Cherry blossom, or sakura (桜), is a national treasure in Japan. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Japanese people and tourists flock to cherry blossom viewing areas for hanami (花見) or flower viewing parties. This is not a new trend as flower viewing has been a pastime for many eras. Transport yourself to the hanami of the past by visiting Japan’s “Five Great Sakura Trees” – the “Nihon Godai Zakura (日本五大桜)”.
1. Yamataka Jindai Zakura (山高神代桜)
This tree is possibly one of thewi oldest trees in all of Japan, which is estimated to be between 1,800 years and 2,000 years old! This means that the tree would have sent up its first shoots in the period of Ancient Japan, in the Yayoi (弥生) or Kofun (古墳) period! Not only has this tree survived many centuries, but it is also said to have returned to life in the 13th century thanks to the prayers of Nichiren (日蓮).
As you can see, this sakura tree is the size of six or seven normal trees put together. The trunk of the tree is 10 meters around and its height is another 10 meters. You can see the posts, which are often used in Japan, supporting the blossom-laden branches, keeping the tree upright. The best time to enjoy the blooms of this tree is early April.
To get there, get off at Hinoharu Station (日野春駅) on the JR Chuo Line (中央線), the closest station to Yamataka Jindai Zakura. To access the sakura area, it is recommended to take a taxi to Yamataka, Mukawa-cho (武川町), Hokuto City (北杜市).
2. Miharu Takizakura (三春滝桜)
Often said to be the best tree in all of Japan, the Miharu Takizakura has stood for over 1,000 years. Situated in rural Fukushima (福島),the tree has had its share of challenges, surviving heavy snowfall and the Tohoku earthquake in 2011.
True to its name (“waterfall cherry tree”), the branches, laden with blossoms, cascade towards the floor as if made from water. A symbol of hope and revival, the Miharu Takizakura is a sight to behold.
The most beautiful tree in Japan is situated in a rural area which makes it difficult to access. Take the JR Ban’etsu East Line (磐越東線) to Miharu Station (三春駅), then a bus to the site of the cherry tree.
3. Ishitokaba Zakura (石戸蒲ザクラ)
For over 800 years, the Ishitokaba Zakura has stood in Kitamoto (北本), Saitama (埼玉). The Ishitokaba Zakura is a natural hybrid, the only one of its kind, between a Yamazakura and an Edohigan.
Blooming in the middle of April, you can catch this tree in all its splendor after the main cherry blossom areas of Tokyo have lost their petals. You may also enjoy this ancient tree with a free cup of tea.
A train ride away from Tokyo City, the Ishitokaba Zakura can be easily reached by those traveling in Japan. Just take the JR Takasaki Line (高崎線) from Tokyo Station (東京駅) to Kitamoto Station (北本駅). The trip will take 50 minutes and will cost 840 yen. The site of the tree is quite far from the station so a taxi is recommended.
4. Kariyado no Gebazakura (狩宿の下馬桜)
Situated in Shizuoka (静岡), in the City of Fujinomiya (富士宮市), this 800-year-old wild cherry was named as one of Japan’s five best cherry trees. Sadly, the tree has been damaged and shrunken by typhoons and exposure to weather, but it once proudly stood at 114 feet tall!
As an added bonus, this sakura can be seen in full bloom surrounded by fields of yellow rape flowers. The contrast is stunning!
Fujinomiya is accessible from Tokyo via the Tokaido Shinkansen line (東海道新幹線) and then taking a bus from Shin-Fuji (新富士) or Fuji (富士) Station. You can also visit the nearby Shiraito Falls (白糸滝).
5. Usuzumi-zakura (淡墨桜)
Last, but not least, is a rather unusual sakura tree. Usually, you will expect to see sakura in shades of pure white or a full pink. After reaching full bloom, however, this tree’s petals fade to a shade of gray similar to that used in calligraphy ink. Planted by Emperor Keitai (継体天皇) over 1,500 years ago, the tree was saved in 1949 by a dentist who slaved away to graft new roots onto the dying tree.
To reach its site, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen (東海道山陽新幹線) to Maibara Station then the JR Tokaido Line (東海道線) to Ogaki (大垣), followed by the Tarumi Line (樽見線) to Motosu Station (本巣駅).
These trees have stood for centuries and have seen humans come and go, and still, they bloom in absolute glory. Wherever you are in the country, I would really recommend visiting at least one of these five greatest cherry trees in Japan during the sakura season.