Pass under the bright vermillion torii gates of Hirano Shrine, and you’ll encounter over fifty different cherry blossom species even before you reach the monument itself. This includes the Sakigake sakura, a variety that blooms in mid-March and is considered a harbinger of spring, as well as species that blossom late into April, giving Hirano Shrine one of the longest blooming periods found in Kyoto.
Over a century old, Hirano Shrine has long been a favorite spot for enjoying cherry blossoms. The shrine was founded in 794 CE, the same year that the Japanese capital moved to Kyoto, then known as Heian-kyo. A favorite of the Japanese nobility, in the 10th century Hirano Shrine was visited by Emperor Kazan who ordered a festival at the shrine to wish for the prosperity of the imperial bloodline.
The Hirano Shrine cherry blossom festival was resurrected in 1921, and since then has been celebrated on the second Sunday of every April. The cherry blossom festival begins in the morning and includes a ceremony at the mausoleum of Emperor Kazan and a processional through the local neighborhood. At night, the sakura trees are illuminated with lights; and the shrine is lively with yatai food stands, live music performances, and crowds gathering to eat, drink, and be merry beneath the cherry blossoms.
Hirano Shrine is also a popular hanami location for university students thanks to its close proximity to Ritsumeikan University, so it’s not unusual to find many young people gathered here in the spring. However, the shrine is less well-known than some of Kyoto’s more famous sites, so you can enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms without having to fight the crowds.