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The Story of the Shibazakura Park

 

Takinoue’s shibazakura park is one of the most famous in Japan, and people come from all over to see it. The creation of the park began back in the Taisho era, with Takinoue’s aspirations to be known as the most flowered city of Japan.

 

The origins of the park started with a horse shoe maker named Kataoka Heiji. He was originally from Kochi-ken, but with the development happening in Hokkaido he decided to move to Takinoue with his wife. He was initially worried about the move to Hokkaido, but his wife had a fondness for the flowers of Hokkaido. She thought it was a beautiful area, and was looking forward to moving there. So, he agreed to come for her sake, and they moved to Takinoue in the 1920s. With their move, their shared dream of making Takinoue the most famous location for flowers in Japan also was created.

When they arrived, Kataoka intially continued his work with horse shoeing. He and his wife noticed the bad smell of the horse shoeing area, and they decided to plant flowers to mask the smell of it. His wife began to tend to the flowers there, and they often talked about them.

It was in 1919 that the development of what is now the shibazakura park started. In 1922, the townspeople of Takinoue purchased 1,000 sakura trees and planted them on the hillside. Takinoue started to become famous as a sakura-viewing place in Hokkaido. During this time, Kataoka became the caretaker of the sakura trees and the park, a job he took very seriously.

However, in 1938 Kataoka’s wife died. He felt like he hadn’t kept his promise to her about making Takinoue famous Japan-wide for the beautify of its flowers. He was very depressed, and struggled with it until the start of World War 2, during which time he was unable to care for the trees in the park. When the war was finished, Kataoka resumed his care of Takinoue’s flower park. In 1950 Takinoue began to hold an annual sakura festival, and people were coming from far and wide to view the blooming flowers.

There were soon two setbacks that occurred in that time. The first was an abnormally large gypsy moth infestation. They ate many of the plants and trees in Takinoue at that time, and the problem was so serious that soon the town resorted to burning trees in order to kill the moths. With the fires and burning insects, Takinoue began to lose some of its appeal as a fragrant-flower town. During this time is when Asakura Yoshie, another man from Kochi-prefecture, began to work with Kataoka. Together, with Asakura working with the local and Hokkaido goverment, they decided to renew Takinoue’s dream of becoming a flower-town.

 

In 1954, though, there came the second problem. A terrible typhoon, called the Toyamaru typhoon, hit Hokkaido. This typhoon caused island-wide destruction, and in Takinoue it knocked over about half of the sakura trees in the park. With this, Kataoka and Asakura decided to cease trying to raise sakura trees. They were both discouraged by their setbacks, but when Kataoka thought about his wife he decided to give it another go, and convinced Asakura to keep trying.

During 1956 Kataoka was out and noticed small pink flowers in a nearby garden. He was struck by how vibrant their color was and their beautiful fragrance, and decided that this was how Takinoue would take its place as flower-capital of Japan. Kataoka gathered up wooden orange-box of the flowers, and took them to Asakura to show him what he had found. The flowers couldn’t be killed by the insects or typhoons, so they decided to try it out.

Around this time, Asakura decided to run for mayor of Takinoue and announced his candidacy. Kataoka told Asakura that he would support Asakura in his election if, in return, Asakura would pledge to help him with his creation of Takinoue as a flower-city. Asakura agreed, and went on to win the election and become mayor of Takinoue. He immediately started development on the shibazakura park.

 

From 1959-1966 Takinoue expanded the area of its park by 5 hectares every year. By this point, Kataoka was getting older, and he died in 1968. Asakura and the townspeople of Takinoue carried on the spirit of Kataoka Heiji by continuing to expand the Takinoue Shibazakura Park, and it eventually reached 7-times the original size. Now, Takinoue has the most vibrantly pink flower garden in all of Japan.

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Sapporo/Asahikawa to Takinoue Express Bus Special

Hello everyone!

Today I received information about a bus special that makes it easy to visit Takinoue from Sapporo or Asahikawa! It’s a special limited-time deal that runs from May 7th-June 5th, and includes round-trip bus fare and admission to the Takinoue Shibazakura Park. If you are planning a trip to visit Takinoue this spring, take a look! The 3rd and 4th pages of the document are in English too, so it’s very helpful!

Takinoue Moss-Phlox Viewing Express Bus Information

Spring is coming!

Monday was the first official day of spring, and Takinoue is really starting to show some headway in that direction. It’s still chilly, but for almost a week every day has been above zero- even though we got a little dusting of snow last night. Spring always takes a long time to settle in and for all of the snow to melt, but for now I’ve just been enjoying the (slightly) warmer weather and blue skies.

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I took the time to take a walk around, soak up the sun, and check out the Shokotsu river. This is one of the bigger waterfalls in town; in the summer, the spray reaches all the way to where I was standing to take this picture. The river is starting to thaw, and the waterfall is starting to flow again!

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This view is visible just down the road from my house, standing on the bridge near one of the local hotels. I love coming here and seeing how the seasons change; it’s gorgeous year-round. I feel really energized with the weather creeping warmer; the winter was wonderful, but I’m ready for spring!

Nighter at Sakuragaoka

Last night I hit the jackpot- during the day we had a little bit of snow, just enough to coat everything in a couple of centimeters of the super-fluffy stuff. It was very beautiful, but also a welcome change from the past week- it’s been very warm, and as a result everywhere the snow accumulated and hadn’t yet melted was solid ice. So, skiing for the past week hasn’t been a ton of fun.

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Sorry the bad quality pic- my iphone just wasn’t up to the challenge

But! Last night was awesome! The snow was dry and soft, it wasn’t bitterly cold, almost no wind. And, somehow, I managed to be the only person on the ski hill for almost the entire time I was there, so I got to goof off and use the entire hill. I even took some time to just stand there and look at our little town, and enjoy how quiet and peaceful it was.

The season is winding down, and soon spring will be here to stay- but for now, it’s nice to still squeeze in these little quiet moments.

Sakuragaoka Ski Hill

Sorry for the long break in posting; I’ve been busy with one of my favorite things to do in winter. I’ve been making a lot of visits to here- Takinoue’s local ski hill!

Sakuragaoka is located within Takinoue, and is only 5 minutes from my house. I have been going there almost every night to work on my skiing skills. Being from Texas, I had never actually practiced skiing before moving to Hokkaido, and I’m really lucky to live so close to a decent hill! With how much snow Takinoue generally gets every year, it usually has really great snow conditions, and I hope I will be able to ski well into March here.

It has 3 runs, and they range in level of difficulty. The course under the lift, the dynamic course, was super difficult for me when I first started skiing, but now I can do it (kind of). The other hills have gentler slopes.

Besides this, Sakuragaoka is really cheap to ski at- a day ticket is only 1,500 yen (15$) and a night ticket is 500 yen ($5). I actually ended up getting a season pass- which was 15,000 yen, which is around 150 American dollars. This is so cheap, especially compared to skiing in any of the popular America areas! I’m really lucky that this is an opportunity for me.

New Years Celebrations in Takinoue

New Years is one of the most important holidays in Japan. It’s a time when family gathers to spend the season together, and there are a lot of traditions that go into New Years celebrations.

For my New Years, I did many things! I spent the first part of the night eating osechi-ryouri with some friends and my sister, who was visiting from America. Osechi is a traditional Japanese meal for New Years. They spend several days eating osechi, which consists of many small dishes, like kamaboko (fish cakes), kuro-mame (sweet black beans), ebi (shrimp), datemaki (sweet omelettes with fish paste), and many other foods. Every food has meaning and symbolizes a wish for the upcoming year.

 

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Elaborate osechi-ryouri! It was delicious!

 

As midnight approached, I went to the temple with many other people. It was very cold, but we all  bundled up and gathered. During the summer, I can hear the temple bell ring from my house every morning, but I had never been to the temple at night before. There, we rang the temple bell 108 times. Each ring of the bell symbolizes one of the earthly desires of Buddhism, and it’s rung to leave them behind in the new year.

This year, when the bell ringing was finished, I… went to bed! But not before being invited to the local monk’s house (in typical Takinoue fashion), where we had some sake and chatted in the early hours of the  New Year.

 

The next morning, my sister and I went to Takinoue’s shrine for hatsumode, the first visit to the shrine of the year. Many people go right at midnight, but we were both tired from our travel and late night before. Takinoue’s shrine is really beautiful; it is set on a hill overlooking the town, across from the shibazakura hill. In winter, you have a lovely view of the town and river, covered in snow.

 

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This is the view from the shrine. It’s so beautiful in winter!

We went early, so it was still very quiet at the shrine. We only saw one other family there. My sister and I paid our respects to the shrine, and then get our omikuji, or our fortunes for the year. Omikuji  have a lot of detail and talk about things like your work life, travel, love, illness, your wishes, lost things… it goes on! It also gives you a general indication of your luck for the future. The best is dai-kichi, or “great blessing,” and the very worst is dai-kyo, or “great curse.” I’ve never seen dai-kyo though!

 

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My fortune for the year

 

I ended up drawing chu-kichi, middle luck! My sister, however, got dai-kichi; so hopefully she will have a very lucky year- and I’ll at least have a middle-lucky year!