In the heart of Ogawa Suwa Shrine in Iwaki, Fukushima, is a beautiful weeping cherry tree, which has stood strong for over 500 years. Ogawa Suwa Shrine is one of the prefecture’s most popular cherry blossom viewing spots, and also happens to be one of the first to blossom in early April.
I went to visit the shrine last week, after hearing news that its flowers were reaching full-bloom, and was blessed with wonderful weather for my visit to Iwaki. It was my first cherry blossom viewing trip of the year, and one of the most spectacular hanami spots I’ve ever been to!
This shrine is easiest accessed by car, as it is a 15 minute drive from Iwaki Chuo IC off of the Joban Expressway and is a little far from the area’s main train stations. The car park was pretty full when I visited, even though it was a week day, so it is worth bearing in mind that parking elsewhere may be necessary if visiting at the weekend.
There was a buzz of excitement in the air upon arriving at the car park. From the parking area, I could see lines of yatai (outdoor food stands) selling all kinds of wonderful Japanese snacks, a small glimpse of the stunning shrine at the top of a long line of stairs, and an even smaller peak at the cherry blossom tree that stands next to it.
As I climbed up the stairs, views of the whole shrine complex opened up before me – at the centre of which stood the majestic 11 metre tall weeping cherry tree.
The petals, almost white in colour, fluttered in the wind, occasionally showering passersby upon a particularly strong breeze. Professional photographers and many others brandishing cameras eagerly tried to find the perfect angle to snap the shrine from.
The view from behind the cherry tree was just as, if not more, beautiful than looking at the shrine from the front on, as the light passing through the branches of the tree made beautiful patterns on the ground, and against its trunk.
There was even a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony taking place, which was so exciting to see.
Cherry blossom season at Ogawa Suwa Shrine signifies a break from the ordinary in a number of ways. During the evenings, the shrine is lit up by traditional camp fires, and music performances are occasionally held.
There are also food stalls selling festival food, and a small ‘tea shop’ where visitors can buy tea and Japanese confectioneries.
I had mitarashi dango (sticky sweet rice balls glazed in a sweet soy sauce) with sakura tea.
My coworker had amazake (a sweet drink made from fermented rice), which was accompanied by a cute rabbit-themed manju (sween rice bun filled with red bean paste).
It was lovely to spend time having a drink and watching the visitors enjoying the sun and the scenery. There was definitely a very peaceful atmosphere inside the grounds of the shrine. As well as those visiting for the sakura, many people were praying at the top of the shrine, and this together with the Shinto wedding ceremony really gave the shrine a spiritual feel.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Ogawa Suwa Shrine for those visiting Fukushima during early April. Please remember to check about whether the cherry blossom is in full bloom before your visit though, as the timing is slightly different every year!
15 minute drive from Iwaki Chuo IC off of the Joban Expressway. Or a 15 minute taxi from Iwaki Station.