Once again, warmth returns to the northern hemisphere and spring cometh. While most people are happy to welcome the season of renewal, few places can beat the air of jubilation in Japan where spring is announced with the blossoming of the sakura, an annual natural phenomenon that ignites much mirth and wonderment across the island nation.
This superlative flower show usually begins from mid March in isolated pockets before the main event unfurls across Kyushu and Honshu over the last week of March and first week of April. Kyoto's first blooms are expected on 28th March. It typically takes a week for the trees to enter full bloom but a sudden cold snap or unseasonably strong winds can take their tolls.
While there are plenty of enchanting locations across Japan to enjoy this natural spectacle, most people will agree that Kyoto holds the prize for its wealth of prime spots. The imperial city is home to numerous heritage buildings replete with gardens and views and with the advent of spring each year, millions of tourists flow through their gates to catch the sights within. Kiyomizudera, Kodaiji and Nijo Castle are just some of the more popular attractions. The flower gazing throngs will also spill out onto Kyoto's parks and streets lined with thousands of cherry trees. Whilst one generally cannot escape the crowds over this period, there are quieter spots less trodden by tourists. Here we recommend some of our favourites.
This scenic artery flowing through the city is lined with hundreds of cherry trees as well as forsyth, willow and rape. It is a popular stretch for citizens to relax over the weekends and over the sakura season its banks are filled with picnic mats and happy faces. The action is usually concentrated around the Shijo and Gojo crossing so one heading towards Shichijo will be greeted by handsome clusters of cherries and relative solitude.
2. Kyoto Botanical Garden
Generally overlooked by tourists, Kyoto Botanical Garden is fairly quiet over weekdays even during the sakura season. It is one of our favourite places to stage a hanami over the weekend as it is a family oriented park where the laughter from happy children and their minders makes this such a wonderful spot to visit.
3. Kiyamachi Dori
Right in the cultural heart of Kyoto is this quiet and elegant lane where a flowing stream lined with cherry trees makes it one of the city's most alluring street. Curiously not many tourists wander onto this spot, but photographers know it and are always there to capture the blooms and the resident herons lording over the quiet water.
4. Kyoto Imperial Palace Park
While the Kyoto Imperial Palace is a well visited attraction, the vastness of its grounds makes it a relatively quiet spot over the sakura season. The park is also not particularly devoted to the cultivation of cherry trees, although groves featuring Shidarezakura and Yaezakura are enchantingly serene towards the close of the season.
5. Kamo River Park
Close to the fork where the Takano meets the Kamo is the Kamo River Park where bamboo trellises support a long stretch of Shidarezakura that goes into full bloom a week after the main event orchestrated by the Somei Yoshino is over. To traipse through the frilly pink stretch on a bright blue day is pure magic.