Today, I’d like to introduce you all to a cherry blossom spot that most overseas visitors to Japan have never even heard of. Referred to in Japanese as the Senbonzakura of Torayama (lit. “The 1,000 Cherry Blossom Trees of Mt. Tiger”), this hidden locale can be found up in the Chichibu district of Saitama Prefecture. Unlike with the Meguro River, which is again now unbearable, only those in the know are aware of the Senbonzakura of Torayama. What’s more, as you may be able to infer from the subtitle, the vast majority of these informed individuals are cosplayers!
Hold on a second — Besides the pretty, pink backdrop what does a secluded cherry blossom location have to do with cosplay? Well, to tell you the truth, all I know is that the Senbonzakura of Torayama are extremely popular with people who are looking to dress up as their favorite anime or video game characters. How this trend got its start is beyond me; I looked at a website or two on the internet but couldn’t find anything regarding its origin. My guess is that it is just one of those things in Japan that is a thing because it’s a thing?
Anyway, what makes the Senbonzakura of Torayama worth visiting during spring are its amazing cherry blossoms. Home to somewhere around 2,000 trees, this cosplayer-famous hill is entirely blanked in pink during the latter half of March and early April. Should you happen to be visiting Japan during the season for full bloom, I really suggest that you consider this lovely location. While it’s a bit of a challenge to get there, the journey is not something that anyone familiar with Japan’s public transportation system can’t easily manage.
Note that you need not be a cosplayer to enjoy the Senbonzakura of Torayama. When I visited, there were plenty of people on romantic dates with their partners as well as dozens of Japanese family groups too. Should you be interested in seeing a part of Japan that most overseas visitors don’t even know about, definitely consider getting away from the perennially popular spots in the inner cities and checking out the Senbonzakura of Torayama. Trust me when I say that it will live up to anyone’s expectations!
How to Get There
I’ll get into more details about the Senbonzakura of Torayama in the coming sections but let’s first pause as always to review some key logistics. As noted above, the cherry blossom-covered mountain is located up in Saitama’s Chichibu district. Found on the northern border of Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture, a visit to this part of Japan will require a number of steps. For most of you, you’ll likely first want to take the Tobu Tojo Line from Ikebukuro to Ogawamachi Station but there are also other means of skinning this proverbial cat.
In my case, I actually made my way down to the Senbonzakura of Torayama from Kumagaya. Found further up in Saitama, this part of the prefecture is also great for cherry blossoms. I’ll detail Kumagaya as well as a few more interesting add-ons down in the “Other Nearby Attractions” section of this article. For now though, I’ll assume that you’re going to be starting your outing first down in Tokyo for the purposes of this guide. As always though, refer to apps and websites like Jorudan to calculate the best route for you.
After taking the Tobu Tojo Line to Ogawamachi Station, you’ll need to exit the station and wait for a local bus (there’s a circular ring of a number of boarding points directly outside of the station). This comparatively small vehicle will take you past Washi-no-Sato to the foot of the mountain on which you’ll find the beautiful Senbonzakura of Torayama. That said, you’d be wise to get there early. At least when I made my trip, the bus ride there was about as packed as one of those circus clown cars.
The bus will let you off a few minutes away from the Senbonzakura of Torayama. Thereafter, you’ll need to walk up the road a bit towards where the entrance to the hill can be found. Luckily, the pretty pink blossoms stand out like a sore thumb so this is not at all challenging. To enter the mountain, you’ll need to make a small donation of 100 yen. Since there is no staff to collect this fare from you, you’ll instead want to put it into the small box at the base of the incline.
By the way, know that a rental car is also an option but you should expect a ton of traffic during March and April. What’s more, the entrance to the parking lot at the base of the mountain often has a scarily long line of cars that extended a few minutes walk up the road. Unless you’re a pro photographer with bags and bags of gear and other miscellaneous items that you need to carry around, I’d instead just recommend making use of public transportation.
Cherry Blossoms & Saitama Prefecture
All things considered, there isn’t really much to do at the Senbonzakura of Torayama insomuch as “activities” are concerned nor are there any shrines or temples. Instead, the pink-hued mountain is a place that you enjoy at leisure (well, at least assuming that you’re not a cosplayer trying to get that photo for the Gram). Across the entirety of the hillside, you’ll find a number of paths that snake in between the cherry blossoms. These add a variety of different vantage points to enjoy as you meander about the mountain.
On that note, I’d like to quickly point out that while the Senbonzakura of Torayama does indeed translate to “The 1,000 Cherry Blossom Trees of Mt. Tiger,” this slope is less mountain and more hill. Thus, the summit can be reached easily by people of any fitness level. I think it took me around an hour to get to the top when I hiked it but do know that I was taking my sweet time while also snapping a couple of photos along the way. You could do it much quicker if you wanted but that would ruin the point of coming here in the first place.
One thing to keep an eye on is the weather. I’ve read online that due to the mountainous turf getting wet and muddy, they don’t actually open the Senbonzakura of Torayama to the public on rainy days. While this is a real pity, there’s not much that can be done about it so instead consider an alternative back in the city. Despite still getting drenched, popular sites such as Yoyogi Park and Chidorigafuchi will always be open, even during a torrential downpour.
Cosplaying in this Chichibu District
While the Senbonzakura of Torayama do indeed welcome all categories of people, it is considered something of a holy land to cosplayers during the spring. How the mountain got its start as a Mecca for cosplayers is beyond me but if anyone does know, be sure to reach out as I’d love to rectify this article with the actual historical data. One thing I can say though is that as I walked around the Senbonzakura of Torayama, I saw countless cosplayers with their many-device-wielding cameramen partners.
Now, seeing as this is an article aimed at international visitors to Japan, I should take a moment to reiterate some guidelines about taking photos of strangers in Japan. Essentially, this country has some pretty strict privacy rules so it’s best not to snap any shots of the cosplayers without permission. Yes, they do have some insanely cute costumes. No, that doesn’t give you the right to click that shutter button without asking. Please don’t be the kind of ignorant tourist who blatantly breaks the rules!
Instead of acting like a paparazzi while on the path to the summit, why not use it as a chance to connect with locals and ask if you really like their cosplay? While you might not be lucky and get a free photo (after all, cosplaying is often a full time gig for many or at the very least, a passionate side hustle), it’s the respectful thing to do during your climb. Especially if you ask nicely and complement their hard work, they may very well accept your request!
Should you be a cosplayer yourself, take this article as a sign that you need to add the Senbonzakura of Torayama to your bucket list. In addition to providing the perfect backdrop for your next set of photos with its cherry blossoms, the Senbonzakura of Torayama also has ample facilities for changing and storing your stuff (just don’t lose your baggage tags). You’ll find these down at the entrance by the parking lot.
Since I am not a cosplayer myself, I cannot comment if they are free of charge or not but It can’t be much if there is actually a fee. At the very least, it beats having to haul around an extra change of clothes while doing your Senbonzakura of Torayama photoshoot…
Other Nearby Attractions
If you’re going to go all the way up to the northern parts of Saitama for the Senbonzakura of Torayama, you really ought to make the most of your journey and visit a few more of the allures on offer. As noted in the opening sections, I actually began my adventure up in Saitama for the breathtaking Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi (seen above). Found along the banks of one of the most important rivers in the Kanto region, the Arakawa, the Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi is a many kilometer-long strip of cherry blossoms that are perfectly contrasted by yellow nanohana.
All things considered, Kumagaya is close but not as conveniently placed on the path back to Tokyo as I’d like. Luckily though, it is easy enough to instead make a detour and check out Chichibu. In addition to its amazing collection of shrines and temples, this part of Saitama also has some amazing scenery for cherry blossoms. Seeing as I’ve covered Chichibu and the neighboring town of Nagatoro before, I’ll simply send you over to my prior work as I put a lot of effort into those articles and they could use the additional traffic.
When I made an excursion to the Senbonzakura of Torayama, I ended up going back to Tokyo via Chichibu. I first took the return bus to Ogawamachi Station where I took JR’s Hachiko Line over to Yorii Station. From there, I transferred to the Chichibu Railway, getting off at Ohanabatake Station. From there, I walked over to Hitsujiyama Park. Here, I was treated to a brilliant view of Mt. Buko set against a carpet of Shibazakura (phlox pink moss). When accented with a few cherry blossom trees, this created a spectacle worthy of any photographer.
Before ending this article, know that the Shibazakura at Hitsujiyama Park is typically around until the end of April. Thus, the month is one of the best time of the year to visit Chichibu. Even if you come to Japan too late to see the cherry blossoms at the Senbonzakura of Torayama, you can still always swing by Chichibu for the equally amazing Shibazakura. At least prior to the pandemic, they used to always have an annual celebration so consider adding it to your itinerary should the timing work out for you.
Until next time travelers…