start touring the cherry blossom viewing spots in Sapporo.

Nakajima Park (Nakajima koen / 中島公園)

 Nakajima Park is a green oasis in northern central Sapporo. The park is established in 1887 when local residents requested that the old lumberyard and its surroundings must be developed into something the residents can enjoy. So, the lumberyard became Shobuike—the iris pond in the middle of the park—and the surrounding area of the park itself. The current layout of the park was established in 1907.

 Nakajima Park an excellent place for a stroll or a relaxed hanami picnic. Please note that you can’t have a barbeque party at Nakajima Park because it’s forbidden to use fire there. The varieties you can see here ezoyamazakura, yoshino cherry, kurile cherry, shidarezakura, and yaezakura. The trees are in full bloom depending on the variety, but most of them bloom from late April to mid-May, and yaezakura as late as the end of May.

Maruyama Park & Hokkaido Shrine (Maruyama Koen & Hokkaido Jingu / 円山公園&北海道神宮)

 Maruyama Park (an outbound link), located on the north side of the Maruyama Primeval Forest, along with the adjacent Hokkaido Shrine, is one of Sapporo city’s oldest hanami spots and is well-known to among both the Sapporo citizens and the visitors to the city. In Maruyama Park, you can view ezoyama-zakura, yoshino cherry, and satozakura. There are 180 cherry trees in the park in total. About 150 trees were brought to the park from the surrounding mountain forest in 1875 to decorate the approach to Hokkaido Shrine. In addition, there are 1,600 cherry trees on the grounds of the shrine.

 Maruyama Park is the one and only hanami place for many Sapporoans and the park is full of hanami party makers during the peak bloom. So, if you want to feel the authentic hanami atmosphere of Sapporo, head to Maruyama Park for a hanami party! The best time to see sakura in Maruyama Park is from the end of April until mid-May. If you are planning to have a barbeque hanami party, you have to rent the barbeque set in advance. Just contact us and we’ll help you with your hanami party arrangements.

Moerenuma Park (Moerenuma koen / モエレ沼公園)

 Moerenuma Park (an outbound link) is built on the lot of an old waste disposal site in 2005. The wast park is designed by the famous artist Isamu Noguchi and the whole park is one huge sculpture! Since the park is fairly newly built, also the cherry trees in the park are quite young, only about 20 years old. But the number of trees makes up for the still relatively small size (about 4 meters/13 feet) of the trees: There are as many as 2,800 cherry trees in the park. The varieties are predominately ezoyama-zakura and kasumi-zakura, but there are also minezakura, yaezakura, and yoshino cherries. The blossoms can be viewed from early May to mid-May.

Hokkaido University (Hokkaido daigaku / 北海道大学)

 The large campus of Hokkaido University (or Hokudai, as the locals call the university) covers an area of 1.77 square kilometers (0.7 square miles) in the heart of Sapporo city, northwest of Sapporo station. The campus consists mostly of parklike green areas and of course, there are many cherry trees, too. One of the best places to view the cherry blossoms at the Hokudai campus is the garden in front of the school of engineering. There are at least ezoyama-zakura, yoshino cherry, and satozakura in the garden. The cherries blooming on the central lawn offer a chance to take a picture of the famous bust statue of William S. Clark, the founder of the university, with blooming cherries in the background. You can have a hanami picnic on the central lawn, too.

 The shidare-zakura (weeping cherry) standing in the Elm forest park on the south side of the Hokkaido University Museum is said to be the oldest of its kind in Hokkaido. You can find another beautiful shidare-zakura in front of the north building of the Information Initiative Center. If you want to see yaezakura, head to the school of medicine, or to be more precise, in front of the School of Medicine Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering Research and Education Center for Brain Science. This amazing tunnel of blooming pink cherry blossoms is a must-see in early to mid-May! Another good spot to view yaezakura is on the west side of the Graduate School of Life Science.

 Take a look at the Hokkaido university campus guide map (an outbound link) to plan your walking route at the Hokudai campus. You can read more about Hokkaido University in our earlier blog column Hokkaido University: A Journey in the Footsteps of the Pioneers.

Shinkawa row of cherry trees (Shinkawa sakura namiki / 新川さくら並木)

Shinkawa row of cherry trees is a 10.5-km-long (6.5 miles) road that follows the course of the Shinkawa river and along which 755 cherry trees have been planted. The Shinkawa row of cherry trees is the longest row of cherry blossom trees in Hokkaido. This is not a place to have a hanami picnic but it is an excellent place to enjoy a nice walk or biking trip under the cherry trees. In addition, it’s a good place for taking pictures of or with cherry trees, because the branches of many of the trees reach almost to the ground. The types of cherry blossoms you can see here are ezoyama-zakura and yoshino cherry and they bloom from late April to early May.

Shinkawa is an artificial river built already in 1886. The local residents came up with the idea of planting cherry trees already in the 1970s and some self-imposed senior citizens did actually plant some trees but the city removed them because they did not have a permit for the planting. The laws preventing the planting were changed in 1997 and in 1998 the first 97 cherry saplings were planted. In 1999 the number of trees was added by 520 and the next year by 138, reaching the current number.

Odori Park (大通公園)

 Odori Park (an outbound link) is a park stretching 1.5 km (0.94 miles) from east to west in the heart of Sapporo city. The park is famous for being the main venue for several festivals arranged in Sapporo throughout the year. The best season to enjoy the cherry blossoms at Odori Park is in early May. There are about 50 cherry trees in the park, of which many are ezoyamazakura, yoshino cherries, and satozakura but there are also some Kurile cherries, kasumizakura, and miyamazakura.

 You can of course enjoy the flowers by strolling the park but it’s also a good idea to go up the Sapporo TV Tower standing on the easternmost end of the park and view the cityscape with blooming cherry trees from the tower’s observation deck. However, if you want to view the cherries from the ground level, it’s best to head to the western end of the park. The most beautiful cherry trees are in the western half of the park, especially around the Sapporo Archives Museum at the western end of the park.

Former Hokkaido Government Office Building (Hokkaidocho kyuhonchosha/北海道庁旧本庁舎)

A convenient place near Sapporo station for a quick hanami is the garden of the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building (an outbound link) or Red brick office (Akarenga chosha/赤れんが庁舎) as the locals know it. The historical building has been constructed in 1888 and it is one of the oldest buildings in Sapporo.

The cherry varieties growing in the garden around the office building are kasumisakura, yaezakura, and chishimazakura. The cherries bloom here throughout May. It is OK to have a hanami picnic in the garden in theory, but the crows living in the garden will want to share your food and they will get their share without politely asking first. It’s probably best to be content to just enjoy the flowers only here.


Cold Region Civil Engineering Research Institute (Kanchidoboku kenkyusho / 寒地土木研究所)

 Cold Region Civil Engineering Research Institute in Sapporo’s Toyohira-ku is one of the few places in Sapporo to see Kurile cherries. The first tree was planted in 1984 at the suggestion of one of the institute’s employees and now there are about 200 Kurile cherries planted by the small river flowing through the research institute’s premises. The premises are not usually open to the public but during the peak blooming (usually between the last week of April and the first week of May) everyone is welcome to come in and view the blooms. They give out Kurile cherry saplings to visitors, too (not really practical if you don’t live in Japan, though). You cannot have a hanami party here but you can enjoy the beautiful Kurile cherries and take some great pictures here, too.

Traveling Sapporo and Hokkaido in the spring

 Spring is not the high tourist season in Hokkaido, so it’s an optimal time to visit Sapporo for a relaxed and non-crowded holiday. Even though Sapporo is a huge metropolis, there is plenty of nature to enjoy around the city. That’s why spring in Sapporo is also a good time for different outdoor activities, such as biking and hiking because the temperature doesn’t get too hot. The skiing season in the mountains lasts until the end of April, so you can also try late skiing during the spring. And of course, you can also eat, drink, shop, and generally enjoy yourself to your heart’s content.

 Now is the perfect time to start planning your trip to Japan and Hokkaido next spring to view the magnificent cherry trees in full bloom. To get the most out of your trip, make the trip plan with our travel specialists team. You can contact us through our inquiry form.