***Dates for the Matsuda Cherry Blossom Festival in 2020 are February 8th to March 8th.***
A convenient day trip from Tokyo, the Matsuda Cherry Blossom Festival offers the chance to see Kawazuzakura, early-blooming cherry blossoms, as early as February.
While the main cherry blossom season is only just ramping up, there’s a type of early-blooming sakura called Kawazuzakura (Kawazu cherry blossoms) that has already hit full bloom. Originating from Kawazu, located on the east coast of the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, these early-bloomers started blooming from mid-February, and reached their full pink glory last weekend (end of February).
There are two main places to see Kawazuzakura: one of them, unsurprisingly, is in Kawazu itself. Numerous Kawazuzakura trees line the river which flows west from the station. The Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival (河津桜祭り) is held every year from early February to early March, attracting millions of visitors annually.
For those in Tokyo that don’t want to venture that far, there’s another famous spot in neighbouring Kanagawa Prefecture: Matsuda Town. Similar to the Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival, the Matsuda Cherry Blossom Festival (まつだ桜まつり), is held annually from early February to early March. It boasts a stunning contrast between the pink early-blooming cherry blossoms and sunny yellow nanohana (rapeseed flowers).
Seeing that the Kawazuzakura were already in full bloom, this weekend we headed to the Matsuda Cherry Blossom Festival to enjoy an early taste of spring for ourselves!
Getting to the Matsuda Cherry Blossom Festival
The festival, which is held at Nishihira Park (西平畑公園), is most easily accessed via JR Matsuda Station or Odakyu Line’s Shin-Matsuda Station. The latter can be conveniently reached on a direct train from Shinjuku Station in 70-90 minutes. Look for rapid express trains heading to Shin-Matsuda Station or Odawara Station. It will cost you 780 yen each way.
You can also take the luxurious Romance Car, but it’ll cost you almost double. The time difference is only around 10 minutes, so it’s not really worth shelling out the extra yen.
We’re in Matsuda. Now what?
During the festival, shuttle buses run every 30 minutes between 9:30am – 5pm from JR Matsuda Station to the main festival venue. It costs 150 yen (80 yen for children) one way. From Shin-Matsuda Station, you can take the Fujikyu Konan Bus route. However, I recommend walking.
It’s an easy 15-20 mins walk from Shin-Matsuda Station (5 mins from JR Matsuda Station) to the foot of the hill. On the way, we passed through a small shopping street dotted with small stores selling fresh produce, and quaint little restaurants.
We stopped by an izakaya called Okada for lunch, which was serving delicious Japanese-style teishoku (set meal).
We ordered the Sakura Festival Special Set for 1500 yen each, which consisted of sashimi, kaki fry (deep-fried oysters), salad, miso soup, rice and assorted tsukemono (pickled vegetables). It was so satisfying that we mostly ate in silence, savouring each bite.
From the foot of the hill, an entry fee of 200 yen per person is collected. Children under 15 are free. You get a flowery postcard together with your ticket. It’s then another 10-15 minutes climb up to the main festival venue, but there are steps the whole way. Plus you can appreciate the gorgeous Kawazuzakura and nanohana lining the path.
What’s at the top?
At the top, or even during the climb, you can get a great view of Matsuda Town framed by Kawazu cherry blossoms. There are also a number of stalls selling street food, fresh produce (mandarins seem to be famous here), and even sakura-flavoured ice cream.
For kids, there’s a giant slide and the Furusato Tetsudo (ふるさと鉄道), a small novelty train that makes a short circuit around the top. Riding the train costs an additional fee. There’s also a Nature Museum (自然館), which holds hands-on workshops for kids and school groups, and a Children’s Museum (子どもの館) showcasing hanging doll decorations.
For flower enthusiasts, for an additional 300 yen you can enter the Aguri Park Sagayamaen ( あぐりパーク嵯峨山苑) where you can see the Nabana Festival. The garden is decorated with a mixture of nabana (nanohana), various types of cherry trees, and plum blossoms. For 500 yen, you can pick some nabana for yourself.
On weekends during the festival period, there are special performances by various groups. When we went on Saturday, the United States Army Japan Band were there performing a little jazz. The cherry blossoms are lighted up at night from 5pm-9pm only on weekends and public holidays.
On the way down, you can visit the Herb Museum and walk through the Herb Garden, although to be honest we didn’t see very many herbs growing. But then we don’t exactly have green thumbs, so maybe we just didn’t recognise them. Plus the wind was getting chilly up there, so we walked down fairly quickly.
Finally, we discovered that Nishihira Park is actually the start of a hiking route along which you can get great views of Mt. Fuji. Seeing as we just came to see the Kawazuzakura like most people, we didn’t embark on this climb and were content enjoying the flowers and gushing at the many cute dogs around.
For those longing for spring to arrive, the Matsuda Cherry Blossom Festival is well worth the quick trip outside Tokyo. This year, the Kawazuzakura had already reached full bloom on the weekend of the 22nd February, and by the time we went the following weekend, the trees were already sprouting green leaves. However, it is still winter so the wind is chilly even if the sun is shining. So make sure you bring a thick coat.
If you’re planning a visit in the future, you can check the state of blooming of the trees on Matsuda Town’s official website, which is updated regularly once the festival approaches. For now, we’re looking forward to the arrival of the main cherry blossom season!