Kitakami-gawa is the fourth largest river in Japan, flowing south almost 250 km from its source in the mountains near Hachimantai in northern Iwate Prefecture into the sea off Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. Running alongside the river in Iwate’s Kitakami City is Tenshochi Park, a place known far and wide for its magnificent cherry blossoms. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Park’s opening.
The main path through Tenshochi Park is flanked along its length by colonnades of cherry trees. In the blooming season from mid April to early May, the blossoms merge to form a heavenly pink canopy above the path. A horse-drawn carriage appears for the feet-up blossom-viewing pleasure of visitors. Boats cruise the river offering another leisurely way to bask in the display from 10,000 cherry trees of more than 150 varieties.
For hungry hanami blossom-viewing revelers, yatai food stalls offer baked potatoes and butter, steak on sticks and the specialty local food, Kitakami Croquettes, a deep-fried blend of Iwate-raised beef and pork, satoimo taro and asparagus.
At this time of year too, huge carp streamers are strung across the river in advance of Children’s Day (May 5), adding another splash of color to the riverside spectacle. At night, red paper lanterns are illuminated, creating a dreamy atmosphere made all the more ethereal by the reflection of the softly-lit blossoms on the water.