In Japan, cherry blossoms and fall leaf viewings are very popular activities in the spring and fall respectively. However, did you know that you can do both at once? Obara, Toyota in Aichi, is home to the ‘shikizakura’ or four season cherry blossoms. These sakura bloom twice a year, once in March and again in early November. There are over 10,000 sakura trees, including the Maehora Shikizakura, a designated natural monument that is over 100 years old. The fall is the best time to view these flowers because there are a greater number of blossoms, though, of course, the real draw is seeing the sakura blooming amongst the momiji (maple leaves). The sight of the pink sakura mixed with the red maple leaves is certainly a striking, beautiful combination.
There are numerous spots in Obara where you can find the shikizakura. The main area is Fureai Park (小原ふれあい公園). There are numerous food stalls (be sure to sample the Goheimochi) as well as a stage for performances and, of course, a park where you can walk around and leisurely explore the flowers. Unlike many parks in Japan, there is not much space to picnic beneath the flowers but there are benches where you can pause to sit and admire the beautiful blossoms.
However, Kawami Shikisakura no Sato (川見四季桜の里) was my personal favorite spot. There are over 1000 sakura trees in the hills and, an admittedly steep, but short climb up the stairs will take you to a small shrine. There are also numerous walking paths through the mountain as well as a flatter and shorter path along the river. While there are a few food stalls, it is generally much quieter than Fureai park and doesn’t quite have the festival feel. However, there are far more blossoms and it is generally more scenic, which makes it a must see.
Another highlight is the Washi no Furusato or the Obara Paper Art Museum as it’s called in English. While the blossoms there were the least impressive, there is a small washi, or Japanese paper, museum. Although the museum is small and easily explored in under half an hour, it is well worth the 200 yen entrance fee. I went in with very few expectations, but I was taken aback by the gorgeous pieces, ranging from abstract to more traditional Japanese motifs. If you have an interest in Japanese paper, you can also try making your own handicrafts at the workshop. Each activity takes roughly 80 minutes and prices start at 1000 yen. If you prefer others’ handiwork, there is a small gift shop as well.
For nature lovers, Obara is a must see. The unique chance to enjoy both cherry blossoms and fall leaves together is one worth taking. While I have been to many cherry blossom viewing festivals and seen plenty of fall leaves during my stay in Japan, Obara remains one of the most memorable places I’ve seen. The pink set against the bright red is absolutely a wonderful sight to behold. The festival is held throughout the entire month of November though peak bloom is mid to late November. Obara is best accessed by car and there is ample parking at all spots, generally for a fee of around 500 yen. For those without, the Toyota Oiden bus will get you there in around an hour from Toyotashi station (45 minutes from Nagoya on the Tsurumai line). Starting from the 14th, a free shuttle bus operates between the sites on weekends and holidays.
For more information, you can check the official website for shikizakura in English The Japanese version of the site also includes a page where you can see recent photos to help you pick the best time to visit.