Many flock to Japan in spring during the months of March to April to catch a glimpse of cherry blossoms (otherwise known as sakura) in full bloom. Pictures of pink cherry blossoms lining sidewalks as well as rivers are enough to attract many tourists every year. However, if you thought that cherry blossoms, called sakura in Japanese, are simply a phenomenon occurring in spring, then you have thought wrong all along! Winter sakuras, otherwise known as fuyuzakuras (冬桜), also exist and as its name suggests, bloom in late autumn, near winter. Hearing of such a phenomenon, a few friends and I decided to head up to Sakurayama, a location known to have the winter variant of the cherry blossom, to witness such a sight. A location perhaps not very high on the list of most tourists, Sakurayama (桜山) literally means “cherry blossom mountain” and has been designated as a National Scenic Spot as well as a National Natural Treasure.
Located in Gunma Prefecture, Fujioka City, a good 100km north of Tokyo meant that the trip to Sakurayama has to be a day trip if you live in Tokyo. Lacking convenient public transport to Sakurayama, the recommended means of getting to Sakurayama is via car. The journey took a good two and a half hours and included a circular ascent up the mountain. For the more adventurous, a hike up the 591m mountain can be attempted.
Going in late November meant the cherry blossom trees were approximately reaching their full bloom. The best time to see winter sakuras is around late November to early December. However, do note that winter sakuras bloom somewhat differently from the spring variant, thus even in full bloom, the spectacle might not be as intense as the spring view. Nevertheless, the sakura trees seen from the parking lot in Sakurayama Park were already beautiful.
Sakurayma Park is listed as one of the 100 best Sakura spots located in Gunma. Boasting around 7,000 fuyuzakura trees, it is one of the largest sakura viewing spots in Japan. In spring, 10,000 cherry blossom trees blossom, turning the entire mountain into a beautiful spectacle of pink. Going in late autumn meant that not only were there cherry blossom trees to be seen, but the autumn foliage was also on full display. The striking contrast of pink against red and orange was absolutely beautiful.
A short but steep trail of 200 steps up to the top of the mountain provided a spectacular view. There was a good view of the surrounding area, with a neighboring town in full sight. Apart from the beautiful foliage, Sakurayama is also an incredibly peaceful place. Many Japanese elderly were seen trekking up the mountain and resting to enjoy the view upon their ascent.
Not only was the air fresh, the Japanese-style gardens located within the park were absolutely picturesque.
Stalls located near the parking lot are sakura-flavored buns (manjus) for sale, as well as sakura-themed Japanese bento boxes.
When you are done visiting Sakurayama Park, a short 10 minutes drive down the mountain leads you to Sanbaseki Stone Gorge (三波石峡) and the Shimokubo Dam. The dam and the gorge are a magnificent sight to behold. A bridge arches over the Sanbaseki Stone Gorge, under which tons of Sanbaseki stones colored green, yellow and white can be seen. Sanbaseki stone, is a garden rock popularized from the Edo period and this 1.5km gorge is where these natural stones can be found. As a whole, the landscape makes for great scenic photos and is definitely a sight to catch before the sun sets.
Sakurayama Park is located in 2166-1 Sanbagawa, Fujioka City, Gunma Prefecture while Sanbaseki Stone Gorge is located at Yuzurihara, Fujioka City, Gunma Prefecture