As Japan’s winter melts into spring, the country sheds its frosty
landscape for a pink-tinged panorama. This is the time when Japan’s
iconic cherry tree, or Sakura, blossoms in earnest. The blossoms,
which spread through Japan in a “front,” are closely observed by
the Japan Meteorological Agency, which releases an official
blooming schedule in early March. The earliest blossoms appear in
Okinawa in January, and by early April, the flowers emerge in Nara
and Kyoto, which have some of Japan’s best and most plentiful
cherry blossom viewing opportunities.
The best Sakura viewing in Japan is on Mount Yoshino in the Nara
Prefecture. Just two hours from Nara city, the mountain is covered
by more than 30,000 cherry trees, encompassing some 200 different
species of this Japanese icon.
A four-hour mountain trail provides a stunning springtime
landscape. Along the way, the Kinpusenji Temple is simply
breathtaking when framed by the pink-tinged flowers. Nearby, the
gardens of the Yoshimizu Jinja Shrine offer panoramic views of the
blossom-covered mountainside. Because of the shrine’s remote
location, it has served as a hideaway for several political figures
throughout Japan’s history.
Farther along the trail lies the Chikurin-in Buddhist temple.
Now a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), the temple houses a
delightful open-air bathhouse. The inn is exceptionally popular
during cherry season, and reservations should be made well in
advance of travel.
For visitors with a tighter schedule, Nara Park in Nara city
also provides Sakura-viewing opportunities. Famous for the 1,200
wild deer that roam freely throughout, the park is popular with
locals who observe the Hanami ritual of picnicking under the cherry
A popular park attraction is the Kofukuji Temple, a prosperous
temple relocated in 710 A.D. Offering twice the viewing pleasure,
cherry trees and their reflection can be enjoyed at the
Sarusawano-ike Pond, which is usually photographed reflecting
Kofukuji’s “Five-Storied Pagoda,” one of Japan’s tallest pagodas
and also the symbol of Nara.
A leisurely stroll through the park reveals other popular
treasures such as Todaiji Temple, which houses the world’s largest
wooden structure and a 53-foot bronze Buddha statue, Japan’s
largest. An energetic climb to the top of Mt. Wakakusa-yama, at
1,100 feet above sea level, affords panoramic views of Nara, and
several blossom-covered neighboring mountains.
Less than an hour from Nara, Kyoto is one of Japan’s most
popular visitor destinations. Once Japan’s capital for 11
centuries, Kyoto now houses Japan’s seventh-largest population.
Cherry blossom season emerges in Kyoto at the same time as Nara,
making them an ideal Sakura viewing combination.
A springtime visit to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, with its 1,000
cherry trees, is a must. The palace, which housed Japan’s royal
family until 1868, is only accessible by guided tour and advance
reservations are required.
The Hirano Shrine, relocated to Kyoto in 794 A.D., is famous for
its extensive variety of cherry blossom trees, counting some 50
different types of trees. The shrine is home to an annual cherry
blossom festival and by night the trees are lit up and food and
drink stalls are set up throughout the area, making this a festive
Kyoto’s most popular location for cherry blossom viewing is the
city’s oldest public park, Maruyama Park. Located next to Yasaka
Shrine in Gion, home of Kyoto’s famed Geisha district, the park may
provide fortunate photographers the ability to snap a picture of an
apprentice Geisha strolling beneath a blooming Sakura tree. During
cherry blossom season, the area also hosts a significant nighttime
scene, complete with food vendors and activities.
Nearby, the Heian Jingu Shrine is another fabulous location for
Sakura spotting. Comprised of four gardens, on 8 acres, the gardens
turn a deep pink, the color of the weeping cherry tree.
One of the most romantic places to take in the Sakura, is along
a 1½-mile stroll called The Walk of Philosophy, which connects
Kyoto’s Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji) to the Nanzen-ji temple,
considered to be one of Japan’s most important Zen temples.
Designated as one of the top 100 paths of natural beauty in Japan,
nearly 450 cherry trees are planted along the way, and when the
cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the path is completely covered
by a romantic “flower tunnel.”
Heian Jingu Shrine
Kyoto Prefecture Tourism Information
Kyoto Tourism Information
Japan Meteorological Agency
Journeys International Cherry Blossom Tours
Nara Park Walking Tour Map
Nara Prefecture Tourism Information
Visit Japan Campaign
Yoshino Cherry Blossom Map