Kumamoto Prefecture is home to plenty of famous cherry blossom viewing spots. However, of all these famous cherry blossom spots, if the question was asked, “Which cherry blossoms most represent Kumamoto?” the answer would undoubtedly be, “The cherry blossoms at Kumamoto Castle.”
One of Japan’s three most famous castles, Kumamoto Castle is the symbol of the castle town of Kumamoto. In addition to the iconic castle itself, its turrets, stone walls, samurai residences, and gardens entertain visitors with its versatile scenery. About 800 cherry trees are planted on the grounds, and every spring, this scenery, which has been passed down since the samurai era, is covered in pale pink. In particular, the avenue of cherry blossom trees in the area known as the Miyukizaka slope, one of the entrances to the castle, has long been appreciated by Kumamoto residents as a classic scene that represents the spring of Kumamoto.
In 2016, a major earthquake struck Kumamoto on April 14, just after the peak of cherry blossom season. The earthquake, which recorded the highest seismic intensity of 7 on the Japanese scale, caused severe damage all over Kumamoto. In the five years since, recovery from the earthquake has made steady progress. Many people have regained their original ways of life and the city has returned to its vibrant, pre-earthquake state. Kumamoto Castle is expected to be completely restored to its pre-earthquake appearance around 2037 due to its high historical value and the extensive damage—however, on a more positive note, restoration of the Tenshukaku castle tower, which has been prioritized, will be completed shortly. By spring 2021, it seems that visitors once again will be able to tour the inside of the castle tower.
Ever since the earthquake, Kumamoto Castle has been a symbol of reconstruction and has lifted the spirits of the locals. The sight of the castle, damaged but still standing, has encouraged many people. Perhaps it’s due to the cherry blossoms blooming in such a place, but when you see the cherry blossoms at Kumamoto Castle, you cannot help but feel something special. Even if they bloom in the same way every year, the cherry blossoms of Kumamoto Castle show various expressions, depending on the times. After the earthquake, the signs that usually herald the arrival of spring changed into encouraging scenes; the cherry blossoms now seem to celebrate the castle’s reconstruction.
The cherry blossoms of Kumamoto Castle are sure to look beautiful again this year. The number of visitors may not be as high as usual, and how we enjoy cherry blossoms may even change in the future. However, in a world transformed by the coronavirus, we can hope that the story of the cherry blossoms of Kumamoto Castle and how they continue to bloom, offering us encouragement, will reach the hearts of many.