The first time I was able to visit Shiga, it just so happened to coincide with the Sakura Matsuri that year, or the Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual event that marked the beginning of spring when all of the cherry blossom trees in Japan miraculously come alive as their cherry blossoms open to reveal a cascade of colors. I ended up taking a train to to view the cherry blossoms in Makino and then it was a short walk to the shores of Lake Biwa.
This was perhaps the singular thing that stood out in my mind, and that was how unique Kaizu Osaki was in regards to Hanami, cherry blossom festival. Unlike many locations across Japan where cherry blossoms are view of which are often situated in big traditional gardens, open spaces, or next to historical landmarks like castles, Kaizu Osaki’s cherry blossom festival takes place on a narrow four kilometer stretch around the lake.
Every April (usually around the 10th, but it varies year to year), the cherry blossoms arrive and only last for a week or two but during this time, it’s like the cherry blossom trees swell to three times their size and the illusion of a pink cloud is hard to ignore. Against the blue-green water of Lake Biwa and sunny skies, it’s no wonder that Japan has listed this location as one of their top 100 destinations to see cherry blossoms. And for sure, the crowds that came to watch the cherry blossoms attested to this fact. There are close to 800 or more cherry trees along this stretch of road and shoreline, most of them belonging to the Yoshino variety, which are prized for their hardiness, multiple petals, and old age.
In fact, some of the cherry blossom trees are close to 80 years old and you can’t help but feel a little awed – and humbled – as you listen to the sound of water rocking against the shoreline and wind shushing through the canopy. One of the more appealing phenomenon during cherry blossom season has to be the effect that the cherry blossom trees have in creating a “colorful tunnel”, and I found that Kaizu Osaki achieved this better than almost any other location, due in part no doubt to the fact that the cherry blossom trees are cramped against the steep hills that look down on the lake.
Also, if you have the time and money, there’s nothing quite like renting out a small boat or house-boat during this the cherry blossom period. This offers an entirely new perspective when you’re able to enjoy the sights from out on the water – but be careful of the numerous rocks sticking out of the lake called Hachijo-jiki. There’s even one, purportedly, shaped like a tengu’s nose called Tengu-iwa (for those of you who don’t know, a tengu is a mythological creature that looks similar to a dog).
Due to the fact that this site is situated along a road, keep in mind that during high season, and on the weekends in particular, it can be very crowded and congested. All the more reason to go on foot!
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Address: Makinomachi Kaizu, Takashima, Shiga Prefecture
Access: 10 minutes by car from Makino Station
Website: Kaizu Osaki (Japanese)