With Zen gardens, bamboo groves, Buddhist temples and geisha shuffling along cobbled laneways, Kyoto seems to be lifted straight from the scenes of an ancient Japanese woodblock print. And come cherry blossom season -- a national obsession in Japan – the country’s cultural heartland is not to be missed. Signalling the arrival of spring, this season sees trees bloom into sakura (cherry blossoms) that line Kyoto’s canals, hang low over lakes and transform gardens into blankets of fairy floss.
Cherry blossom philosophy
The cherry blossom is richly symbolic within Japan – it
is depicted on the 100 yen coin and was used as a symbol to stoke nationalism
during World War II. Many Japanese believe that the blooming of the trees
symbolises the transience of life and is an annual reminder
that time is precious. The cherry blossom cycle is seen as a metaphor for life itself
– a time to reflect on your achievements and think ahead to your future. Once you
have finished philosophising, indulge in some of Japan’s more light-hearted
symbolism. Many consumer brands take advantage of this time of year, with many
sakura-related products on sale. Try a pastel-pink Sakura
Frappuccino at Starbucks or the cherry-flavoured white chocolate Sakura Kit
It is unknown exactly when hanami (cherry blossom viewing) first started,
but it was mentioned early on, in Shikibu Murasaki's classic Japanese literary work, the Tale of Genji,
thought to be written around the 11th or 12th Century. 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. To partake in a hanami party, grab a bento box and some beer
from your nearest combini
(convenience store) and head to one of Kyoto’s many viewing spots for a
Japanese cultural experience of a different kind.
Kyoto’s famous cherry blossom spots
can get extremely crowded, so make sure you get there early and claim your spot
with a picnic rug or tarp. Your reserved piece of plot will be respected, even
if you disappear and come back later that day.
Top viewing spots
is a historic Zen temple located in
the scenic Higashiyama area and was one of the first temples to kick off after-dark
the gardens are lit by multicoloured spotlights), allowing cherry blossom viewing to continue well into the night.
The pedestrian path Tetsugaku-no-Michi,
named after 20th-century philosopher Nishida Kataro, stretches for three
kilometres alongside a canal in eastern Kyoto and connects Ginkakuji
temple to Nanzen-ji
temple. This well-known route is lined with cherry trees which are reflected in
the still waters, and is an ideal spot to ponder and admire the surrounding
At the base of Kyoto’s western mountains, the area of Arashiyama is a
main tourist spot thanks to its swaying bamboo groves and views of stunning
foliage. It attracts tourists throughout the year, but really ramps up during
cherry blossom season. People crowd the Togetsukyo Bridge (Moon
Crossing Bridge) to take in the views, so head away from the main strip to get
away from the hordes. At night, the area is lit up for
cherry blossom viewing and food stalls are set up with a variety of snacks.
Located in the southern Higashiyama area, Maruyama
Koen is usually a good spot to take in some peace and quiet after
temple-hopping in Kyoto. However, during cherry blossom season, the park
becomes crowded and noisy due to its extremely popular, huge weeping trees.
Best time for viewing
season -- late March to mid-April -- is relatively short and the blossoming of the
trees advances from the south to the north of the country, dubbed the “cherry
blossom front”. The Japanese Meteorological Agency
tracks the progress of the blossoming trees every year and it is reported on
the nightly news. Otherwise, the Japan National Tourism Organisation also
The article 'Sakura season in Kyoto' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.