Senbonzakura, the name of a famous song, is the Japanese for a thousand cherry blossoms. There are many spots or parks in Japan called Senbonzakura. In Saitama, one of the most stunning Senbonzakura locations is on Mt Torayama in Higashichichibu. Not to be confused with the Senbonzakura in Honjo, which are equally impressive, but a different type of view.
The Senbonzakura of Torayama
There are actually just under two thousand cherry blossoms on the side of Mt Torayama. Torayama means “tiger mountain”. As you enter the pathway under a torii like entrance way, there is a carved wooden sculpture tiger to the right.
There are several different varieties of cherry blossoms on Torayama, but the highest concentration seems to be of Somei Yoshino. I also recognized some yamazakura. They generally bloom the first two weeks of April, but this year – like all seasonal blooms – they were early. Today, March 31st (2020), the sakura on the top of the mountain were in full bloom and the ones lower down were at about 80 to 90%.
The distance from the foot to the summit as the crow flies is about two kilometers, but if you follow the main path that winds up and down the mountain it is a five kilometer walk. There is quite an incline so it is more like an easy hike than a walk. You can borrow a bamboo stick by the entrance, if you need support hill walking. For the most part there are sakura tunnels, but on a couple of stretches of the path there is only sakura on one side. At the top of the mountain there are beautiful pine trees on one side and the sakura on the other.
Just before the summit of the walk there is a small, but charming waterfall. In front of it there is shide – the Shinto white zigzagged paper – in front of a stone plaque where you can pray. People leave money on the rock for good fortune for their prayers.
If you climb to the very top of the sakura path there is a stunning view of the valley below and the surrounding mountains. On our last visit a thick fog developed as we hiked to the top. By the time we reached the summit the peak on the Higashichichibu side (top right of photo) was already concealed by fog.
They don’t normally open if rain is forecast, but if rain falls unexpectedly (as happened to us today) they remain open until 4 pm. If you are in doubt you can always ring the Higashichichibu town hall before you depart. We have actually tried to visit here in the past, but it was closed as the sakura hadn’t been declared open yet. They close off the small bridge that leads to the car park so you can’t access the car park or sakura out of season.
Incredibly the spot isn’t that well known, except among Cosplay enthusiasts. Torayama is a mecca for Cosplayers who get professional photos in their costumes done back dropped by thousands of cherry blossom trees. At the entrance to the car park there is a reception and changing area for cosplayers. Despite being foggy and rainy when we visited there were five different groups of cosplayers with professional photographers. Supposedly on a fine day there are dozens.
Due to the situation with novel coronavirus Covid-19 there is no festival this year (2020). Normally, when they have the festival there are some food vans. Also, they string festival lanterns between the trees. They don’t have the lanterns up this year either. The festival is usually the first weekend in April.
A short drive away is the famous “earthly paradise” of Saitama. If you time it right you can combine a visit to the cherry blossoms on Torayama with a stop at the Ouchizawa area of Higashichichibu. At Ouchizawa you can witness one of Saitama’s most beautiful spring scenes with the peach blossoms, sakura and several other vibrant flora coloring the rolling hills.
Senbonzakura of Torayama Information
|Senbonzakura of Torayama|
|Address:||317 Sakamoto, Higashichichibu, Chichibu District, 355-0372|
|Hours:||Only open when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. They don’t normally open when rain is forecast. You can ring the Higashichichibu town hall to find out if in doubt.|
|Cost:||Free and free parking. There is a donations box at the foot of the mountain for voluntary contributions.|
|Online:||Official page on the Higashichichibu Website.|
There is no train station in Higashichichibu, but Torayama is close to the border of Ogawa town which does have a train station. You need to get a bus from Ogawa station to the Ochiai bus stop near Washi no Sato. Its about a ten minute walk. If you get off at Washi no Sato its much longer, taking about 40 minutes on foot.
By car the mountain is about a thirty minute mountain drive from the Ranzan Ogawa Interchange of the Kanetsu expressway. It is a beautiful drive during spring with all the cherry blossoms and spring flora decorating the mountainsides.
Yes. In Senbonzakura (a stunning mountain cherry blossom walk with more than a 1000 sakura) on Torayama in Higashichichibu you can rent cosplay outfits and get your photo taken by a photographer.