When you think of cherry blossoms, the Yoshino cherry is the first type that comes to mind, right? Well, in the Kanto region (the eastern half of Japan, including Tokyo), the early-blooming Kawazu-zakura is the first to flower, and from February onwards its blossoms are at their very best! In a town called Kawazu, located in the Kamo district of Shizuoka prefecture, for around 1 month from February 10 (Tuesday) to March 10 (Tuesday) the Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival (or Kawazu-zakura Matsuri in Japanese) takes place.
When the rows of cherry blossom trees that grow alongside about 4km of the Kawazu River are in full bloom, it's truly a sight to behold! You can also enjoy all kinds of fun things like food stalls and events, plus illuminations at night. Kawazu-zakura Matsuri can be easily enjoyed on a day trip from Tokyo - allow me to tell you how!
I depart from Tokyo Station at 9am! Actually, if you board the Odoriko limited express train you can go straight to Kawazu Station without any transfers, but this time I've got a Seishun 18 Ticket (a special discount ticket available during certain months in spring, summer, and winter) so I'll leisurely make my way to Kawazu Station. Most people think of cherry blossom viewing as something you do in April when it's warmer, but Kawazu-zakura peak from the middle of February to early March. So it's still pretty chilly. Taking that into account, this time I'm taking a picnic mat and my Thermos flask, filled with plenty of hot water. And I mustn't forget my blanket. What's that? You're wondering why I'm taking hot water with me? Well, that's because I want to enjoy some shochu with hot water!
Luckily for me, the connecting train was a Resort 21. The seats of this train face the windows. You can enjoy magnificent views from the panorama seats which look out toward the sea!
I alight from the train at Kawazu Station. Upon exiting the station, the Kawazu River and the deep pink of the Kawazu-zakura spread out before my eyes. Straight away I set off on a walk along the river, looking at the cherry blossoms as I go. Yep, they sure are beautiful! Unlike Yoshino cherry blossoms, the flowers of Kawazu-zakura are a deep peach pink color! The sky's a little cloudy, but the yellow of the rape blossoms and the deep pink hue of the Kawazu-zakura contrast beautifully with each other!
As I carry on walking along the river while gazing at the cherry blossoms, I discover an ashiyu - a hot spring bath designed for soaking your feet - called Sakura no Ashiyu-dokoro! It's a simple footbath, with just a changing room where you can remove your socks. It's the perfect place for a quick rest while you're sightseeing.
There aren't many places along the path where you can spread out your mat or sheet and sit down, but I searched like crazy and came across a space just big enough to fit my mat! I spread out my aluminium sheet with thermal cushions, and begin my flower viewing party. Using the hot water I brought with me in my Thermos flask, I make some shochu with hot water and some instant udon noodles to warm myself up.
As the day draws into night it starts to get chilly, but I definitely want you to see the illuminated cherry blossoms. They look completely different to how they appear in the daytime - yozakura (cherry blossoms in the evening) are seriously magical. The sparkling surface of the river is incredibly beautiful too. Apparently during the cherry blossom festival period the illuminations begin every day at 6pm, so make sure you don't miss it!
I'm staying in Izu-Atagawa at the Kokumin Shukusha Izu-Atagawasou, a reasonably priced hotel that's just a 1 minute walk from Izu-Atagawa Station and has its own supply of continuously flowing genuine hot spring water (known as gensen kakenagashi in Japanese). Next to the hotel stands the wooden frame which covers the source of the hot spring, from which copious amounts of steam burst forth. The temperature at the source is 100°C, or 212°F. That's really hot!! Here you'll also find the Zeniarai no Ike (literally "Coin-washing Pond") - it's said that if you make a wish while sprinkling some water from the pond (using one of the ladles provided), your wish will come true. I wonder if my economic fortune has improved at all... Today I'll take a well-earned rest, and tomorrow I'll go and enjoy the cherry blossoms some more.
After I checked out the follow day, I headed out again to see the Kawazu-zakura. Sadly it was a cloudy day, but I walked further than yesterday, up until the point where the rows of cherry blossom trees came to an end. The cold days continue, but now's the best time to see Kawazu-zakura. So why not go and enjoy an early taste of spring?