Like its northern neighbour Tokyo, Kyoto is arguably at its most stunning during the first few weeks of April when the soft pink cherry blossoms (sakura) bloom, covering the historic streets in clouds of bubble-gum pink.
Though it might be one of the most tourist-heavy places during spring, it’s worth making your way there, elbowing through the crowds as Kyoto’s streets look like something ripped straight from a classical Nihonga (Japanese) painting. When the blossoms come into full bloom generally depends on the seasonal changes; a cold year means later blossoms, while warm weather coaxes the trees into full show so quickly that if you don’t plan right, chances are you could miss it all.
Kyoto is home to a number of picturesque sites that become just that little more special during spring when the area is covered in the delicate natural confetti of the sakura petals. Maruyama Park is one of the city’s most famous sites, and here you’ll find almost 700 trees including the fantastically striking shidare-zakura, also known as weeping cherry blossoms. Almost sagging under the weight of the flowers, the weeping cherries are illuminated after sunset during an event known as the Night Cherry Blossoms of Gion.
Another stunning spot is Toji Temple, also known as Kyoogokokuji Temple. A world heritage site, this five-story pagoda is perfectly framed by the blossoms during the day, but at night it’s also worth visiting to see the temple glowing under illuminations. If you find yourself in Kyoto a little early for the main season, the kawazu-zakura cherry trees around this area tend to bloom a little earlier, meaning you can typically see them from mid-March.
The Philosopher’s Path is a spiritual home to many writers and great thinkers of Japan and also to around 500 cherry blossom trees that line the canal. Forming an almost tunnel along the water, this strip of Kyoto is stunning when the flowers are in full bloom, but also towards the end of the season when the water running through the canal is covered in a layer of fallen petals flittering across the water’s surface.
During this time of the year, the town is home to a large selection of seasonal events, but if you want to experience the season like the locals do, pack yourself a picnic, grab a few drinks, pick up a blue plastic sheet from a 100-yen shop and head to your nearest park for ohanami, or ‘cherry blossom viewing party’, a great way to take in the sights, meet the locals and party on a budget.
From Tokyo, the best way to get to Kyoto is to take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen that connects the two cities, travelling through Yokohama, Nagoya and continuing on to Osaka. The trip typically takes a little over two hours and costs 13,900 yen (US$130) each way.
The Philosopher’s Path, Tetsugaku-no-michi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, Japan