I admit, this post would have been better timed a week ago, when the blossoms were out. But no one expected such an early blooming season and I was to busy enjoying myself in Kyoto itself to write up any related posts! What I did get was a preview of where the crowds were going to be as soon as I left the city. So here, from my own personal observation and nothing more, are some of the top spots for cherry blossoms in Kyoto.
1. The Imperial Palace – This was actually one of the only places were sakura (the beautiful weeping cherry variety to boot) were already in bloom. The north end of the park boasts a small stand of trees but it didn’t need much more than that. The two or three that were in full bloom were stunning with the laden branches hanging heavy over carefully raked footpaths. The palace may require a reservation to visit but the garden is free and a favorite haunt of locals in any season.
2. Philosopher’s Path – Sure, this 1.2 kilometer, canal-side footpath in eastern Kyoto is recommended by every guidebook for a sakura stroll but why not – this is quintessential Japan. Cherry trees shedding delicate pink blooms hang over the still canal waters, while kimono-clad Kyotoites and visitors alike amble along the narrow pathway. If the crowds get to be too much, pop off into a nearby cafe or browse the art and craft galleries that line the walkway.
3. Gion – There aren’t a great number of cherry trees that line the cobbled Shimbashi Street in the Gion District but I can’t imagine a more picturesque sight, with a backdrop of traditional (or traditional-looking) eateries and ryokan. At night, these few trees are illuminated, and seeing the parties of happy diners in the riverside inns through a haze of pink petals feels like something straight out of a storybook.
4. Hozugawa River – No, this isn’t the river that runs through downtown Kyoto (that’s the Kamo, itself a beautiful sight with cherry trees on its banks). You’ll find the Hozugawa out in Arashiyama, and beautiful suburb on Kyoto’s western edge. Try to score a ticket on the Sagano Romantic Train that follows the river gorge even farther west, then take a boat back along the easy rapids (about a two hour trip) and enjoy the scores of sakura that line the banks.
5. Kiyomizu-dera – This temple on the slope of the eastern mountains is worth a visit at any time of year but in sakura season, the raised building seems to rest on a cloud of candy-colored blossoms. Sakura surround the temple on all sides but the most striking view is either from the temple’s famed porch or the path leading behind the main building. At night, expect lovely illuminations (and not so lovely crowds).
There are plenty more spots to see sakura in Kyoto. Do you have a favorite? Share it below!