Tokyo is still waiting for its sakura to start blooming, but Hirosaki Castle, in the frozen north, is already beautifully pink.

Every year in Japan, people watch the movement of the “sakura front,” as the cherry blossoms start blooming at one end of the country and spread towards the other. There’s a bit of envy seeing towns where the sakura have bloomed before yours, but also excitement since it’s a sign that soon the pink symbols of spring will be appearing in your community too.

For example, the cherry blossoms aren’t expected to start blooming in Tokyo for another month, but look at these beautiful photos of Hirosaki Park, one of Japan’s top hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) spots.

The park includes the grounds of Hirosaki Castle, and the rectangular moat is lined with sakura trees, which make for a beautiful, romantic walk, especially when they’re lit up at night.

But…wait. The sakura front starts in Japan’s southwest, where the weather is warmer, then moves to the cooler regions of the northeast. Hirosaki Park, though, is located in Hirosaki City, in Aomori Prefecture, and is almost 700 kilometers (435 miles) north of Tokyo.

▼ Tokyo (red) and Aomori (blue)

So how can Hirosaki Park have already gone through its pink transformation before the first sakura blossom has opened in Tokyo?

Because those aren’t sakura petals flittering through the air in some of these photos. They’re snowflakes.

As the northernmost prefecture on Japan’s main island of Honshu, Aomori gets pretty cold in the winter, and spends much of the season blanketed in snow. Overnight temperatures regularly dip down below freezing, which means any frost on the branches of the moatside sakura trees will be there all night long, and so the park illuminates the trees with pink lights, creating the effect of cherry blossoms blooming in winter.

The slushy surface of the moat reflects the sakura-colored light too, replicating the hanaikada “flower raft” phenomena of cherry blossoms floating on the water.

Hirosaki Park’s Winter Sakura illumination takes place nightly from 4 to 10 p.m., and will be going on until February 28. With the forecast calling for lows of -3 degrees Celsius (26.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday and an even chillier -4 degrees on Sunday, you’ll want to bundle up, and also make sure your camera or phone battery has a full charge.

Source @Press
Top image: @Press
Insert images: @Press, Wikipedia/NordNordWest (edited by SoraNews24)

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s always looking for a reason to visit another of Japan’s castles.