Carriage Rides Beneath the Blossoms: The Kitakami Tenshōchi Sakura Festival
A Tunnel of Blossoms Kilometers Long
Kitakami Tenshōchi, in the city of Kitakami, Iwate Prefecture, is known as one of the best places for cherry-blossom viewing in Tōhoku. The park sprawls across 293 hectares rich in natural beauty, including some 10,000 cherry trees of around 150 different varieties. From mid-April to early May, when the blossoms are at their finest, visitors pour into the park to enjoy the Kitakami Tenshōchi Sakura Festival.
For a two-kilometer stretch, the road alongside the Kitakami River is planted on both sides with sakura that bloom so richly in spring they all but cover the road below, forming a “sakura tunnel.” From 10 AM to 4 PM each day during the festival period, visitors can engage a horse-drawn carriage in old-fashioned livery and enjoy a leisurely jaunt down the scenic corridor. There are two places where carriages can be boarded: in front of the steam train, and at the entrance to the children’s park.
A Sakura Cruise in Traditional Japanese Style
Pleasure cruises along the sakura-lined Kitakami River are another highly recommended attraction. During the festival, boats ply the river’s waters from 9 AM to 5 PM, with each cruise lasting about 20 minutes. Around 300 carp streamers flutter in the breeze overhead in eye-catching counterpoint to the pink of the sakura on the banks.
The festival offers a full slate of special events to entertain attendees, including the oni kenbai, or “demon sword dance.” This is an Iwate folk tradition in which dancers take the stage in fierce oni masks, sword in hand. There are many performances during the festival period, particularly on weekends and holidays, which means plenty of opportunities to see this thrilling tradition at close quarters.
In full bloom, the sakura are illuminated in the evenings for a dreamy alternative to daytime flower viewing. Other attractions and sights at the festival include kan’ō chakai (sakura-viewing tea gatherings), the Kurosawajiri Kabuki Sakura Parade, and performing monkeys. The Tenshōchi park area is also home to the Michinoku Folklore Village, the Kitakami Museum, and other facilities designed to share more of the city’s charm with visitors.
- Location: Tachibana, Kitakami, Iwate
- Access: From JR Kitakami Station, board an Iwate Kōtsū bus bound for Esashi Bus Center, and then ride for about 15 minutes to the Tenshōchi bus stop outside the park.
- Tel.: 0197-65-0300 (Kitakami Convention and Visitor Bureau)
- Festival period: Mid-April to early May
- Opening days: Every day during festival period
- Horse-drawn carriage: Adults ¥500, elementary school students ¥300
- Sightseeing cruise: Adults ¥1,300, elementary school students ¥500
- Languages: Festival pamphlet and venue signage available in English.
Nearby Attraction: Kitakami Oni no Yakata
The Oni no Yakata, or “hall of demons,” is a museum housing a collection of demon masks that ranges from those used in the local demon sword dance to specimens from elsewhere in Asia, Europe, and other places. Around the globe, demon traditions are much more than just scary stories, and this museum guides visitors through that unique cultural domain. There’s also a commemorative photograph corner, where masks from various countries can be tried on to capture the perfect souvenir photo.
- Location: 16-131 Iwasaki, Waga, Kitakami, Iwate
- Access: From JR Kitakami Station, board an Iwate Kōtsū bus bound for Chōritsu Nishiwaga Sawauchi Byōin, and then ride about 25 minutes to the Iwasakibashi stop. The Oni no Yakata is about 10 minutes’ walk from the stop. (Note: Bus service only operational on weekdays)
- Tel.: 0197-73-8488
- Opening hours: 9 AM–5 PM (last entry 4:30 PM)
- Closed: Mondays from December through March (or following day when Monday falls on a holiday) and other special occasions
- Entry fee: Adults ¥500, high school students ¥240, elementary and junior high school students ¥170 (discounts available for groups and disabled visitors). Note: Credit cards not accepted
- Pamphlet available in English, Chinese (traditional/simplified), Korean
- Facility signage: English
(Original Japanese text by Shoe Press. Banner photo: Sightseers enjoy a leisurely horse-drawn carriage ride through the rows of cherry trees. © Kitakami Convention and Visitor Bureau.)