Matsumoto Castle sakura viewing wasn’t something I expected to do last Spring. Actually I thought I had planned my two week Spring trip to sakura forecast perfection. HAHAHHAA I WAS WRONG!

Sakura are gorgeous super fickle flowers. Forecasts change quickly and even if you wait until a month before to book your travel plans, the predictions can STILL BE off. Six days before I was set to leave for Japan the sakura flood came scrolling across my instagram and twitter and all I could do was sit there and glare. DAMN YOU SAKURA! But that’s one of the big things about sakura planning. You just have to be flexible.

The full pink of sakura season. The pinkness happens at the end of the main variety of sakura blooming.

Matsumoto Castle is one of those great flexible locations. It’s in Nagano prefecture but a very easy day trip from Tokyo (2 1/2 hours by train). Since it’s further up to the north, Matsumoto Castle (松本城 Matsumoto-jo) sakura bloom later than Tokyo. It’s a popular sakura location for Japanese and the castle appeared ready to with lots of volunteers for their “mankai” or full bloom season. Spring is the most popular time to visit and with good reason!

Matsumoto Castle is known as Crow Castle because of its black exterior. I think its dark look really sets off sakura well.

Matsumoto Castle in its full glory. Along with Matsumoto City’s mascot Alp-chan (アルプちゃん) dressed in samurai armor. For the sakura season there was also a roaming guy dressed in samurai armor that you could take photos with (top right).

Anything x sakura or red maple is my WA OTP so when I’m able to get blossoms x castle… so much bonus!

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The castle peaking out from behind the sakura.

There were a few weeping sakura. Weeping sakura bloom later than regular sakura. They’re very plentiful in Kyoto but not so much around Matsumoto castle.

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I usually don’t take many pictures inside of castles because they’re essentially darkened old buildings that house museum examples and mainly great for their exterior and for having wonderful views when you get to the top. I am so amused by old art though.

Climbing the castle was definitely worth it for this view. The moutains in the back are part of the Japanese Alps.

Inside the castle looking out to the grounds and city of Matsumoto.

Mankai or full bloom in all its glory. Matsumoto Castle sakura gave me hope I’d see more sakura that trip.

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Reasons I’m not on this blog, top being –  I cannot pose, I am more like a bakery possum than a human, and I make stupid faces. But damn it’s the only photo I got of the full glory of the line of sakura trees leading up to the castle. Check out that lovely pink sakura rain.

All I did was resize this photo because I wanted to show how some of the sakura very beautifully pink that day.  :dotbow:

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I love when sakura fall because they their whole blossom tends to fall.

We snuck in for the last full blossom day of Matsumoto’s sakura season. It was an overcast day and storms were brewing to rain the next day and take down the fragile blossoms.

How to get there: From Shinjuku take the Super Azuza (スーパーあずさ) limited express to Matsumoto station. There is reserved and unreserved seating which you can sort out at Shinjuku station. It’s free if you have JR Rail Pass or it’s 8,000 yen round-trip for unreserved. It’s a 15 minute walk to the castle from the station.

More information at: myoko-nagano

 

And to think this is just the sakura opener for the blog. So many more sakura posts to do. And many Nagano posts to do, too!

If you missed any previous sakura posts on the Doll check them out here I’ve got a fourth in a series of sakura foods posts coming up too.  :hearts3:

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Himeji Castle sakura (姫路城 Himeji-jo) was a last minute choice after the big mountain trek to Takeda Castle. I looked at hanami-walker which is an overly complicated guide to sakura viewing in Japanese. However it’s got great information on light-ups (night viewing) and festivals. I saw that there was a light-up at Himeji Castle and since it was on the way back to Osaka we decided to make a detour. Himeji Castle has a great website in English if you’d like to visit.

 

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Himeji Castle’s mascot is Shiromaru Hime (しろまるひめ). Or White round princess. Silly, but cute and even with her own website: http://www.shiromaruhime.jp/. Her cherry blossom accessory really shows well known Himeji Castle is for their sakura.

Note: Himeji Castle is currently being restored so it may not be the best photo op, but the grounds are lovely especially during sakura season.

EDIT: It just reopened!  Ellie says they will have even more celebrations this year! Yay

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Himeji castle #fromwhereIstand thanks discount shop G.U. for the cheap pants and shoes together 1,400 yen or $12 good enough for a hike.

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Weeping sakura last longer so you’ll often see them in bloom while the “pink snow” has started.

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The pink snow is the best! End of the sakura season is so underrated.

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Twilight heading to the Himeji Castle sakura light-up

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Like snow, but not cold and PINK. Perfect.

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The actual light-up inside the main grounds was cool AND FREE!

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For light-up locations in Japan (sakura and koyo season) they use dedicated spot lights that make the colors really POP.

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Even at the end of the Himeji Castle sakura season the light-up was still great.

Himeji Castle Omiyage!

Compared to other Japanese castle mascots (list) Shiromaru Hime is a true winner. Thankfully Himeji had lots of omiyage to buy to show off your Shiromaru Hime love.

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Sadly both strawberry to show off the strawberry over sakura love but they look tasty.

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Himeji City also has its own mascot and it’s Kuroda Kanbei or just “Kanbei” (官兵衛). It’s based on an actual historical guy named Kuroda Kanbei (english | wiki).

Himeji Castle in Hyogo is a really nice visit and very convenient from both Kyoto and Osaka. There’s also a Hello Kitty cafe that I wish I knew about earlier.  Himeji Castle sakura are really lovely even at the end of the season so if you’re in need of a short trip from the Kansai area, take a look.

Need more sakura? All the sakura posts on the Doll here

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My fourth post on sakura foods and there are some slim pickings lately when it comes to sakura flavored items. It seems the taste preference is switching to strawberry. Japanese it seems think it’s more of a taste foreigners like instead or in super ‘wa’ (Japanese-style) areas of Japan, I saw the most in Kyoto. Sakura kit-kat are available year around at the airports but not really outside of them.

This year Mister Donut Philippines is doing a seasonal sakura offering while Mister Donut Japan is doing a strawberry tasting. Admittedly both foods are pink and sakura flavor is a made up flavor, but strawberries are wonderful everywhere(Norway especially has some delicious strawberries) while sakura is a Japanese.
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Darn you Phillipines! I want to eat a sakura cronut.

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 Mister Donut Japan’s 2015 offerings of a strawberry fare. On sale now.

The Sakura Foods of 2014 I had

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The most traditional of the sakura foods: Sakuramochi (桜餅 wiki) which is a red bean filled, pink rice cake wrapped in a sweet pickled sakura leaf.

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Japan Haagen-Dazs had three flavors for the season: Sakura, Rose and White Peach Raspberry. The rose was my favorite.

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Shinjuku Lumine EST all you can eat buffet place Bittersweet Paradise has a lovely red bean and sakura sauced waffle.

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From Kyoto Takashimaya I found some Sakura Warabi (桜蕨) which is more delicate than traditional mochi.

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Strawberry flavors invading! Found an ichigo-daifuku Choco Cro at the Hyogo Choco Cro.

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An actual Ichigo-Daifuku (イチゴ大福) which is always popular during spring. This was one was from Arashiyama next to my Chirimen sakura Mt. Fuji. I love Kyoto Chirimen.

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A traditional hanami-dango at Arashiyama with Yomogi.

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A sakura taiyaki from a small stall at Fukushima’s sakura viewing.

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A sakura onigiri and the taiyaki both from Fukushima. Thank you Fukushima for your sakura food options!

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Random finds in a Fukushima shopping arcade, both from Sendai (which is quite close to Fukushima).

A sakura donut and a sakura flavored “pie”. I don’t remember the donut flavor, possibly just gave it to my girl Alice. The “pie” was more PopTart.

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An odd find was sakura ice cream at a “Warawara” izakaya in Tokyo. I told my friend to make them into boobs, she obliged. I’m an adult who was sober. One of those statements was true.

I’m excited to do a 2015 post soon, but I hope they’re not even more lacking than 2014. It seems to keep going down.  :regret:

Previous Sakura food posts:

Sweets Forest in Jiyugaoka – Sakura themed desserts | Q-Pot cafe in Harajuku with Sakura tasting | A collection of Sakura foods (2013) | A few Sakura foods (2011)

 

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Osaka sakura at Osaka Castle and the Kyu-Yodo River (旧淀川 Kyu-Yodo gawa) cherry blossoms show off all I like about sakura season. The cherry blossoms are free to enjoy and these types of events always seem more for everyone. Also it’s a stretch of land that’s nice but becomes absolutely gorgeous in Spring. It draws a lot of people out and especially on weekends and everyone is having a good time. Free and for everyone, proletariat sakura!

I know there’s such beautiful photos of tons of sakura creating a pink universe for Japan, but they’re everywhere. Sometimes just in basic places: a lone old sakura tree in a schoolyard, a public park, or in someone’s garden.

Atashida and I decided to have an impromptu hanami and the Kyu-Yodo River was perfect for it. Then I went back last year to enjoy again. Two years of Osaka sakura in one post!

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Sakura and Osaka castle! The grounds are free to walk around in so you can spend zero and enjoy.

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Although not as plentiful as summer or fall festivals a few food stalls pop up around hanami viewing spots.

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Some people get really serious to reserve a spot for hanami.

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And some people just pull up a bench and enjoy the view. It’s definitely a whatever you feel like atmosphere.

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From the river the view is spectacular and tour boats traverse the area filled with people on weekends.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lots of boats traveling down for Osaka sakura

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People waiting in line for the boat tours.

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There were even different types of sakura on the river.

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I can’t find out what this cherry blossom flower type is but I love the double color.

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Last year I went back and it was on a weekday past the prime sakura viewing season so the river was mostly empty except for joggers. Working out through sakura season must be nice!

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Falling sakura on water are so pretty.

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Last year the leftover Osaka sakura were so nice. We were there in early afternoon and everything was reflecting and peaceful.

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The quick gets at a local Sunklus conbini for the hanami. The drinks are Kirin’s special sakura can beer and a peach chu-hai. Those dango say 3-color dango but they’re actually known as “hanami dango” and they’re special to the sakura season. The candied apple was an actual candied apple with a hard candy shell. I thought I would lose some teeth eating it.

Osaka sakura aren’t as fancy as its neighbor Kyoto but it’s a lovely free time to have.

Travel savings tip: I recommend to people especially during sakura and koyo season to stay in Osaka. You’ll get a better hotel deal and travel to Kyoto is only 10 mins via shinkansen or an hour via regular train. Kyoto hotels book up months in advance and the ones left over are usually very pricey. Osaka hotels can be around 7,000-12,000 yen a night ($65-110) for a good location and a decent place. Plus Osaka has a lot of shopping and food options especially at dinner time compared to Kyoto.

Estimated cost of travel day, because I like to show that traveling Japan doesn’t have to be expensive:

Travel: We stayed in Osaka but used transit to get to Osaka castle. About 500 yen roundtrip rail pass unnecessary. 14 day rail pass is around $30USD a day.

Lodging: My hotel was 7,400 yen a night in Osaka.

Food: Breakfast was bakery breads and canned coffee 500 yen, Lunch was Kushi katsu at Daruma around 1,400 yen, refilled bottle of waters (free), dinner was a splurge at Kani Doraku crab for 2,500 yen.

Total spent without lodging or travel: 4,200 yen or $39

Total including everything (food, lodging, travel): 14,000 yen or $126 for two people: 18,000 yen or $160. I also bought some Donki eyelashes and makeup for 5,000 yen.

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