Feb 27, 2018
Lately I often hear people complaining that they really would like to see the cherry blossoms in Japan, but because of their circumstances (work, holidays, family, other appointments or events), they need to come to Japan already in February. Even though the cherry blossoms for the Kanto area around Tokyo are announced for the end of March / beginning of April every year, there are a few spots around where you can enjoy early blooming sakura.
Kawazuzakura (河津桜) is an early blooming variety of cherry trees. They usually start opening their flowers at the beginning of February up to the beginning of March. This happens quite slowly (it is still cold outside anyway) and so the flowers might last for up to two weeks. The best viewing time is mostly around the end of February, but for sure, this is changing every year depending on the temperatures and weather.
As is typical during the regular sakura period, also while the Kawazuzakura are blooming Cherry Blossom Festivals are held. Some of these are quite popular, such as the one along the Kawazu River in Shizuoka Prefecture or the Miura Kaigan in Kanagawa prefecture, where many tourists come to see the first cherry blossoms of the season.
In the middle of February I made a stop over at a rather unknown spot: Matsuda. Matsuda City is located just a few minutes from Odawara and is connected to the Odakyu and JR Lines. This year the Matsuda Sakura Festival (まつだ桜まつり) is held for the 20th time, dating from 10th February to 11th March 2018.
The area of the event is the Nishihirabatake Park (西平畑公園), which is located up the mountains. During the festival a shuttle bus departs for the park twice an hour from the north exit of JR Matsuda station (if you arrive at Odakyu Shin-Matsuda station you need to walk about 5 minutes to the stop, but there are many festival signs that guide you there). The one-way ride costs 150 yen and I can recommend using the bus, because it is really going up the mountain and walking might be very exhausting – because you can still walk a lot when you arrive there.
The cherry trees are located around the Matsudayama Herb Garden and are really beautiful. My visit was a bit early, so the flowers were not in full bloom yet. Visiting at the end of February or early March might be the best timing. If there is clear weather, you even have a nice view of Mount Fuji. But even without Fuji, you have a great view over Matsuda City until the sea far away.
A small train called Romancecar is running through the park underneath the cherry blossoms a few times a day. This is probably not only fun for children, but also for adults.
As it is a festival, surely, you can also buy food and drinks there. Different traditional meals such as soba, udon and more are sold. I had a delicious sakura soft ice that included some pieces of mochi.
Don’t miss taking a look into the Children’s Hall (子どもの館) just right next to the bus stop. Fitting to the upcoming "Hinamatsuri," the Japanese girls festival, they have a huge exhibition of traditional dolls and cute handcrafts. It is free of charge.
If you have enough time to explore the area, definitely walk up the mountain. After about 15 minutes you arrive at the Aguri Flower Park (あぐりパーク嵯峨山苑). It costs 300 yen in admission, but you can enjoy a huge field of yellow mustard flowers in combination with pink cherry blossoms. Even some plum trees are blooming there, too. There were not many people inside, so you could sit down and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, with tweeting birds around and an amazing view.
I enjoyed my visit to the Matsuda Cherry Festival a lot. So, if you are early in Japan, go out and catch the early cherry blossoms!
Official Website: Matsuda Town
German woman who made several trips to Japan, did one year Working Holiday and started living in Japan again since Oct' 2016 with Japanese husband. Loves music, cats, traveling and food.
Also take a look to my German blog and my Youtube Channel (new video every Friday) → https://www.youtube.com/c/YokoLostInJapan