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Early-Blooming Sakura in Izu! the Southern Cherry Blossom and Rapeseed Flower Festival

STORY

 

Early-Blooming Sakura in Izu! the Southern Cherry Blossom and Rapeseed Flower Festival

 

 
 
Minamiizu is the southernmost town of the Izu Peninsula in Japan. Enveloped in an indented coastline, this area is blessed by a lush nature. Every year around mid-February, 800 Kawazu-zakura cherry blossoms bloom along the Aono River, which flows through the center of the town. This is when the Minami no Sakura to Nanohana Matsuri (southern cherry blossoms and rapeseed flower festival) takes place. The festival typically goes from early February to early March. In 2019 the dates are February 10th to March 10th.
 
Kawazu-zakura, the early blooming cherry blossoms
 

A Trip to See the Early Blooming Sakura

The closest station to the festival is Izukyu Shimoda on the Izu Kyuko Line. You can get here directly from Tokyo Station via the limited express train Odoriko. Depending on the time, another train called the Super View Odoriko also departs from the Shinjuku and Ikebukuro Stations.
 
Izukyu Shimoda Station

After getting off at Izukyu Shimoda Station, the first thing you'll notice is an impressive clock tower. This building is a souvenir shop that has been in business for over 50 years. It's easily recognizable by the distinctive Namako wall, a traditional Japanese wall design with a white grid pattern.
 

Grab a Lunch Box at Shimoda Station

One thing that you cannot miss in a proper hanami (flower viewing) experience in Japan is some nice food to enjoy while gazing at the flowers. Before you head to the festival you can grab a bento box from one of the stores around the station.
 

Shimodaben bento box

 

Ippinkou


About a 2-minute walk from the station is a restaurant called Ippinkou. This shop specializes in Chinese cuisine, and they pride themselves in their ramen made with local natural salt. Here you can get a Shimodaben, a bento box prepared using local ingredients. The bento is packed with delicious specialties of Shimoda like a fish called kinmedai (splendid alfonsino), tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms and mandarin oranges. It also has some great Chinese-style elements like steamed meat dumpling and ankake, a thick black vinegar sauce.

Shimodaben 2,400 yen (tax-inclusive)
*The bento boxes require reservation at least two days in advance, starting from three boxes. For other requests please consult with the staff. Contents of the bento might change depending on stock.

Information

Restaurant Ippinkou | 天然塩ラーメン&創作中華 一品香 
Address: 1-4-8 Higashihongo, Shimoda-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture
Hours: 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Website (Japanese-only): http://www.ippinko.com
 

Now You're All Ready for the Cherry Blossoms!

The main venue is the roadside station Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana. To get there it's a 25-minute bus ride on the Tokai bus bound for Shimogamo. Get off at the Kujobashi Bus Stop and you'll be right at the station. Buses are scarce so make sure you check the return schedule. 

The Aono River flows from east to west. Stretching 2.1km on both sides, 800 Kawazu-zakura cherry blossoms and 200 Somei Yoshino cherry blossoms line the banks. The path is lovingly called the "one thousand sakura of the Aono River".
This year there is a lot of variation in blooming times, so some trees might already be blooming while others still have unopened flower buds. It might mean that no matter when you go, you can find some trees that are in full bloom.
 
Roadside Station Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana

The Kawazu-zakura cherry blossoms are an early-blooming variety that originated in Kawazu, Shizuoka Prefecture. Their flowers are a brighter pink than the popular Somei Yoshino variety, and while these wither in just a few days, the Kawazu-zakura flowers stay in full bloom for a whole week.
 
Kawazu-zakura, the early blooming cherry blossoms
 
The brighter pink of the Kawazu-zakura goes great with the yellow rapeseed flowers, making for a stunning contrast.
 
Sakura along the Aono River

Immediately behind the roadside station is a staircase leading down to the riverbank. Here you can enjoy the view of the flowers from below while listening to the soothing sound of the river.
 

It's Bento and Flower-Watching Time!

You can claim one of the wooden benches that are scattered along the riverbank and take out your bento for a lunch right by the flowers.
 
Hanami and bento

There is also a resting area by the roadside station, inside a greenhouse. It's nice and warm in here so this is the perfect place to stop at when outside is too cold or windy.

 

Sakura resting area

 

Sakura resting area


Make sure you grab a free sakura tea as well from near the resting area!
 
Sakura tea
 

Introducing the Most Photogenic Spots

Along the riverbank there are many different sceneries that you can enjoy. Most of them are in the proximity of the roadside station. The best spot is probably the stairs leading to the riverbank, about 20-30 meters east of the station. There is a promenade that is covered by the cherry blossoms like a tunnel, with the rapeseed flowers on the sides.
 
Sakura and rapeseed flower promenade
Exact location ⇒ MAP

Below is the same spot viewed from the bottom of the stairs.
 
Sakura and rapeseed flower promenade
Exact location ⇒ MAP
 
Go on further downstream and you'll get to the spot below by the Kujobashi Bridge. From here you can see the Kabatabashi Bridge (in the picture).
 
Kawazu-zakura, the early blooming cherry blossoms
Exact location ⇒ MAP
 
If you go upstream instead, you'll get to Ginnoyu Bridge. On the opposite side is a hot spring facility called Ginnoyu Kaikan with hot steam billowing from it.
 
Ginnoyu Kaikan
Exact location ⇒ MAP
  

Watch the Flowers Elegant-Style on a Rickshaw

Up to this point we introduced the spots that we found on our visit, but there are many more ways of enjoying the flowers here. One of them is a ride on the rickshaw along the river.
 

Rickshaw

 

Rickshaw

 
The rickshaw gives you a higher viewpoint on the cherry blossoms than walking.
 
Rickshaw and sakura


 

The Night Illumination Is a Magical View

When the sun goes down make sure you stick around for yet another fantastic show. At night, the trees around Kinomiyabashi Bridge are lit up and they reflect on the river's surface.
 
Night cherry blossom illumination

The illumination goes from 6 to 9 p.m. every day during the festival, so make sure you check it out if you have the time.
 

Stop at the Roadside Station for Some Fresh Deliciousness

The roadside station Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana sports a tourism office, a gallery, a food market, a foot bath and more.
 

Roadside station Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana

 

Citrus fruit from food market at Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana Roadside station

 
At the food market you'll find a selection of citrus fruits cultivated in the area! They have samples for tasting so you can try all the different varieties.
 
You can also stop at the café for some popular local sweets. One of the most popular is the strawberry shake made with fresh Benihoppe strawberries from Minamiizu, topped with some Hokkaido soft cream (500 yen). Another favorite is the onsen melon soft cream (300 yen), made with locally cultivated melons using Shimogamo Onsen's geothermal heat. Many people come here every year just to get these treats.
 
Strawberry and melon sweets at Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana Roadside station
 
 
Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana Roadside station

After a day of walking around you can treat your feet to a soothing foot bath. There's a towel vending machine, so you don't need to bring anything.
 
Foot bath at Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana Roadside station
 

Information

Roadside Station Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana | 道の駅「下賀茂温泉 湯の花」
Address: 157-1 Shimogamo, Minamiizu-cho, Kamo-gun, Shizuoka Prefecture
Hours: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Food market hours: 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. (closes at 4:30 from February 10th to March 10th 2019)
Website (Japanese Only): http://www.minami-izu.jp/entry.html?id=4932
 

One More Highlight, the Rapeseed Flowers

The cherry blossoms are certainly the main attraction here, but the bright rapeseed flowers also deserve some attention.
 

Rapeseed flower field at Minamiizu-cho

 

Rapeseed flower field at Minamiizu-cho

Exact Location ⇒ MAP
 
About a 22-minute walk downstream from the roadside station along the cherry blossom-lined river is a rapeseed field of about 3 hectares. There are wooden paths that take you to the middle of the field, offering a breathtaking 360 degrees view.
You can also get here via the Tokai bus bound for Izukyu Shimoda Station, getting off at the Hinno stop.
During the festival period several events are held here (even weddings!) so make sure you check it out.

Click here for event information (Japanese only).
 
Rapeseed flower field at Minamiizu-cho
 

Don't Forget to Bring Home Some Local Souvenirs

After trying a lot of different citrus fruits at the food market, we picked up the three varieties that we liked best. Harumi (300 yen), kobayashi mikan (250 yen) and ponkan (300 yen). Seeing how expensive Japanese fruit is, getting all this goodness for just under 1,000 yen is a bargain!

Citrus fruits

After that we headed back to Shimoda Station for some more souvenirs.  Inside and around the station are souvenir shops where you can stock up on unique local delicacies.

Izu local specialties
 
We snatched the items above while waiting for our train. A base for making grilled kinmedai fish rice (1,080 yen), three kinds of Izu citrus jelly (360 yen each) and canned kinmedai (756 yen each). 
 
 
The peak blooming time is late February for Kawazu-zakura cherry blossoms and early March for rapeseed flowers. The blooming situation is also reported on the official website, so make sure you check it before going.
 
   

Information

Southern Cherry Blossom and Rapeseed Flower Festival | みなみの桜と菜の花まつり
Dates: mid-February to mid-March (2019 dates are February 10th to March 10th)
Minamiizu Town Tourism Association Website (Japanese-only): Flower blooming information
Festival locations: Shimogamo, Minamiizu-cho, Kamo-gun, Shizuoka Prefecture / Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana Roadside Station / Aono River

■Access by Bus
From Izukyu Shimoda Station take the Tokai Bus bound for Shimogamo (25 min.) and get off at the Kujobashi Bus Stop. Walk 1 minute.

Useful Information
Minna no Sakura free ticket 1,000 yen
Round trip from Shimoda Station to the Cherry Blossom Festival
*Sold at the Tokai Bus information desk in front of Shimoda Station
http://www.tokaibus.jp/page.jsp?id=7638

Periodic Sightseeing Bus (February 10th - March 10th, 2019) Minna no Sakura course 2,400 yen
Shimoda Station - Shimoda Port pleasure cruise - Hofukuji Temple - Cherry Blossom Festival (90-minute stroll) - Shimoda Station
*Departure and arrival at Izukyu Shimoda Station. Reservation required.
Reservations: https://www.tokaibus.jp/page.jsp?id=4691

Tokai Bus website: http://www.tokaibus.jp.e.aeo.hp.transer.com/

■Access by car
Approx. 1 hour 30 min. from the Nagaokakita Interchange on the Izu Chuodo highway
Parking fee
- Normal 500 yen
- Motorcycles 200 yen
*Please contribute to the environmental conservation fee at the roadside station's parking lot.
*Parking requires a fee from February 10th to March 10th.
*The collective number of parking spots is about 250.


*The information in this article is based on a coverage from February 2019.
*The flowers' blooming period is subject to variations depending on climate. Please check the official website for information before your visit.

 
The Early blooming sakura of Kawazu Read more about early blooming sakura on DiGJAPAN!
The Early Blooming Sakura of Kawazu
    
 
 
About the author
Miho Shinohara is a writer and photographer that makes gourmet food, street food, and interviewing people her life work. She loves islands and animals and enjoys travelling cheap and adventurous. Some of her favorites places are Inujima island in Okayama Prefecture and Sanagishima island in Ehime Prefecture. She recommends island hopping in Japan!

 

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THIS ARTICLE IS BASED ON INFORMATION FROM 03 01,2019 Author:DiGJAPAN! Editorial Team

 

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