In the spring, Japan turns pink, and its streets are filled with the sounds of music. Spring is when the time-honored tradition of hanami begins, cherry blossoms bloom, and the country comes alive with festivals and parades that showcase the prefecture’s culture and traditions. As travelers from all over the world head to Tokyo, seasoned travelers know to head further to Gifu and Ishikawa Prefectures, hidden destinations filled with cherished cherry blossom spots and cultural festivals
Cherry blossom viewing is a bucket list experience for many and walking through thousands of beautiful pink cherry blossoms is truly a sight to cherish as they’re only in bloom for one to two weeks. Float under the cherry blossoms on a Suimon River boat ride, cycle hike through them in Gifu Park, or bask in the picture-perfect landscape at Yoro Park, which is home to 3,000 cherry blossom trees and known as one the best cherry blossom viewing spots. Gifu’s stunningly beautiful under-the-radar cherry blossom spots are prime places to view this country-wide tradition as they’re hidden away from those in overcrowded Tokyo and Kyoto.
Just a little to the north, watch Ishikawa’s Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s greatest gardens flaunting cherry blossoms and historic teahouses, regain color, and bloom into a beautiful array of pinks and green. For a truly stunning visual, visit Kenrokuen at night when the trees are lit up. For more, visit the Noto-Kashima Station where 100 cherry blossoms create a flower tunnel that illuminates at night and trek to Kurikara Fudoji Temple where the grounds are awash with 6,000 cherry trees.
As Gifu and Ishikawa are enveloped in pink, the streets spring to life with local artisans, dancers, and performers. Its festival season and a visit to these two treasured prefectures are not complete without its most famous festivals like Gifu’s Tajimi Ceramics Festival and Takayama Spring Festival and Ishikawa’s Seihakusai Festival.
At the Tajimi Ceramics Festival in the quaint Tajimi, travelers will be surrounded by the artisans who produce half the country’s ceramic tiles and wares. Listen as the artisans describe the intricacies of their craft before purchasing an authentic mino-ware tea sake cup set or rice bowl and tucking them away to be used back home. Tajimi is home to Gifu’s signature ceramic style, mino-ware, and this little town’s many pottery studios famously produce tokkuri, aka sake flasks, along with tea bowls and stone lanterns.
A visit to the Takayama Spring Festival is next. Regarded as one of Japan’s three great festivals and also a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Takayama Spring Festival is a two-day event where attendees will find themselves surrounded by shishimai performers (lion dancers) while staring up at 12 yatai, elaborate floats topped with Karakuri dolls and intricate ornaments. For the best seats in town, stay at the centrally located HOTEL WOOD and watch as the parade floats on their open terrace, right in front of the hotel, with warm tea and Japanese sweets in hand.
At HOTEL WOOD, guests will experience local Takayama through cultural, historical, nature, and seasonal tours handpicked by local staff. Offering ryokan-style accommodations, sophisticated interiors, and high-quality amenities, HOTEL WOOD is for travelers seeking to immerse themselves in the local scene. Start the day off with a visit to the morning market, only a five-minute walk, or with a walking tour and Zen mediation experience in Higashiyama. Visit 16 venerable Japanese temples before learning Zen meditation at the about 460-years-old Zennou-Ji temple. Then end the night with a night tour of Takayama after the streets have fallen quiet and dressed in traditional Japanese attire.
Takayama is also home to Gifu’s bustling sake scene, As travelers wander through this Edo-period style town, they can sake hop between seven sake breweries and taste the best the Gifu’s Hida Region has to offer. At the 398-year-old Hirase Sake Brewery, Takayama’s oldest brewery established in 1623, drinkers will sip Michelin-recognized sake at the fifth of the price it would be in the United States. They can then make their way to Funasaka Sake Brewery and their onsite restaurant which crafts cuisine that perfectly complements their sake.
Thousands descend upon the festival as they vie to capture as much fortune as they can. For the opportunity to be front and center in a festival, visit the Seihakusai Festival in Nanao, where volunteers can pull one of the three, forty-foot magnificent floats through the town center. The floats are some of the biggest floats in Japan and locals flock to Nanao to see these stunning beasts.
While visiting some of Ishikawa’s one-of-a-kind attractions, stay in one-of-a-kind accommodations courtesy of the new Korinkyo Hotel. Housing only 18 rooms, Korinkyo perfectly combines minimalistic, modern design while incorporating nature throughout. On the bottom, guests will also find an aroma distillery, originally based in Ishikawa’s Hakusan, which produces the hotel’s signature experience and showcases the creation of essential oils using locally sourced forest materials. Meticulously designed, Korinkyo is the place to stay for art and design aficionados as it’s only moments away from Kanazawa’s famous Kenrokuen Garden and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa.
There is no better destination to visit in the spring than Gifu and Ishikawa. Filled with unique festivals, breathtaking cherry blossom stops, and distinctive accommodations, these two hidden destinations are must-experience spots for those craving a deep dive into the best Japan has to offer.