Cherry Blossoms will Bloom: Miharu, Fukushima *RERUN
The town of Miharu in Fukushima Prefecture, eastern Japan, is renowned for its cherry blossoms. Once the long winter has passed and the cherry blossoms bloom, many tourists come to visit the usually quiet countryside. The main tourist attraction is a tree designated as a national natural monument, the "Takizakura," meaning Waterfall Cherry Tree. There are more than 10,000 cherry trees all around the town.

Takizakura, The Waterfall Cherry Tree

Takizakura, which means Waterfall Cherry Tree, is a huge weeping cherry tree, one of the nation's three largest cherry trees. It's said to be over a thousand years old. The tree was actually named after the district, but it's an appropriate name for the tree and its flowing branches. Its trunk has a circumference of 11 meters, and the roots are said to spread for 100 square meters. Local people put their hearts into taking care of it.

The Hyottoko Dance Brings Fortune

Local people used to hold parties under the blossoms of the Waterfall Cherry Tree. An important part of the entertainment was the Hyottoko Dance, which involves dancers wearing masks with comical expressions. It was originally part of the New Year's ceremonies in Miharu. The Hyottoko dancer puckers his lips and plays the flute to summon the gods. Many residents of the area are still being forced to live in temporary housing in Miharu after the nuclear power plant was damaged in the 2011 disaster. Praying for an early return home, they dance the Hyottoko under the cherry trees.

The Guardian of the Village: O-Ningyo-sama

Alongside the road leading to the neighboring town, a huge doll-shaped figure looks down from the hills. Carrying a sword and glaring, this deity is called O-Ningyo-sama, which means venerable doll. The soils around Miharu are not very fertile and famine was a frequent problem. O-Ningyo-sama is said to have protected the village from starvation and disease. Every year in April, the figures have to be re-dressed with rice stalks from the previous year's harvest and green cedar leaves.