Maruyama Koen is not only one of the most popular public parks in Kyoto, but it’s also the oldest. That’s quite something for one of Japan’s most ancient and historic cities. Founded in 1871 in the early days of the Meiji restoration, the park was opened to the public in 1886. Today, it’s one of the most happening spots for crowds to gather, drink, and enjoy the cherry blossoms in the springtime.
Maruyama Park was built on land formerly occupied by a number of temples, which had burnt down in a large fire — a problem endemic to the era. Designed by famous landscaper Jihei Ogawa, the park took almost three years to construct. A garden was later added to the park in 1912 by Ogawa, which incorporated the area’s existing hilly landscape and added a large central pond. Numerous tea houses were built around the pond and make for pleasant resting spots when strolling through the park.
The park is particularly crowded during the springtime when its 600 cherry blossom trees come into flower. Daytime picnics transition into merry nighttime revelries with hanami-goers packed elbow-to-elbow. There are plenty of yatai food stalls around selling food and drink, and the highlight of the evening is Maruyama Koen’s 40-foot weeping cherry blossom tree brilliantly illuminated late into the night.
Maruyama Koen is accessible via Yasaka Shrine, one of the largest shrines in all of Japan, which is located in Kyoto’s famous Gion District. Enter through Yasaka’s main gate, Nishi-Romon — an icon in itself.