These days, everyone under the sun knows that the cherry blossoms are at their best in mid to late March. Alas, this timing doesn’t always work out for some travelers. Moreover, spring is extremely popular both with international tourists as well as domestic travelers. Thus, it can be crowded, prohibitively expensive and hard to find accommodations. Luckily though, you can experience Japan’s iconic flowers at times outside of the principle period if you know where to go. Today, we’ll be taking a look at someplace that is just one of these spots. Known as Nishihirabatake Park, this location is a great alternative for those taking their holidays during the wintertime.
If you’ve never heard of Nishihirabatake Park, know that even I didn’t know about it until rather recently. The location popped up in an Instagram reel or two that one of my flower-chasing female creator friends posted. Located on the western edge of Kanagawa Prefecture in the town of Matsuda, this hidden gem hosts an annual cherry blossom festival from mid February to early March. Normally, this would be too early to see any pink but Nishihirabatake Park is home to the Kawazu-zakura variant of the trees. These cherry blossoms bloom far earlier than the standard Somei Yoshino ones. Thanks to this, even those coming for skiing and snowboarding can still enjoy some cherry blossoms.
As if the majestic Kawazu-zakura trees weren’t enough, Nishihirabatake Park is also covered with Nanohana (rapeseed). As you’ll see in the images all throughout this article, this blankets the floor of Nishihirabatake Park with a vibrant yellow hue. When coupled with the backdrop of a beautiful blue sky and the lush pink of the Kawazu-zakura, the trio creates a stunning pallet that will leave your jaw on the floor. Moreover, Nishihirabatake Park also affords some killer views of Mt. Fuji as well. Seeing as the Kawazu-zakura bloom in late winter, there’s a high chance that you’ll not be cheated out of a view of Japan’s most famous mountain — something that occurs with too much frequency during the hotter months of the year.
All things considered, Nishihirabatake Park really is the ultimate seasonal allure. It’s close enough to central Tokyo to be done in a mere day trip. Unlike some other parks and places with Kawazu-zakura though, it also affords some of the best views of Mt. Fuji to be had in Kanagawa Prefecture. Heck, you even get to enjoy an additional harbinger of spring thanks to the yellow carpet of Nanohana flowers. Should your visit to Japan happen to fall within the window of late February to early March, you really ought to consider getting an early taste of spring by heading down to Nishihirabatake Park!
How to Get There
As alluded to before, Nishihirabatake Park is located in Kanagawa Prefecture’s town of Matsuda. Found just to the north of Odawara and Sagami Bay, this part of Japan isn’t really someplace that I could recommend during other times of the year. At best, it’s just a hamlet near the ever-popular Hakone. Once the Kawazu-zakura start to poke out of their buds though, Nishihirabatake Park suddenly beckons hordes of visitors who flock to the hilltop space to see the cherry blossoms. Especially during full bloom, you can expect to encounter many families with children in tow. At least when I was there on a weekend, there were also a lot of high school and junior high school students filming cherry blossom TikToks (like I was) too.
Compared to some of the more obscure locations that I’ve featured over the years, getting to Nishihirabatake Park is not too difficult. Those of you with JR Rail Passes can hop on one of the slower Kodama Shinkansen and ride it a few stops to Odawara Station. Should you not be making use of this handy travel hack though, you can also reach Odawara via the Tokaido Line. Once there, you’ll need to transfer to the Odakyu Line and take this to Shin-Matsuda Station. Note that this is but one of a few ways to get to Matsuda in the Ashigarakami District of Kanagawa so refer to Jorduan or a similar service for your specific optimal connections.
After arriving at Shin-Matsuda Station, you’ll need to make a choice. You can either take a bus (which is especially crowded on weekends) up to the higher echelons of the hilly Nishihirabatake Park or you can opt to hoof it. While I always walk when I can, it’s not too bad of a climb. Moreover, you’ll miss out on the lower portions of Nishihirabatake Park as you make your ascent. At the very least, I suggest that you, the reader, make either the trek there or back to the station on foot. This way, you can see all of the park before calling it quits for the day.
Note: Before you jump at the chance to see Matsuda’s cherry blossom festival, be sure to check the daily photo data published on Nishihirabatake Park’s official website. This way, you can confirm the status of the flowers before your visit. When I went on Feb 18, 2023, only around half of the buds on the trees were out. Now, I purposely made the choice to go early so that I could get this guide out for you guys but I’d hate for you to go all the way down to Matsuda only to see a barren hillside.
Cherry Blossoms & Much More
The real reason that one would come to Nishihirabatake Park is none other than the pretty pink Kawazu-zakura. At the same time though, there’s a lot more to this public space than just its cherry blossom festival that kicks off in the middle of February. In addition to checking out the spectacular combination of pink and yellow hues (don’t forget those Nanohana), there’s also a long list of fun activities and attractions to check out within the confines of Nishihirabatake Park.
- “The Slide”
When I originally discovered Matsuda, it was thanks to the slide seen above. Back in 2022, a few of my female creator friends made a trip out here and I ended up seeing one of their reels while browsing Instagram. What makes this amusement so appealing is that it passes right beneath the Kawazu-zakura, thus giving you a picturesque and up close glimpse of these pink pretties. Just be mindful that the slide is actually intended for children so don’t hog it while trying to get that photo for the Gram!
- Furusato Railway
This adorably useless railway runs throughout the upper sections of Nishihirabatake Park. Like with the slide, it was made for children but that doesn’t mean that adults can’t jump aboard and enjoy a ride. Prices will run you a few hundred yen but do note that the Furusato Railway is basically slower than your average person’s leisurely stroll. Because of this, you really only should consider it if you’re with the kiddos or are otherwise just doing it for the photo and/or the lulz…
- Matsuda Sky Swing
Speaking of things created just for Instagram, this swing is one of them. Made of a metal pink frame with cherry blossom petal motifs on top of it, this simple but pretty device affords unforgettable views of Mt. Fuji in the distance. What’s more, you’ll also be able to see some Kawazu-zakura from your perspective while on the swing as well which is the perfect accent to the snow-capped mountain. Just be sure not to hog it all to yourself as there will be a long line of Gram girls waiting behind you for their winter OOTD shot.
- Herb Garden
Found below the cylindrical Herb Hall spire, this is where the locals of Matsuda grow a collection of herbs and spices such as sage and lavender. Should you want to get your hands dirty, you can also partake in a herb experience where you can make crafts with the vegetation that you hand picked from the Herb Garden. Not particularly my cup of tea but definitely give the activity consideration if that’s your idea of fun.
There’s also a few other facilities out there as well that showcase the area’s natural habitats and whatnot but I didn’t opt to go in. Should you be traveling as a family, consider swinging by. That said though, these spots didn’t appear to be anything that I would say is a must visit…
Other Nearby Attractions
Unless you’re a fan of hiking and the rugged outdoors, there’s not much else to do in the Ashigarakami District of Kanagawa Prefecture. Thus, you’re going to need to head elsewhere to find something to do in this part of Japan. Thankfully though, you’re spoiled for choice. From JR’s Matsuda Station, you can take the Gotemba Line over to the Gotenba Premium Outlets. Here, you can shop your heart out and snag some amazingly discounted deals. What’s more, there’s even some hotels here with hot springs to soak in following a long day of cherry blossom viewing.
Should history be more of your shtick, I suggest you instead head down south on the Odakyu Line via Shin-Matsuda Station to Odawara. Located along Sagami Bay, this castle town is home to the closest medieval fortress to Tokyo. Seeing as you likely need to transit here anyway, making a stop in Odawara to see the castle combines very well with Matsuda’s Nishihirabatake Park. The structure is but a few minutes away from the station meaning that you can easily swing by before heading back to Tokyo or catching a bullet train further west.
Finally, know that Hakone is also not too far away. From what I saw on my way back from Matsuda, you’ll need to head to Odawara and then transfer to the Hakone Tozan Line but this should be easy enough for anyone who has done a bit of traveling in Japan before. Seeing as you only really need a half of a day for Nishihirabatake Park, you could even head up to Hakone for a bit and enjoy one of the hot springs that are nearby the station. Then, you could head back to Tokyo via Odakyu’s Limited Express Romancecar.
Until next time travelers…