Kawazu-zakura — Izu’s Early Blooming Cherry Blossoms
In Japan, cherry blossoms are the ultimate sign that spring is on its way. Most of the nation’s residents have to wait until late March or early April (even later further up north), but there are a few spots where people can catch them as early as February! One of those areas is Kawazu, a small town located on the Izu Peninsula, a couple of hours west of Tokyo. This town has its very own local cherry blossom variety, called Kawazu-zakura.
Gorgeous, aren’t they? But, first things first:
What is Kawazu-zakura and how does it differ from other cherry blossoms?
First of all, you need to know there are more than 600 varieties of cherry blossom tree in Japan. The blossoms vary in color, petal-shape, and blooming periods. But, for a layman, they can be hard to distinguish. Even with a clear difference between two types, naming them may be tricky. However, JNTO has a handy guide on the seven most popular types of cherry blossoms, which helps. Kawazu-zakura is most famous for its vibrant pink color and for being one of the earliest blooming cherry blossoms in the country. (Or are the others just late bloomers? Ba-da-boom-tisch!) It typically blooms from early February to early March, but some years it has bloomed as early as the first week of January, or even as late as the end of February. Also, their gorgeous blossoms last for up to a month, while other varieties usually only last for about a week.
Kawazu-zakura — A Recent and Serendipitous Discovery
In February of 1955, a man named Masami Iida was walking by the Kawazu river, when he came across a tree sapling and decided to pick it up and take it home. Little did he know that by doing this, he would change the fate of little Kawazu town FOREVER. He plucked the sapling, assuming it was a common cherry blossom type (called somei yoshino) and simply wanted one for his garden. It wasn’t until 11 years later when the tree finally bloomed that it was clear this cherry blossom tree was distinctly different from the somei yoshino. The fact that it bloomed in January was a big hint, too. People in the area got curious and word of the tree spread.
Enter Mitsuya Katsumata, a farmer, and landscape artist. He is the man credited with populating Kawazu with more of these lovely trees. The local government finally got involved and did some research on the tree. They found it was a natural hybrid of oshima-zakura and kanhi-zakura and was native to the Kawazu area. They named it Kawazu-zakura in 1974 and the following year it was registered as an official tree of Kawazu town.
These days there is a festival dedicated to the blooms. Kawazu-zakura Cherry Blossom Festival typically runs from early February to early March and attracts millions of visitors during that month. There are about 800 trees that line Kawazu river, which is the most popular place to see them. However, with 8,000 trees in and around town, there are plenty of opportunities to catch gorgeous dots of pink elsewhere. Also, the original Kawazu-zakura tree that Iida found is still alive and well. Visitors are welcome to drop by and snap photos of it from the sidewalk. The house is about a 15-minute walk from Kawazu station and can be found on this map.
Kawazu-zakura Cherry Blossom Festival: a Close-up
Kawazu has local delicacies galore, but some may seem a bit intimidating at first glance:
Certainly less intimidating is the Izu no Odoriko (Izu Dancer), a symbol of the area embodied as a cheerful young local. Izu no Odoriko as an Izu representative comes from 1968 Nobel prize-winner Yasunari Kawabata, who debuted the short story “Izu Dancer” (alternative title “The Dancing Girl of Izu”) in 1927. The story, as its title suggests, is set in Izu and tourists can visit a some of the locations mentioned, including Yugano Onsen and Toge Tunnel.
If you want a better view of how the cherry blossoms pinkify the city (or you just don’t want to deal with the crowds), check out Kawazu town’s Kawazu-zakura live webcams — you won’t be disappointed.
Other Useful Info
I’ve linked to various sites through the post, but here’s the info all in one place:
How to get there:
You can get to Kawazu from Tokyo by taking the Odoriko Express straight from Tokyo Station to Kawazu (takes approx 160 min).
Or, you can take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Atami (takes approx 50 min) and then the JR Ito line to Kawazu from there (takes approx 105 min).
This was honestly the best hanami (cherry blossom viewing) I have ever experienced. I’ve always imagined blankets of pink blossoms overhead but never timed it right to see so many trees in bloom at once. It was only marred by the fact that we only had an hour to race through the view of the riverside. Next time (hopefully next year), I’ll make plans to stay longer to snap more shots and eat more food! …And hopefully get there earlier in the day so I can avoid the crowds.
Finally, a disclaimer: I attended a free tour of a couple of areas in Izu in return for an article via JapanTravel (link to come soon). I was not required, nor asked to write anything other than that one. I wrote this because how could I not? There’s too much pink cherry blossom gloriousness not to share! (In short: all thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own and not influenced by any organization or affiliate, in any way.)