Cherry blossom season is a very special time in Japan. Culturally, cherry blossoms have been treasured for centuries and in the spring it is very common for people to travel to visit places famous for their blossoms.
One of those places is the Osaka Mint Bureau (造幣局, Zoheikyoku), famous for having a path near the Yodo River lined predominantly with yae-zakura (八重桜). Yae-zakura are double-flowered cherry trees (i.e. have more than five petals) and typically have a later blooming season than other cherry trees in mid to late April.
The cherry trees were originally transplanted from the Todo clan's residence to the Mint Bureau early in the Meiji Era. In 1883 the Director-General of the Mint Bureau at the time suggested that the viewing of the cherry blossoms should be shared with all of Osaka and the annual tradition of the Torinuke (通り抜け) was born. Torinuke means pass-through in Japanese and refers to the cherry-tree tunnel that visitors walk through to admire the lovely cherry blossoms.
Every year for only one week in April the Mint Bureau opens up its path for cherry blossom viewing and people flock there from all over Japan to take in the beautiful flowers. In April 2009 when I visited, the Mint Bureau was celebrating its 126th season with over 600,000 people enjoying the 348 cherry trees from 126 varieties.
The yae-zakura were gorgeous with very showy blossoms in shades of pink and white. It was quite spectacular to see all the trees in bloom.
In the photo on the right below is one of the few trees that I saw at the Mint Bureau that had blossoms with a single row of five petals.
Every year the Mint Bureau picks a blossom of the year. In 2009 when I visited the blossom of the year was the Hirano Nadeshiko (平野撫子) which has beautiful, large pink flowers. The name originates from the fact that the cherry tree is found in Hirano Shrine in Kyoto and the petals of the blossoms have a serrated edge that resembles a dianthus flower (Nadeshiko in Japanese).
I continued walking along the path, stopping to look at each unique tree, marvelling at the amazing cherry blossoms.
I should back up and mention at this point that when I had arrived at the Mint Bureau, I had a little trouble finding the entrance because I did not realize that you cannot go in the North Gate. As an American I am used to being able to walk around in any direction I would like, but in typical, efficient Japanese fashion you can only walk the path from south to north. To be honest, it was a madhouse full of throngs of people and the only thing that kept it reasonably sane was the fact that everyone was walking in the same direction.
After my experience, as I exited from the North Gate I couldn't help but take a picture of a little sign that read 「ここからは入れません。 南門へお回りださい。」which means "You cannot enter from here. Please go around to the South Gate." I loved how the sign was complete with a map directing you back around to the proper entrance.
Upon exiting the Mint Bureau, I headed toward a park path right on the river that was lined with yatai (屋台). Yatai (literally meaning "shop stands") are mobile food stands and are very popular at festivals or special events. An individual food stall will typically specialize in a particular food like okonomiyaki, ramen, takoyaki, etc.
I particularly like kushiyaki which are grilled skewers. I was pretty hungry from walking around all morning so I bought two chicken skewers (yakitori) from a little stand for a snack.
As I headed back over the Yodo River for some more sightseeing in Osaka, I had one last view looking back at the yatai stands lining the river with the Mint Bureau beyond.
Seeing the cherry blossoms at the Mint Bureau was really beautiful and I would definitely recommend it if you are in Japan on the week that it is open. Admission is for seeing the cherry blossoms is free. If you go keep in mind that you have to enter from the South Gate and that the Mint Museum is closed for the week of cherry blossom viewing.
The closest train stations, Temmabashi (Tanimachi Line on the subway), Osaka Tenmangu (Tozai Line) and Temmabashi (Keihan Railway), are all about 15 minutes walk from the Mint Bureau. For particulars about hours and which week in April the Mint Bureau will be open for cherry blossom viewing, please check the Osaka Mint Bureau website.