Author: Sassy Eater.
“In the cherry blossom’s shade, there’s no such thing as a stranger” – Kobayashi Issa
Kyoto in Japan is the iconic tourist spot for its spring season in end of March to April. Not only tourists, but local visitors from all over Japan also flock to Kyoto to feast their eyes on the beautiful cherry blossoms (sakura). By train, by bus, and by plane they join the other tourists from all over the world who have flown in to catch this spectacular event. All over Kyoto is filled with trees bloom into cherry blossoms that line the city’s canals, hang low over ponds and transform gardens into blankets of fairy floss.
The words ‘hanami’ and ‘sakura’…. ‘flower viewing’ and ‘cherry blossom’… are on everyone’s lips. In Kyoto throughout March and April local people are always spreading the cherry blossom gossip. “Did you know the cherry blossoms in that temple are now in full bloom?” or “The cherry blossom buds along the river will come into flower soon?” Everyone is up-to-date on this sakura zensen (vying for freshness) or cherry blossom front as it slowly flowers across Kyoto.
The beauty of the cherry blossom is even poignant by the fleetingly short life of these delicate blooms. A puff of wind and they are gone in a moment. And for many people, it is the first and perhaps the only time in their lives they will see this gorgeous display of nature, and so it is utterly useful to read my review (based on a fair amount of research before going to Kyoto) to make the very best of this occasion.
For this Cherry Blossom Chasing Trip, we thought it would be more exciting to hire bicycles rather than taking bus or subway to the viewing spots. And it surely was! We stopped our bikes wherever we caught a glimpse of cherry blossom trees. It saved us from having to figure out public transport and it’s usually faster to get to places just by jumping on our bikes. Instead of taking the main roads, we took the smaller back streets. We passed lots of mini-temples and shrines, unique old houses, specialty shops and any other number of surprises that we wouldn’t see if we stuck to the beaten tourist path.
Countless people visit Kyoto to see the famous cherry blossoms that it was a tough job to compose decent photographs. No wonder, it usually took me more than 2-3 hours to snap lots and lots of pictures in each place we visited. (Thanks for my greatest supporter who patiently wait for me, you know who you are )
So here are the Cherry Blossom spots that I had a feast on, and I think worth visiting.
Die Die Must Go !!
You Should Go !
If you have more time, then Go.
1) Kyoto International Manga Museum
We passed by the Kyoto International Manga Museum on our way cycling to Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. It was opened in November of 2006. Browsing this massive collection of manga is one of the museum’s main attractions. A small section of the books is dedicated to foreign and translated manga, but the vast majority is in Japanese. The museum also focuses on both the adoption and development of manga internationally.
2) Kyoto Imperial Park (Kyoto Goen)
Our first immense acquaintance with cherry blossom was Kyoto Imperial Park. The park is located between Teramachi-dori and Karasuma-dori (to the east and west) and between Imadegawa-dori and Marutamachi-dori (to the north and south). It is an attractive park that encompasses the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) and a few other historic sites.
We cycled along the gravel paths of the 1300-meter-long-and-700-meter-wide-Kyoto Imperial Park, and along our journey we feasted our eyes on views of cherry blossom trees throughout the park, but the highlights were the Weeping Cherry Blossom trees (Shidareze-zakura) stood beside Konoe Pond in the park’s northwestern corner.
We joined lots of people doing Hanami around Konoe Pond. (For you who haven’t aware of what Hanami is, Hanami is an important Japanese custom, when locals break free of their conservative reputation and enjoy a picnic with friends and family under the cherry blossom trees).
3) Kamo River (Kamo-Gawa)
The next stop worth visiting is Kamo River, near to Kyoto Imperial Palace. The Kamo River is lined with cherry trees for much of its length. The trees south of Gojo-dori are often the earliest to bloom in the city. North of Imadegawa-dori, the river is lined with huge cherry trees.
There are pleasant pathways running alongside the riverbanks on which one can walk along the river, and near Shijo Bridge there are some stepping stones that cross the river. Kamo River is 23 kilometres long and the water level is usually relatively low, less than one meter in most places.
The cherry blossom trees near Gion Shijo Station, along the embankment of Kamo River were at their peak, every blossom on their branches appeared to be open.
4) Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen)
It is a public park next to Yasaka Shrine in the Higashiyama District. When the cherry trees are in full bloom, the park becomes the most popular and most crowded spot in Kyoto for cherry blossom viewing party. The centerpiece of the park is a tall Weeping Cherry Blossom tree (Shidare-zakura), which gets lit up in the night. Many food stands and temporarily constructed restaurants with tables under the trees are available.
With the whole city has gone a little sakura-mad, it’s not surprising that you can find any sakura-flavoured foods and drinks on the menu for a fleeting time only. Like the sakura-flavoured ice cream that I found!
5) The Path of Philosophy / Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-Michi)
It is a pedestrian path that runs along a canal near the base of the Higashi-yama, located between Ginkaku-ji Temple and Nanzenji temple. The small street begins next to Eikan-do Temple on the south end, and ends near the entrance to Ginkaku-ji on the north end. The path takes its name from one of its most famous strollers, 20th century philosopher Kishida Kitaro, who is said to have meandered along the path lost in thought.
The entire path is lined with cherry trees and they’re a beautiful sight when in bloom. Actually it’s only takes 30 minutes to complete the walk, but we spent more than one hour in the path, lost in the beauty of the cherry blossoms along the path.
The whole area was filled with people. A lot of them were posing for photos with the spring blossoms. It was quite crowded during the day, so we tried our luck by coming again on the next day on the evening. Even though the crowds had gone home and some of the trees were illuminated (only at the northern end, near Ginkaku-ji Temple), but we barely saw anything.
So in my opinion, it is still worth it to visit the Path of Philosophy during the day, and you could stop at several shops and cafes along the way, just like we did.
6) Heian Shrine, The National Museum of Modern Art, and Okazaki Canal
We were happened to pass by Heian Shrine when we were on our way cycling to Keage Incline. We got a striking view of an extensive gravel ground that leads into the giant vermillion torii gate (almost 25 meter high), in my vivid imagination it looked like an imperial entrance to the castle where all the warriors lined up to greet the emperor.
It is located in Okazaki area, opposite of the National Museum of Modern Art where I managed to capture the cherry blossoms glowed in the sunset light.
The Okazaki Canal which runs from the south to east side of Heian Shrine is known as a famous location for cherry blossoms. It connects the Lake Biwa canal network with Kamo river. Along the canal, there is a footpath, so you can look at the gorgeous lines of cherry blossom trees reflected on the surface of the water while enjoying a nice walk.
7) Keage Incline and Lake Biwa Canal
The Keage Incline is part of the Lake Biwa Canal and tunnel system that connects Kyoto with Lake Biwa on the other side of the mountains. The Keage Incline was used until the 1950s to transport boats between Okazaki Canal and the canals at a higher elevation. The stunning row of cherry trees along the track, which is visible to this day, represents one of Kyoto’s best places to view sakura.
8) Kiyomizu-Dera Temple
Kiyomizu-Dera Temple is just about everything a temple shouldn’t be, it’s noisy, crowded, and crassly commercial, but it somehow manages to transcend all of this to become one of Kyoto’s most worthwhile temple to visit. It’s about 10-minutes’ walk uphill from the Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka bus stops and you will see the brightly painted entrance gate and pagoda.
The main hall has a huge platform that is supported by pillars overlooking a valley with various pagoda and a brilliant view across the entire city. There are quite a few cherry trees planted around the large platform but the largest concentration of trees is located around the pond near the exit of the temple grounds. The evening light ups held here during cherry blossom season.
9) Shirakawa Minami-dori (Tatsumi-kyo) at Gion
Gion itself is Kyoto’s famous entertainment and geisha district on the eastern bank of the Kamo River. Gion falls roughly between Sanjo-dori and Gojo-dori (north and south, respectively) and Higashiojo-dori and Kawabata-dori (east and west, respectively).
The Shirakawa (White River) takes a meandering course through the heart of Gion. It connects Kawabata-dori with a flagstone street, Shinbashi-dori (properly known as Shirakawa Minami-dori). At the intersection of these two streets are the famous Tatsumi-Daimyojin Shrine and the Tatsumi-bashi Bridge. This area is usually so packed with pedestrians that cars don’t even attempt to fight their way through. It looks magical in cherry blossom season, and every evening the trees are lit and give a truly enchanting display.
The Cherry Blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It’s also a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that is also tragically short.
So enjoy every moment as it comes, feast your eyes and your soul on the Cherry Blossom season in Japan, and make the best out of it, every single time.