Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is This The Best Place for Cherry Blossoms in Hokkaido?

7th May, 2008 - After our unsuccessful attempts to see the Cherry Blossoms previously, we set out again with determination (now that Golden Week had officially finished) to see if we could catch a glimpse of the real thing. Our destination was Toda Kinen Bochi Kouen, near Atsutaka Ishikari.... and this time we weren't going to be disappointed.

The park is some 55km North from Sapporo Station, an inland drive along the coast. It's a pleasant drive... but last time, we turned back just before the bridge over the Ishikari River due to the grid-locked traffic going to the park. About 20 km away from the park. That's Golden Week for you.
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Anyhow, the park has some 8,000 yoshino sakura (I didn't count them all). Many of the trees are planted as beautiful sakura namiki (rows of cherry blossoms) along the roadways. It certainly made for some spectacular driving in the green forested hills of Hokkaido. Perhaps the trees were made more beautiful for the backdrop of green that surrounded them...

Or the deep blue Hokkaido Spring sky....

Either way, these were the sakura that I had come to Japan to see. I was definitely satisfied... arigatou otousan to okaasan! The previous disappointment of Maruyama Kouen and previous aborted drive were wiped away that fine morning.

There are a number of tree-lined avenues that were absolutely spectacular - including one that is about 1 km long and is a veritable cherry blossom tunnel. The strange thing is that whilst common-sense would suggest that you get out of your car and walk... common-sense does not necessarily mean the same thing to all people. So whilst you would be enjoying the beautiful sakura blossoms, you'd occasionally have to get off the path whilst someone drove their car past. Sometimes quite a few cars...
A sakura tunnel

Now... what exactly is this park?... well the observant among you (well, it's not that hard to see) will already know that Toda Kinen Bochi Kouen is actually a cemetery. Yes, we had driven over an hour to walk around the petal festooned paths and roadways of a cemetery. Like the cemetery at Takino, this is a fairly famous cemetery around Sapporo. This one is associated with the Sōka Gakkai, an unusual blend of philanthropic organisation and lay religion (based broadly on Nichiren Buddhism). With approximately 8-12 million followers, it's a significant slice of the Japanese population...and one that is surrounded by some controversy for it's political connections. For me, I am happy to leave those questions to those best equipped to answer them. As such, I can enjoy these beautiful trees with an open mind.

And whilst the tombstones themselves lack the interesting variety of Takino, and the cemetery certainly has a deficiency of Stone Henge's and Easter Island Heads... it makes up for it however in beauty and serenity. There are certainly worse places to rest your weary bones (even if they are cremated).

L-kun, still under 1 year here, and whilst he was sort of interested, his interest was pretty well limited to having Cherry Blossom showers... and when you're 1, why not!

Meanwhile, this is definitely one of the best places to see the cherry blossoms in/around Sapporo if you have access to a car, and don't mind sharing the view with the living-challenged. It's not really a place however to strictly enjoy hanami (normally associated with eating, drinking and being merry). There is still a sombre mood to the park - it is a cemetery after all. There are places where you can eat, or where you can find a seat an have a picnic lunch... 

Is this the best place to view Cherry Blossoms in Hokkaido? Maybe it is the most spectacular (I haven't seen that many), but it may not be able to capture the exuberant atmosphere that accompanies a typical Japanese hanami. It is however one of the most beautiful places to view sakura at their peak in Hokkaido. I'd definitely go there again - just not in Golden Week.


  1. It is getting cooler and colder in Japan. I like spring the best and the pictures of cherry blossoms remind me of a pleasant time.
    I know Maruyama Koen in Sapporo, but I did not know this place. If you do not drink under the blossoms, this place should be better.

  2. Hmmm - did you mean if you could drink, this place would be better? I've never been to a drinking hanami party before, so I wonder what it would be like? I imagine a lot of people become quite emotional at such parties - given the focus is on the transience of things symbolised by the brief moment of beauty of the sakura. That and people tend to get emotional after they've drunk a lot.

    Then again - any excuse for a good drink.... Although the idea of drinking in a cemetery is a bit far, even for me.

  3. No, Ben. I do not like drinking while enjoying cherry blossoms. People are a bit too noisy at that party. Probably, I like Maruyama Koen the less.

    If you like drinking hanami parties, on the other hand, I guess you should go to Maruyama Koen.
    If you like to see blossoms, the place you introduced should be better, if it is in a cemetery.

  4. Certainly in terms of people just enjoying the blossoms, this place is a lot better than Maruyama.