Shiga’s Top 5 cherry blossom spots

Hikone Castle, Shiga’s No. 1 cherry blossom spot.

Here are my Top 5 favorite sakura spots in Shiga (click on the links or image to see more photos). Note that cherry blossoms bloom later in northern Shiga (Takashima and Nagahama) than in southern Shiga (Kusatsu, Otsu, etc.).

*Tip: To see the current blooming condition, see the Weather News Sakura page for Shiga. Starting with brown that indicates buds, the markers show warmer colors until it becomes red (full bloom) indicating how far the flowers have bloomed.

1. Hikone Castle – Coming at No. 1 is Hikone Castle. Although Hikone Castle is not one of the 100 Famous Cherry Blossom Spots of Japan (according to the Japan Cherry Blossom Association, I think it’s Shiga’s prettiest and most photogenic. It has an awful lot of cherry blossom trees almost everywhere amid the dramatic backdrop of the castle, white walls, and moats. I found so many varied views and great camera angles for shooting cherry blossoms here. You can see cherries on the big stone walls, along the moats, and next to the main castle tower. Culturally and historically, cherry blossoms best match a castle (especially one that is a National Treasure, another reason why I rank it No. 1), a symbol of the samurai whose life was as fleeting as the sakura. Hikone Castle is a short walk from Hikone Station. Google map.

Kaizu-Osaki + Chikubushima

Kaizu-Osaki + Chikubushima

Kaizu-Osaki is nice but watch out for the cars.

2. Kaizu-Osaki, Takashima – Kaizu-Osaki has cherry trees lining the northern shore of Lake Biwa for a few kilometers. The blue lake water and Chikubushima island provide a very Shiga-esque backdrop for the cherries. It’s one of Japan’s 100 Famous Cherry Blossom Spots, and I would rank it as Shiga’s No. 1 sakura spot if it weren’t for the hazardous viewing conditions. Kaizu-Osaki has a narrow and hazardous lakeshore road (with no sidewalk) right next to the shoreline trees. During the peak period, there are just too many cars passing by, squeezing out pedestrians and polluting the air. There is a short pedestrian path and small park at the beginning if you go from Makino Station, but it doesn’t go to the main part of the trees. Since there is no sidewalk and you are walking on the road, you always have to be on guard for cars. Not recommended for families with young kids, especially on weekends. Also, the tunnels are dark and very narrow (no sidewalks). Bring a flashlight so the cars can see you walking or riding your bicycle inside the tunnel.

If you have a car, note that there is very little parking. Shuttle buses run infrequently from train stations (most people walk from Makino Station). I recommend renting a bicycle at Makino Station (at the tourist info office) and cycling to Kaizu-Osaki. If you have the time and energy, bicycling from Makino Station to Nagahara Station (or vice versa) along the lake would be very scenic. You can return the bicycle at either station. And oh, beware of wild monkeys. Best not to carry a plastic bag, etc., that the monkeys may think contains food. Google Map

hokoen

Hokoen Park cherries and Lake Biwa from atop Nagahama Castle.

3. Nagahama Castle and Hokoen Park
Another photogenic backdrop with a huge cluster of cherry blossoms. Be sure to go up to the castle tower’s lookout deck (admission charged to enter the castle museum) to see the cherry blossoms surrounding the castle. Breathtaking. One of Japan’s 100 Famous Cherry Blossom Spots (there’s a monument saying so) and a major spot for hanami flower-viewing picnics. They have areas for picnicking as well as areas to just stroll under the cherries. Nagahama Castle is in the lakeside Hokoen Park near Nagahama StationGoogle Map

Miidera’s Kondo main hall (National Treasure) and sakura.

4. Miidera temple and Biwako Canal, Otsu
There’s a great synergy between Biwako (Lake Biwa) Canal and Miidera temple during cherry blossom season. Biwako Canal supplies water from Lake Biwa to Kyoto. From Miidera Station (Keihan Line), you can’t miss it. It’s lined with many cherry trees, but it’s fenced off so it’s see but don’t touch. You’d think that they should allow rowboating in the canal when the flowers are in bloom. But if you look closely, you will notice a pretty fast current which would be dangerous for rowers. In the old days about a century ago after the canal was built, they had boats going all the way through canal to Kyoto. After walking along the canal, turn right and walk to the sprawling Miidera temple. They have cherry trees here and there providing a great accent to the old temple buildings (including a few National Treasures). There’s also a great lookout point on a hill giving great views of Otsu (concrete jungle) and the lake. They also light up the trees at night as they do at Biwako Canal (6:30 pm-9:30 pm). Beautiful and serene. Google Map

Hachiman-bori canal.

5. Hachiman-bori, Omi-Hachiman – Hachiman-bori canal has a long canopy of sakura trees along this scenic moat. The moat and white-walled traditional buildings make it photogenic, fit for shooting a samurai movie. It’s not so crowded either so you can enjoy a laid-back atmosphere while walking on a nice sidewalk or path along the moat. There are also moat boat rides starting near the Kawara Tile Museum. After seeing the flowers, you have the option to see numerous other nearby sights such as Hachiman-yama (via ropeway), Himure Hachimangu Shrine, Kawara Roof Tile Museum, Hakuunkan, Omi-shonin merchant homes on Shinmachi-dori, and buildings by William Merrell Vories. There is much more than just cherry blossoms which is my reason to include Hachiman-bori among the Top Five. Google Map

So, the places above are where I would show a first-time visitor wanting to see cherry blossoms in Shiga. I selected them based on Shiga’s unique beauty or scenery, easy accessibility, and sightseeing value.

Honorable Mention

Here are other cherry blossoms spots in Shiga worth mentioning:

Yasu

Omi-Fuji Karyoku Koen Park (also called Omi-Fuji Green Acres) in Yasu. Map

zeze

Zeze Castle Park along the lake shore. Popular for hanami. Map

Sakamoto

Sakamoto, Otsu. Temple town around Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine. Map

Mishima ike

Mishima Pond and Mt. Ibuki in Maibara. Prime spot to photograph Shiga’s highest mountain and cherry blossoms.

To see the current blooming condition, see the Weather News Sakura page for Shiga. Starting with brown that indicates buds, the markers show warmer colors until red (full bloom) indicating how far the flowers have bloomed right now.

Enjoy the spring.

Essential Vocabulary

  • sakura さくら or 桜 – Cherry blossom and Japan’s national symbol and flower. By far, it is the most celebrated flower in Japan.
  • tsubomi つぼみ – Flower buds.
  • shichibu-zaki 七分咲き – Cherry blossoms in 70% bloom which is right before they reach full bloom. News reports consider 80% bloom to be full bloom (mankai).
  • sakura zensen 桜前線 – Cherry blossom front as they bloom across Japan from Okinawa to Hokkaido.
  • kaika 開花 – Flowers started blooming. This is about a week before the tree reaches full bloom.
  • mankai 満開 – Full bloom. You will hear this on the news often.
  • hayasaki 早咲き – Early-blooming flowers. A few varieties of cherry blossoms bloom earlier than usual.
  • hanami or ohanami 花見 – Flower-viewing picnic (often with alcohol) under the cherry blossoms at a park. The most common way to celebrate spring under the flowers and commonly seen in the news. Hanami picnics are usually not allowed in shrines and temples.
  • sakura matsuri さくらまつり or 桜祭り- Cherry blossom festival. Not a religious festival, but can take the form of various events and stage entertainment.
  • Somei Yoshino 染井吉野 – The most common and coveted species of cherry blossoms whose light pink (almost white) flowers bloom in fluffy bunches on the tree.
  • yo-zakura 夜桜 – Cherry blossoms lit up at night. Some temples and parks light up the flowers at night.
  • shidare-zakura しだれ桜 or 枝垂桜 – Weeping cherry blossoms with long, hanging branches of flowers.
  • Sakura Meisho さくら名所 – Famous cherry blossom spot. It is most often a castle, public park, garden, shrine/temple, or riverside.
  • Sakura, Sakura さくら さくら- Famous folk song about cherry blossoms.
  • chiru, chitta 散る、散った – Flowers fell off the tree. Happens a few days after full bloom when the petals fall like pink snow.
  • sakura fubuki さくら吹雪 – Swirling cherry blossom petals. Occurs when the wind blows off the flower petals, creating a pink snow.

Hina-matsuri doll festivals in Shiga 2013

Hina dolls in Gokasho. Click image to see more photos.

Hina-matsuri dolls (雛祭りの雛人形) are being displayed at various locations in Shiga to celebrate Girl’s Day on March 3.

On the weekend of Feb. 23-24, 2013, Gokasho in Higashi-Omi is having a unique event of live hina dolls called Ningen Hina-matsuri (にんげん雛まつり). Yes, they are real girls, ten of them, dressed as Hina dolls. They will appear twice on both the 23rd and 24th at 10:00 am to 11:30 am and at 1:30 pm to 3 pm at the Omi-shonin merchant home of Tonomura Shigeru (外村繁邸).

Gokasho, Higashi-Omi: Normal hina ningyo dolls are also displayed in the Omi-shonin merchant homes and museums. They are on display until March 20 (9 am to 4:30 pm) in the former residences of Tonomura Uhee (外村 宇兵衛), Tonomura Shigeru (外村 繁), Nakae Jungoro (中江 準五郎), and Fujii Hikoshiro (藤井 彦四郎邸). The homes are large, stately Japanese-style mansions. Must-see for architecture buffs. Buy a single 600 yen ticket and you can enter all the homes. Closest train station is Ohmi Railways Gokasho Station. Google Map

Omi-Hachiman: Former Ban family residence (旧伴家住宅) until March 17, 2013 (closed Mon.). Omi merchant home which also served as a girls school and public library until 1997. Spacious room with a large display of Hina dolls. The former Nishikawa Residence (Kyu-Nishikawa-ke Jutaku 旧西川家住) also has doll display. This is a large Omi merchant home designated as an Important Cultural Property. The Kawara Roof Tile Museum and some shops in central Omi-Hachiman will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Hino: Omi Hino Merchant House (近江日野商人館) until March 10, 2013. The former home of Hino merchant Yamanaka Hyouemon was donated to the town in 1981. Now a museum exhibiting the history and artifacts of the Hino merchants. Admission 300 yen. Another place is Hino Machikado Kan-okan (日野まちかど感応館) which is a former home along Hino’s main road. It is also a tourist information office. Free admission. Some shops and homes in central Hino will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Enjoy Girl’s Day!

Japanese hina-matsuri map: http://www.omi-syonin.com/htm03/index.html#page=1

London Olympic medalists from Shiga Prefecture

Big congratulations to Shiga-native and Shiga-based Olympians who won medals at the London 2012 Olympics. They include Olympians who made history as being Japan’s first Olympic medalist in their sport.

That was Otsu-native KAKIIWA Reika (垣岩 令佳), who won the silver medal along with her partner FUJII Mizuki for Badminton Women’s Doubles. This is Japan’s very first Olympic medal in badminton. Kakiiwa and Fujii made it to the final game after beating Denmark in the quarterfinal and Canada in the semi-final. The final game was against the favored China held on Aug. 5, 2012 after midnight, Japan time. I stayed up late to watch the game live. And what an exciting, fingernail-biting game it was. They rallied back and forth and kept gaining, losing, and regaining points almost forever until the sometimes panicky Chinese duo finally came out on top. Kakiiwa and Fujii fought tooth and nail for each point. The Chinese duo broke down and cried after winning their very hard-earned gold medal, while Kakiiwa and Fujii showed contented underdog faces of doing their utmost. I never knew badminton could be this exciting.

On Aug. 17, 2012, Kakiiwa Reika called on Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko in Otsu to show off her silver medal. She thanked everyone for their support and said it was because everyone’s support that she won the medal. In return, the governor presented her with the Eiyosho Prefectural Citizen’s Sports Award (県民スポーツ賞の「栄誉賞」) on behalf of the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education. The award includes a ceramic trophy in the shape of a sweetfish (ayu) made of Shigaraki-ware. Kakiiwa also visited Otsu Mayor Koshi Naomi at Otsu City Hall and was presented with the Otsu Special Sports Award (大津市体育特別賞).

Shiga’s second medalist is another Otsu native, OTA Yuki (太田 雄貴) who won a silver medal in Foil Team Fencing. This is his second silver Olympic medal as he won silver at Beijing. It was hard for me to understand fencing, but he saved his team and brought them the silver. He will also be awarded the Eiyosho Prefectural Citizen’s Sports Award from the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education for the second time (the first time was for the Beijing medal).

Women’s volleyball generated a lot of excitement in Japan as they finally won an Olympic medal for the first time since 1984 (Los Angeles). Japan was once a volleyball powerhouse and volleyball became an Olympic sport at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. The Japanese women’s volleyball team gloriously won the Olympic gold medal that first year and went on to win a medal (including another gold in Montreal 1976) in the next four Olympics (excluding Moscow which was boycotted) up to 1984. A long-awaited break in this 28-year dry spell and a reminder of Japan’s past volleyball glory have brought much happiness to Japan.

The Japanese women’s volleyball team beat China in the quarterfinals, but lost all three games to Brazil in the semifinals. Then they faced Korea, who had lost to the US, for the bronze. Although there were some worrisome moments, Japan handily beat Korea in all three games. Four members of the Japanese women’s volleyball team are based in Otsu since they belong to the Toray Arrows. ARAKI Erika (荒木絵里香), KIMURA Saori (木村沙織), SAKODA Saori (迫田さおり), and NAKAMICHI Hitomi (中道瞳) all played pivotal roles in their Olympic quest. On Aug. 14, 2012, these four members returned to Toray in Otsu where they showed their bronze medals to a crowd of some 250 corporate colleagues and employees.

Whenever there are winners, there are non-winners (don’t wanna call anyone losers at the Olympics). Here’s how the other Shiga Olympians did:
INUI Yukiko, Duet synchronized swimming: She and her partner KOBAYASHI Chisa placed 5th. This is the first time Japan has not won a medal in Duet synchronized swimming (Olympic sport since 1984).
ABIKO Tomomi, Women’s pole vault: Placed 19th overall and vaulted as high as 4 m 25 cm. Failed to advance to the final round of the top 12 pole vaulters. She will aim for Rio in four years.
YAMAMOTO Ryo, Men’s marathon: Placed 40th at 2:18:34 or about 10 min. behind the winner. He placed higher than compatriot Arata Fujiwara who came in 46th. And NAKAMOTO Kentaro did better than anybody expected by placing 6th. Men’s marathon results here.

Otsukaresama and a big thank you to all these Olympians this summer.

Video at top: Today on Aug. 20, 2012 at 11 am, an unbelievable 500,000 people flooded Tokyo’s Ginza area to see Japan’s Olympic medalists in a ticker-tape parade. This is the first time Japan has ever held an Olympic parade. Japan reaped a record haul of 38 Olympic medals from over 70 medalists. Mainichi Shimbun also has this photo of Kakiiwa (right) and partner Fujii (left) at the parade.

Golden Week festivals in Shiga

Golden Week is Japan’s spring vacation from late April to early May with a string of national holidays. April 29 is Showa Day (set to April 30 this year since the 29th is Sun.), May 3 is Constitution Day, May 4 Greenery Day, and May 5 Children’s Day. This year’s calendar in 2012 can make it a nine-day holiday for the working folk if they only take off on two working days (May 1 and 2).

In Shiga, it is prime time for matsuri festivals. There are so many matsuri during this time that it took me at least 4 or 5 years to see most of them because many are held at the same time. You really have to decide which one to see. The festivals will be extra special this year because many GW festivals were canceled or postponed last year due to the 3/11 triple disasters.

Here are some of the GW matsuri I recommend seeing. A wide variety for sure. Click on the image to see more photos and information of the respective festival. Maps of the shrine locations, etc., are provided by the Map links.

Kusatsu shukuba

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri.

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri celebrates Kusatsu’s history as a stage town on the Nakasendo and Tokaido Roads. Numerous events and activities are held such as flea markets, street & stage performances, and Japanese dances. The main highlight is the Kusatsu Jidai Gyoretsu procession of people dressed in historical costumes from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Near JR Kusatsu Station.

kaizu rikishi

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri Festival in Makino, Takashima.

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri features men dressed as sumo wrestlers (rikishi) carrying two mikoshi portable shrines around their respective lakeside neighborhoods near JR Makino Station in northern Takashima. They wear kesho mawashi ceremonial aprons. They jostle the mikoshi during the day from 1 pm to 3 pm, and then from 5 pm. At around 8 pm, they proceed to Kaizuten Jinja Shrine for the festival climax with lit torches. Be aware that the festival goes on until after 10 pm which may be past your last train home. Also, if you’re walking back to Makino Station from the shrine, be careful as part of the highway has no sidewalk. Bring a flashlight so the cars (and big trucks) can see you on the road at night. Otherwise, it’s very hazardous. See my video here. Google Map

hino matsuri

Hino Matsuri at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 3: Hino Matsuri in Hino is the largest festival in eastern Shiga Prefecture and one of Shiga’s grandest float festivals. Sixteen ornate floats and three portable shrines are paraded through the streets and gather at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine amid festival music of flutes and taiko drums. It’s all day long from morning till late afternoon when the floats leave the shrine. The three portable shrines are taken across town to the Otabisho and back. Buses run from Hino Station to Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. If you have time, I also highly recommend taking the bus from Hino Station to Shakunage Gorge (しゃくなげ渓) for a relaxing nature stroll in a gorge adorned with shakunage (rhododendron), Hino’s official flower. See my video here. Google Map

Kenketo matsuri

May 3: Kenketo Odori at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社).

May 3: Kenketo Odori at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社) in Tsuchiyama, Koka is a dance performed by eight boys aged 7 to 12. The dance was originally started to ward off calamities. The boys wear tall peacock feathers on their heads. The delightful dance is a National Intangible Folk Cultural Property. From Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways), catch the Aikuru Bus and get off at Higashi Maeno. The shrine is a short walk toward the river. Also see my video at YouTube. Google Map

Kenketo ryuo

May 3: Kenketo Festival at Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 3: The Kenketo Festival is held at few Shinto shrines in Ryuo and neighboring Higashi-Omi. It is mainly a naginata (pole sword) dance and procession by boys dressed in costume. They travel to these different shrines and perform, but the main venue is Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Also see my YouTube Video here. Google Map

Shichikawa matsuri

May 4: Shichikawa Matsuri in Takashima. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 4: The Shichikawa Matsuri at Oarahiko Shrine in Takashima features a procession of yakko-furi laborers carrying archery targets (photo), yabusame horse runs, and a portable shrine procession. This is the largest festival in the Kosei area (western Shiga) and the only one featuring horses in Kosei. Attracts a good crowd. The shrine is near Shin-Asahi Station (JR Kosei Line), but renting a bicycle at the station is recommended. See my video here. Google Map

Omizuo matsuri

May 4: Omizo Matsuri in Takashima. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 4: Omizo Matsuri has five ornate floats pulled around the neighborhood of JR Omi-Takashima Station (JR Kosei Line). The festival eve on May 3 has the floats festooned with paper lanterns as they are pulled around in the evening. On May 4, they pull the floats around during the day and gather at Hiyoshi Jinja Shrine. When entering the shrine, they dramatically run while pulling the float. Also see my video at YouTube. Google Map

 Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri in Higashi-Omi near Notogawa Station.

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri held by Sanposan Shrine in Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture is an unusual festival with three portable shrines hauled down a steep mountain (Kinugasa-yama) for about 500 meters. It doesn’t sound that far, but it’s all steep, rocky terrain. The mikoshi bearers can easily get injured. This is also one of the hardest festivals to view. You have to climb up this steep, rocky mountain and perch on a ledge. One earthquake and you can fall. The locals have an easy time climbing up the mountain though, even with kids. See my video here. Google Map

Shinoda hanabi

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi in Omi-Hachiman. Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi is a super spectacular and artistic fireworks display at Shinoda Shrine in Omi-Hachiman. Torch fireworks, Niagara Falls, and panel-type fireworks provide an explosive, close-up experience. For people who cannot wait till summer to see fireworks. Beware of a forest of camera tripods and photographers in front. Get there early if you want to take good shots. Not recommended if you don’t like sudden and loud explosions. Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Walk from Omi-Hachiman Station. Google Map

misaki

May 4: Misaki Shrine Fire Festival in Aisho, near JR Inae Station.

May 4: The Misaki Shrine Fire Festival in Aisho climaxes with a towering clump of bamboo set afire to create a fire column well over 10 meters high. It starts at 7:30 pm when people carry 2-meter long torches from their homes to the shrine. A taiko drum is also carried and beaten. Very dramatic (no marshmallows). The shrine is a 20-min. walk from JR Inae Station. See my video here. Google Map

Hyozu matsuri

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri in Yasu.

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri is Shiga’s preeminent mikoshi (portable shrine) festival with 35 mikoshi paraded around Hyozu Taisha Shrine in Yasu. Two of them are carried only by spunky young women called “Ayame,” meaning iris flowers. Very colorful and lively festival as they frequently stop, yell, and hold up the mikoshi high in the air. Beware that it can be dusty on the gravel paths. Other mikoshi are carried by children and men. See my video here. Google Map

Sushikiri matsuri

May 5: Sushi-kiri Matsuri at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama.

May 5: The Sushi-kiri Matsuri sushi-cutting festival at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama has two young lads very stylistically and meticulously cutting funa-zushi fermented fish (crucian carp native to Lake Biwa) as an offering. All throughout, they are verbally heckled by some men. Not visually spectacular, but unusual and intriguing. The best part is at the end when they give free morsels of funa-zushi to spectators. Shiga’s best-known delicacy from Lake Biwa. Also see my YouTube video here. Google Map

naginata moriyama

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri at Ozu Jinja Shrine in Moriyama.

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri at Ozu Jinja Shrine in Moriyama consists of colorful dances and music by children, taiko drumming, a naginata dance and acrobatics by boys using a pole sword. They conduct a roundtrip procession from Ozu Shrine to Ozu Wakamiya Shrine. A great variety of eye candy for Children’s Day. Also see my YouTube video here. Google Map

Namura sekku

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival bull’s eye at Namura Shrine in Ryuo. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival at Namura Shrine in Ryuo is for horse lovers. After children carry around a portable shrine, yabusame horseback archery is held in front of the shrine gate. Several horses make their runs, but only one of them shoots arrows at the targets. A good excuse to visit this shrine noted for its elegant-looking, thatched-roof main gate and Nishi Honden hall which is a National Treasure. The shrine’s architecture is from the Kamakura Period. See my video here. Google Map

Cherry blossoms in Shiga

Shiga Prefecture has many great spots for cherry blossoms, including two of Japan’s 100 Famous Cherry Blossom Spots at Kaizu-Osaki and Nagahama Castle’s Hokoen Park.

To see the current blooming condition, see the Weather News Sakura page for Shiga. The markers’ warmer colors until red (full bloom) indicate how far the flowers have bloomed. Note that they bloom later in northern Shiga (Takashima and Nagahama) than in southern Shiga (Otsu).

Here are my photos of some of Shiga’s best sakura spots. Click on the photo to see more photos of the respective sakura spot.

Kaizu-osaki

Kaizu-Osaki along the northern lake shore in Takashima. Cherry blossoms with Chikubushima island in the background. Beware of the narrow lakeshore road jammed with cars. 30-mi. walk from JR Makino Station (Kosei Line). Rental bicycles available.

Nagahama Castle in Hokoen Park near JR Nagahama Station (Hokuriku Line). A breath-taking number of cherry trees surround the castle. Be sure to go up the castle tower to see the sakura too.

Hikone Castle is another incredible place for sakura. I recommend going in the morning to take photos.

Mishima ike

Mishima Pond and Mt. Ibuki in Maibara. Prime spot to photograph Shiga’s highest mountain and cherry blossoms.

Yasu

Weeping cherry tree in Omi-Fuji Karyoku Koen Park (also called Omi-Fuji Green Acres) next to Mt. Mikami in Yasu.

hachiman-bori

A walk along the sakura-lined Hachiman-bori Moat in Omi-Hachiman is very pleasant.

zeze

Zeze Castle Park in Otsu includes cherry blossoms planted here in memory of the college rowers from Kanazawa University who died in a rowing accident on Lake Biwa in April 1941.

sakamoto

One of the most beautiful weeping cherry trees at Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine in Otsu. Near Sakamoto Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line.

miidera

Cherry blossoms lit up at night at Miidera temple in Otsu.

Also see “Shiga’s Top Five Cherry Blossom Spots.”

Essential Vocabulary

  • sakura さくら or 桜 – Cherry blossom and Japan’s national symbol and flower. By far, it is the most celebrated flower in Japan.
  • tsubomi つぼみ – Flower buds.
  • sakura zensen 桜前線 – Cherry blossom front as they bloom across Japan from Okinawa to Hokkaido.
  • kaika 開花 – Flowers started blooming. This is about a week before the tree reaches full bloom.
  • mankai 満開 – Full bloom. You will hear this on the news often.
  • hayasaki 早咲き – Early-blooming flowers. A few varieties of cherry blossoms bloom earlier than usual.
  • hanami or ohanami 花見 – Flower-viewing picnic (often with alcohol) under the cherry blossoms at a park. The most common way to celebrate spring under the flowers and commonly seen in the news. Hanami picnics are usually not allowed in shrines and temples.
  • sakura matsuri さくらまつり or 桜祭り- Cherry blossom festival. Not a religious festival, but can take the form of various events and stage entertainment.
  • Somei Yoshino 染井吉野 – The most common and coveted species of cherry blossoms whose light pink (almost white) flowers bloom in fluffy bunches on the tree.
  • yo-zakura 夜桜 – Cherry blossoms lit up at night. Some temples and parks light up the flowers at night.
  • shidare-zakura しだれ桜 or 枝垂桜 – Weeping cherry blossoms with long, hanging branches of flowers.
  • Sakura Meisho さくら名所 – Famous cherry blossom spot. It is most often a castle, public park, garden, shrine/temple, or riverside.
  • Sakura, Sakura さくら さくら- Famous folk song about cherry blossoms.
  • chiru, chitta 散る、散った – Flowers fell off the tree. Happens a few days after full bloom when the petals fall like pink snow.
  • sakura fubuki さくら吹雪 – Swirling cherry blossom petals. Occurs when the wind blows off the flower petals, creating a pink snow.
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