Chasing the “Flying Witch” in Hirosaki

In the Spring of 2016, an apprentice witch, Makato, moved to Aomori Prefecture, the northernmost prefecture of the Tohoku region in Japan. Since then she has lived and traveled to many places around Aomori. If we follow her footsteps, we might just find her…!!

An avid fan of the Flying Witch, during the Golden Week holiday period I followed her all the way to Hirosaki Castle Park (弘前城公園) located in Hirosaki City, a big city in the Tsugaru region of Aomori.

Next station…Hirosaki

Getting off the train, I was immediately met by a giant apple. Apples are the most famous product of Aomori prefecture (in particular, Hirosaki City) accounting for over 50% of Japan’s apple market. Aomori apples are so famous that people say “Aomori people eat at least an apple a day” or “The first time Aomori children use a knife is for peeling an apple”.

Seeing the ruby-red apple, I finally felt that I had really arrived in Aomori and was catching up with the witch, Makoto!

Walking about 15-20 minutes from Hirosaki station, I arrived at Hirosaki Castle Park, just in time for the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival. The stunning snow-capped Mt. Iwaki could be seen in the distance.

Mt. Iwaki is a stratovolcano (1625m) located in the West of Aomori prefecture. You can see this breathtakingly beautiful scene on a clear, sunny day.

And finally, I arrived at Hirosaki Castle park!

Hirosaki Castle Park is one of the most beautiful spots for cherry blossom viewing in the entire Tohoku region. The park itself is a large open area with many varieties of cherry tree; such as Somei Yoshino, Yaezakura, Shidarezakura, Yamazakura, and so on (here’s a useful guide). There are over 2600 cherry trees in the park, making it the largest scale cherry blossom display in Japan!!

I was lucky enough to visit when the cherry blossoms were just over their peak bloom and some petals were starting to fall. The scene of the walking path lined with hundreds of sakura trees on both sides was incredible. I took so many photos, but never felt bored! The cherry blossom petals which had fallen into the moats surrounding the park transformed the surface of the water into a pale pink carpet – it was my first time to see such a gorgeous scene.

See the pink area above? That is the moat covered in sakura petals!

This moat was incredibly popular among the visitors to the park and it’s no wonder! The picture of an entirely pink moat, sakura trees in full bloom on both sides and an old wooden bridge was the ultimate combination and a feast for the eyes!

There are many entrance gates for the castle park. Due to the busy holiday traffic, there were crowds of people passing through. It is said that around 2 million people visit the park every year during the cherry blossom festival period.

Venturing deeper inside the park, I found the most important place, Hirosaki Castle!

The castle itself is beautiful, but seeing it standing with blooming sakura all around made for an even more memorable sight.

Hirosaki Castle was built in 1611 and originally it was five-storeys high. However, it was burned down after a lightening stike in 1627. It was rebuilt as a three-storey structure in 1810, and has had no further reconstruction until now! It is the last Edo-period castle left standing in Tohoku. The positioning of the castle was changed recently to enable the restoration of the huge stone-wall that it usually rests upon. It is a painstakingly detailed and complex process. Construction is set to finish in 2026, in about 10 years time!

The entrance fee into the castle area is just 310 yen. There is also a lovely botanical garden nearby and its entrance fee is also 310 yen. However, you can opt to buy an inclusive ticket covering entry to both for only 510 yen.

There are also a ton of fun cultural activities  inside the shops and buildings spread around the park. I experienced drinking real Matcha Green Tea with a traditional Japanese sweet. I also tried wearing a Kimono and took some photos with a traditional Japanese-style background. They were both new experiences for me, and it was a really interesting and fun addition to my visit.

Throughout the park there are also many  bright-red bridges, as pictured above. Their brilliant red color contrasted with the soft greens and pinks of the trees, creating yet another gorgeous scene.

There were also benches like these dotted all around the park as well, so when your legs need a break you can take a breather and watch the world go by.

Typically for a Japanese festival, this festival isn’t all about the blooming sakura or nice scenery – don’t forget about the food!! There were an insane number of food stalls and game booths to be enjoyed. The food sold here was all different kinds of Japanese-style street food: takoyaki, okonomiyaki, cotton candy, chocolate-coated banana, dango, yakisoba, toffee apple, etc. You name it, it was there!

I tried my hand at a shooting game and got some prizes! You could also find ‘kingyo-sukui’ (catching goldfish) game, raffles etc. They reminded me of Thai-style festival games!

And I was really surprised by these features: A Haunted House and “The Wall of Death” show! Their decorations looked somewhat vintage with vivid colors; they really took me back to the festivals at home in Thailand.

Even Makoto and friends had visited the Haunted House, it seems, but I wasn’t game to try. (Actually, it seemed pretty fun!)

The area of festival stalls was super crowded. Everyone came to buy some food and play games. In classic Japan style, this area still remained tidy –  no one left their garbage out of the trash zone.

Another interesting thing I found at the festival was a fortune teller! Makoto had also visited there and met another witch, so I went there to see who I would find…!

Unfortunately, she wasn’t a witch! But she can see your fate using only the patterns of your palm and birth date!

At the end of the day, if you have walked through every area of the park already, don’t be in a hurry to go back! Otherwise you risk missing yet another highlight of this festival.

Yes! At night, there was an amazing illumination event. When the well-set lights shone on the hundreds of sakura trees it created a wonderful atmosphere. Even though I had walked and walked and walked all afternoon, I  completely forgot about my tired legs and happily made another lap of the park.

This trip to Hirosaki park was indeed a priceless experience! I was able to see two beautiful faces of sakura during both day and night, took a huge number of amazing photos, tasted super delicious Japanese street food, enjoyed Japanese festival games and experienced traditional Japanese culture and Japanese-style fortune telling. The time flew-by so fast, almost like magic! Even if I didn’t quite catch up with the witch Makoto herself, I was more than satisfied!

This year, the sakura season has already come to a close. But you can look forward to coming here next year to experience this beautiful and enjoyable atmosphere. Maybe you too will find some magic flying through the trees…!

To read more about the Flying Witch anime series, click here.


Access to Hirosaki Castle 

Address: 〒036-8356 青森県弘前市下白銀町1

Webpage (Japanese): http://www.hirosakipark.jp/ 

Opening hours: Honmaru/Kita no Kuruwa Area 9:00~17:00 (April 1st~November 23rd)
Botanical Garden 9:00~18:00 (Tickets are sold until 17:30)
*During the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival the paid hours are extended.

**Access to the castle is closed during winter from November 24 ~ March 31st!

Entrance Fee: 

Castle park: Adult ¥310 Child ¥100

Botanical Garden: Adult ¥310 Child ¥100

Inclusive ticket (Honmaru/Kita no Kuruwa Area, Botanical Garden, Fujita Memorial Garden): Adult ¥510  Child ¥160

*Discounted prices are offered to groups with 10 people or more.

 

Piangrawee (Erk) Santivongskul

About Piangrawee (Erk) Santivongskul

Piangrawee Santivongskul has a long and hard-to-pronounce name, so she prefers to be called by her nickname "Erk". Born in Bangkok, Thailand, she came to Sendai two years ago to study Chemistry at Tohoku University. Her passion for Japan began with an interest in Japanese idol-groups, culture and food when she was a junior high-school student. Once she had the chance to travel to Tohoku she quickly added "Tohoku's nature" to her "Favorite things about Japan" list. During her time in Japan Erk is always eager to explore more and more about Tohoku and share her stories with other people.

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