On May 2nd 2017, I visited the number one Hanami spot in Hokkaido, Goryokaku Park to see the cherry blossom in full bloom. Although I lived within a mile from this park when I was young, I don’t remember the cherry blossoms in Goryokaku Park being a big deal in the past. I think the cherry trees became mature in recent years covering the whole perimeter of the star shaped park, and the park became a famous Hanami (Cherry blossom viewing) spot.
It was in the middle of the Japanese “Golden Week” with 4 holidays spread out in the first week of May. It’s the peak season in Japan to travel. Although it was Tuesday, and a working day, there were a lot of people enjoying the sunny afternoon in the blossom filled park. I was extremely lucky to be able to see the blossoms in peak condition when I visited Hakodate. Depending on the weather and temperature, the cherry blossom can appear earlier or later than the time you schedule your trip. My timing was exactly the perfect for the peak Hanami season,
The special thing about this cherry blossom viewing spot is that the ground used to be an old star shaped fort and castle, and it is surrounded by a moat.
Here is the brief history of the start shaped Goryokaku Park, quoted from “Guide to Japanese Castles” web site.
“The Tokugawa shogunate began construction of this castle in 1857 and completed it in 1864. This was the first Western (specifically, Vauban) style fortress in Japan. This style was also popular in Europe at the time for its ability to withstand damage from modern weapons.
After Japan was forced to open up trading with other countries by the US, the Tokugawa Shogunate opened ports in Hakodate and Shimoda. This fort at Hakodate was designed to defend the city from any Northern threats. Upon completion a government office was established inside which controlled all of Hokkaido.
During the Boshin War (1867-1869) rebel Shogunate forces battled with the Imperial forces after the return of power to the Emperor. The Shogunate forces eventually retreated to Hakodate where they took control of Goryokaku and the Hakodate War began. A year later the last of the rebels surrendered to Imperial forces, thus concluding the last remnant of Feudal Japan.”
The outside of the moat is a layer of cherry trees all around the park, and the inside of the moat has another layer of cherry trees. In between the two layers, the moat with water reflects the cherry blossoms. On top of that, inside of the park there were hills all around the shape of the park to provide the gorgeous viewing of the blossoms from the higher ground. Once you are standing on the hill, you feel as if you are walking on the cloud of cherry blossoms. It’s such a special feeling.
There is a Goryokaku Tower with an observation area next to the park. The view from the observation area is priceless. I didn’t have a chance to go up to the top of the tower myself, but here is the photo from the page of Hakodate tourism in Japan Guide.
Cherry blossom time is a very special time for Japanese people. It seems that everybody is in a good mood that that the blossoms are blooming. It dictates the conversation of people living in the area to see how many percentages are blooming, when it turns full bloom, and when it will fall off.
I hope you all have a chance to visit Japan in cherry blossom time!