Sakura or the cherry blossom is a natural and cultural spectacle in Japan. Typically in mid-March or early April, the numerous cherry trees in Japan blossom to life. The city of Kyoto turns into pink fantasy land as tourists gather under the blossoming trees to sip on some wine and enjoy with friends or family. Naturally, there are many picturesque locations throughout Kyoto that make for delightful viewing. Some shrines are illuminated at night and come alive with buzzing stalls and visitors. There are many varieties of cherry trees, some even centuries-old. The timing of these blossoms usually varies across the country. In Kyoto, it’s early April when the trees go into full bloom. This compilation shows the best spots in Kyoto, Japan to view cherry blossoms.
1. Nijo Castle
Nijo Castle is a major tourist spot in Kyoto which attracts a large number of visitors during the full bloom in April. The blossoms are celebrated with an extravaganza of cultural events, local food, performances and art displays on the castle. During the season, this imperial castle comes to life with the traditional Japanese art ‘Noh’. The entire castle lights up with the art as guests take up spots to witness the blossom in all its glory. After enjoying the cherry blossom, one can settle down in the castle’s garden and relish the evening’s performances on stage along with delicious local food and drinks. This spot serves as a great destination to witness a fusion of nature and traditional celebrations.
2. Philosopher's Path
The Philosopher’s Path or Philosopher’s Walk is an other-worldly stroll on a stone path among hundreds of cherry trees. It is located in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district and is one of the most popular destinations for cherry-blossom viewing. The 2 km (1.24 miles) long path gets its name from one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, Nishida Kitaro. This was his daily choice of practicing meditation en route to Kyoto University. The historic path follows a small, winding canal lined on either side by beautiful cherry trees. Come April, these trees explode with color. There are small temples along the path that makes for a fantastic detour. The walk is refreshing with stunning cherry-blossoms all around and provides a great insight into the Japanese culture.
3. Heian Jingu Shrine
Heian Jingu is a magical Shinto shrine in Kyoto and a great spot to view cherry blossoms. The trees here give to full bloom typically a week after the rest of the city. Therefore it makes a great viewing destination for those who might have missed it in other parts. The bright orange shrine built on a lake makes for a peaceful and serene experience in itself. One can find a quiet spot under the cherry trees to enjoy an afternoon picnic with friends or family. Enjoying the lake-view while sipping on matcha tea is another great way to appreciate the pristine beauty of this shrine. A visit to Heian shrine is a must even if you have visited other popular cherry-blossom viewing spots in the city.
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4. Kiyomizu-Dera Temple
If you are in Kyoto to view the cherry blossoms, you must spare time for the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple. The centuries-old temple stands as a testament to ancient Japanese tradition and art. The ascent to the temple is a steep and winding walk. The narrow lanes teem with curious tourists at the many restaurants, souvenir shops, tea rooms, and art dealerships. At night, special lights illuminate the temple to complement the trees in full bloom. It’s a dazzling sight that you won’t believe unless you visit. Culture enthusiasts are spoilt for choices among a selection of silk fans, incense, dolls, hanging screens, antiques, and Kiyomizu-yaki porcelain. On breaks, tourists can treat themselves to unique treats like green tea-flavored ice cream and daikon pickles. Another sight of interest is the famous waterfall from which Kiyomizu-Dera takes its name. Considered one of the 10 most famous pure water sites in Japan, the drinker is believed to be forever blessed with good health and fortune.
5. Maruyama Park
Spread over a sprawling area in Kyoto, the Maruyama Park is home to nearly 700 varieties of cherry blossom trees. The most visited spot is the base of the iconic weeping cherry tree. It is almost 40 feet (12 meters) tall, 80 years old and stands as a gigantic symbol of the festive season in Japan. During the full blossom which is usually mid-March to early April, the park is full with small stalls, seats, and tables for visitors to enjoy the sights. The entire park gets fully illuminated in the night and night-viewing is open till late to accommodate the tourists. The park is easily accessible by bus from the Kyoto station or a short 10 minutes’ walk from the Gion-shijo railway station.
6. Kamo Shrine
The Kamo Shrines, Shimogamo, and Kamigamo are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a very popular tourist destination for cherry blossom-viewing. The Shimogamo Shrine is built at the junction of the Takano and Kamo rivers. It houses trees up to 600 years old. Every spring, the ancient celebrations continue as thousands of tourists flock to see the cherry blossoms. Hundreds of trees line alongside the river and make for a grand spectacle as they come to full bloom. The Shimogamo shrine is at a 15 minutes’ walk from the Demachi-Yanagi station. The Kamigamo shrine is located upriver from the Shimogamo shrine and can be reached in 30 minutes in a Kyoto city bus. The entry to both the shrines is free.
7. Kyoto Gyoen
Built around the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the Kyoto Gyoen is a sprawling garden with ancient trees. The large park houses about 50,000 trees out of which over a thousand are cherry trees. Graceful weeping cherry trees line up the northern side of the garden and spring to life in April. Owing to its vast spread, the park is very popular among runners, walkers, nature enthusiasts and romantic couples. Wide boulevards and narrow pathways criss-cross the parks with ample seating area for visitors to enjoy a drink and take in the spectacular blossom sights. The Kyoto Gyoen is a must visit in April and also worthy of a tour through the rest of the year.
8. Takase River
The Takase River is an artificial river which was once used for transporting rice and sake from Kyoto to the south. At present, it makes for a great viewing spot for the cherry blossoms and an idyllic spot to spend a couple of days in Kyoto. Many restaurants and cafes run alongside the river. While the river is serene and peaceful in the morning, it comes to life at night as the light from various restaurants reflects off the surface. During the peak season of cherry blossoms, one can just sit by the glistening river and marvel at the sights. The cherry trees loom large over the river and come to full bloom typically in early April.
9. Toji Temple
Another famed world heritage site, the Toji Temple, is also known as Kyoogokokuji temple. Tourists flock to Toji Temple for a picture-perfect view of the five-story pagoda with the cherry blossoms. After sundown, the entire temple lights up as do the blossoms, making for a breathtaking sight. Toji Temple is most famous for the 130-year-old cherry blossom tree, the Fuji-zakura. The blossoms start usually in mid-March and continue until mid-April, giving visitors enough time to visit other spots in Kyoto. The temple is located at a 15 minutes’ walk southwest of Kyoto station. It can also be reached after a five minutes’ walk from Toji station. The entry is free for all.
10. Hirano Shrine
The Hirano Shrine is a popular tourist destination in Kyoto and has long been a favored destination for celebrating the cherry blossom festival. The celebrations begin in the morning with a ceremony at the mausoleum of Emperor Kazan. It is followed by a procession through the neighborhood. It is at night that the shrine truly comes to life. A brilliant spectacle unfolds as the cherry trees are illuminated with light. The streets outside the shrine are lively with stalls of Yatai food, live music performances and tourists gathering at spots under the blossoming cherry trees. It is the time to eat, drink and be merry in the pulsating city of Kyoto.
Celebrate the cherry blossom in Kyoto
The Japanese cherry blossom is not just a natural phenomenon, it’s a festive one. If you are planning a trip to the beautiful city of Kyoto, try to make it in time for the sakura. Visit as many of these destinations as possible and hopefully, find a magical corner under a cherry tree. The happiness here is infectious.
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