Hanami (cherry blossom viewing time) in Japan is usually late March/early April but up in Aomori it’s late April/early May. And if you live in Aomori, the place to go for hanami is Hirosaki City. Last year I went with my favorite eikaiwa ladies. We hopped on a train from Aomori city and stood uncomfortably cramped touching elbows with everyone for a good 50 minutes. Worth.
After stopping at the konbini (convenience store) for alcohol (lol), we caught a 100円 bus up to Hirosaki Castle. It was so beautiful! At home, I had seen cherry blossoms scattered around every spring but never anything like this. They lined the entire perimeter of the castle grounds and completely filled the inside. Pink, white and soft magenta petals everywhere. Somehow, but not surprisingly, hardly any had fallen without being picked up. The ladies said it was pretty 珍しい for the sakura to all be in full bloom, both inside and outside the castle grounds. ちょうどいいタイミングね。
The pathways through the inside were flanked by vendors selling typical Japanese festival food: takoyaki (balls of octopus), yakitori (grilled chicken on sticks), ika (squid), karaage (fried chicken)… the works. We got some ika and yakitori, laid out our tarps under evergreens and cherries and took our seats on a lawn completely packed with other drinking flower-viewing people. The best kinds of people.
[Side note: the tarps in parks culture is big here. Everyone seems to have these adorable mini tarps that they bust out whenever sitting on the floor public place, outdoors or indoors. Cute!]
Anyway, with our Snoopy, floral and space themed tarps all set up, we paired the ika and yakitori (やっぱりうまい) with beer, sake and some sparkly konbini wine. The ladies also brought crab and dango. Apparently hanami and dango go hand in hand. Same with crab, though that might just be a thing in Kanita (蟹田literally means “crab rice field”). They had brought three tiny crabs from the Kanita River. We gave one to our tarp neighbors and then tried the other two. おいしかった！ The crab insides were filled with white meat, green things and orange eggs in the females. Apparently after you finish the crab, you’re supposed to use the shell as a sake glass and take a swig. Yum. Actually though.
From Hirosaki Castle, there’s a lookout point where you can see Mt. Iwaki aka “The Fuji of Tsugaru.” Clouds were slightly covering the top but it was still pretty impressive.
On the way out, we passed a large group of costume-wearing humans, playing taiko and running around in the crowd. 意味わかんない。。We also passed countless of food vendors, game tents, go-carts, a maze, more food and what looked like a giant bouncy house. We decided to try our luck with the ring toss. It was like the bottle ring tosses at home but with small red mailboxes instead. We came close, but no cigar.
Not surprisingly, Hirosaki gets very busy during this two week hanami season. Every year, roughly two million people come from all over Japan and the world to see these 2,600 trees. Though if you want to have the most fun possible, make sure to bring a mini tarp!