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Slow travels in Japan: Hidden sakura gems along the JR Fukuchiyama Line

Slow travels in Japan: Hidden sakura gems along the JR Fukuchiyama Line

During my 2 years of living and working in Sanda City (三田市) in Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県), I relied on the JR Fukuchiyama Line (福知山線) as the main transportation artery bringing me to the nearest big cities, like Kobe and Osaka where I could transfer trains heading to the neighbouring prefectures, namely Wakayama, Kyoto and Mie, for travels over the weekend. 

 

I would travel to big cities where the recommended cherry blossom viewing spots were, go to where the exciting hanami (花見 flower viewing) parties and festivals were happening, just to soak in the ephemeral cherry blossom season. Spring heralds a new beginning, and people make time to gather for picnics under the sakura trees with snacks and booze.

 

But when the pandemic struck, and people chose to retreat indoors, I started exploring places closer to home in the suburbs, where I uncovered hidden sakura gems along the way.

 

Stop 1: Sanda Station (三田駅)

Mukogawa, 15 minutes away on foot 

Colours of Spring: Rapeseed flowers and cherry blossoms. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

My favourite sakura spot has got to be this one along Mukogawa (武庫川 Muko River) that runs from Tamba through Sanda and then further down to the Osaka Metropolitan Area. It’s where I often go for a stroll after work in the evenings, and a photographer’s heaven when sakura are in full bloom. 

 

Golden hour. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

The sun sets right in front of this row of cherry blossom trees, so just imagine how much they would glow during the golden hour! I would often see people cycling past, stopping to admire the blossoms, and taking pictures of them to capture the fleeting moments of these flowers. 

 

Can never get enough of such evening strolls along Muko River. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

From here, I can walk to Shin-Sanda Station, where even more sakura trees stand in waiting. 

 

Stop 2: Shin-Sanda Station (新三田駅)

Mukogawa, 10 minutes away on foot 

Muko River (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

As compared to many other flowers, the viewing window of the sakuras is extremely narrow. It can be as long as two weeks or as short as four to five days, depending on the weather conditions. This makes the presence of these flowers all the more precious.

 

Once the blossoms are past their prime, the flowers become more fragile and their petals are found scattered beautifully in the rivers. It’s a sight to behold—one that I will never grow tired of.

 

I especially love to see how the sakura petals flutter in the breeze when the wind blows gently. It looks as though it is “snowing” petals. The Japanese call this phenomenon, hanafubuki (花吹雪).

 

Hello, Spring! (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

But I have to admit that I prefer looking at the flower buds instead of them at full bloom, simply because the process of waiting allows me to appreciate their stages of growth leading up to the eventual blossom.

 

The 4 different varieties of cherry blossoms along Muko River. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

I have also come to learn that there are several kinds of sakura after taking a much closer look at each one and their features. There are the weeping blossoms (しだれ桜 shidare zakura), multi-layered cherry blossoms with more than five petals (八重桜 yae zakura) and the most commonly seen ones, the Somei Yoshino cherry trees (染井吉野桜 somei yoshino zakura). 

 

There is also a variety known as kawazu zakura (河津桜) that flowers earlier than the others—reaching full bloom in late February or early March.

 

Stop 3: Kusano Station (草野駅) and Aimoto Station (藍本駅)

10-15 minutes away on foot 

Spring in watercolours. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

While travelling on the JR Fukuchiyama Line one day, I was greeted with passing scenes of sakura trees in Kusano and Aimoto, when I knew that I needed to make a photo stop that weekend. 

 

To be honest, there’s nothing much to do there. They are passenger stations in the countryside, and few commuters board or alight at this station daily since people living in Kusano and Aimoto probably get around by car. They are stopover suburban towns en route to bigger cities like Takarazuka, Amagasaki, and Itami before arriving in Osaka. 

 

But they had these hidden gems of sakura trees that lined the landscape. There was no one in sight except for farmers tending to their land. 

 

I stumbled upon a garden of weeping blossoms atop a hill and spent some time there admiring its beauty.

 

Almost the end of the sakura season. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

It always saddens me a little when I see that the leaves are starting to emerge because it means the sakura season is coming to an end. Soon after, the cherry blossom trees will look just like other trees apart from their distinctive barks with horizontal lines running across it.

 

But like with every passing season and phase of life, I take comfort in knowing that the flowers will bloom again. 

 

Header image credit: Qiu Ting

 

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