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A Sakura Tunnel in Tohoku

Whenever travelers hire me to plan cherry blossom trips, many resign themselves to a seeming inevitability. Seeing the sakura, they’ve convinced themselves, requires contending with insane crowds.

But this is not always the case. In fact, depending on where in Japan you plan to be, quite the opposite may end up being true.

A great example of this is the Kitakami cherry blossoms—in particular, the sakura tunnel at Kitakami Tenshochi Park, which are popular among Japanese and Southeast Asian tourists, but relatively unknown to the rest of the world.

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Why Kitakami is Famous, But Also Obscure

In my former home of Thailand, the Kitakami sakura tunnel is one of the most sought after destinations in all of Japan. This is for a few reasons. First, because the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has gone out of its way to market the Tohoku region to Thais. Second, because so many Thais have ended up here, the tunnel has gone viral on social media many times over.

Conversely, while this has happened to a much lesser extent in some other Asian countries (and also domestically within Japan), the same has not been true in any Western market, and not even really in larger Eastern markets like China or Taiwan. As a result, although there are a few hundred tourists at the sprawling Kitakami Tenshochi Park at any given time, it simply doesn’t feel overly crowded.

How to Organize Your Kitakami Trip

Go by Shinkansen


As surprising as it might be, given the size of the city, Kitakami is a hub along the Shinkansen line. And a somewhat major one at that, with certain super-fast Hayabusa departures stopping there. This makes getting there easy, whether from Tohoku cities like Sendai or Morioka, or even all the way from Tokyo.

Wait for a shuttle


During cherry blossom season, there are shuttle buses that will take you from the east exit of Kitakami Station to Kitakami Tenshochi Park. These aren’t on a set timetable, but generally correspond with the arrival of Shinkansen. You can ask station staff for relevant info.

(Or just go on foot)


The good news? It’s only about 20 minutes on foot from Kitakami Station to the northern path of Kitakami Tenshochi Park, where the sakura tunnel starts. The bad news? There’s not really a lot to see along the way, so although the path is flat, it’s also boring.

Start at the tunnel—but don’t stop there


As the title of this section suggests, the Kitakami cherry blossom tunnel is the beginning and not the end of what to see here. As you walk southward through it, you’ll eventually end up in a field that has music and dance; you can even hike up to Jingaoka Hill for a nice view.

Enjoy local snacks and drinks


Kitakami Tenshochi is also famous for its horse-drawn carriages, though those were not operating when I went. Which is fine: I find them a bit inhumane. What will definitely be available, however, are lots of food stalls, serving all manner of Japanese food and drink. Oishii!

Should You Stay Overnight in Kitakami?

Kitakami is a fine little town, but the reality is that besides Kitakami Tenshochi Park and the Shinkansen station, there isn’t really a lot to see or do there. Moreover, since the park doesn’t get very crowded even at the peak of sakura season, I’m not sure there’s much advantage to sleeping here so that you can be one of the first to arrive. It’s easy enough to ride the bullet train in from Sendai or even all the way from Tokyo.

On the other hand, if you really want to dig deep into off-the-beaten path Iwate prefecture (if, in other words, the Kitakami sakura are not your only reason for wanting to stay here), having a base here could benefit you in other ways. Most notably, Hiraizumi is right down the JR Tohoku Line from Kitakami; being able to explore these two idylls without having to sleep in a big city could appeal to some travelers.

Other FAQ About Visiting Kitakami

Is Kitakami worth visiting?

Kitakami is absolutely worth visiting, assuming the cherry blossoms in Kitakami Tenshochi Park are at all bloom. If they aren’t, there’s an argument to be made that there’s no point to visit the town, since this is really its only notable attraction.

How do I travel to Kitakami?

Kitakami sits directly on the Tohoku Shinkansen line, making it convenient to access from many points in Japan. All Nasuno Shinkansen trains (and even some of the super-fast Hayabusa) departures stop here, connecting you with other Tohoku cities like Sendai, Morioka and Aomori; you can even come here from Tokyo, if you want.

What is Kitakami known for?

Kitakami is known primarily for Kitakami Tenshochi, a riverside park that transforms into a sakura “tunnel” during cherry blossom season every year. Beyond this, it’s known as one of the hubs of the Tohoku Shinkansen, and has become an important transportation center in the Tohoku region as a result.

The Bottom Line

The Kitakami cherry blossoms are a delight, no matter when in the season you happen to arrive—I enjoyed the best of both worlds. Although the sakura tunnel was more or less at peak bloom when I got there before noon, strong winds in the afternoon created a dramatic and blizzard-like hanafubuki to finish off the day. So although the tunnel’s iconic horse carriages were not going, I still feel like I had an iconic and unforgettable experience. Want help creating your own cherry blossom adventure in Japan’s underrated Tohoku region? I do hope you’ll consider hiring me to plan your trip!


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