The secret cherry blossoms of KyotoA Kyoto resident gives us the secrets of where and how to view the most beautiful cherry blossoms, but escape the crowds.2013.02.

Author: Takahiro Fujita (Nozomi Inc. CEO)
Photo: Yuka Hoshino

Kyoto is the iconic tourist spot of Japan and its best season is spring in April. All over the city clouds of beautiful cherry blossoms bloom and draw visitors from every corner of Japan and the world; every evening the trees are lit and give a truly enchanting display.
So many people visit to see our famous cherry blossoms that it is almost impossible to take the time to compose a photograph. Of course, every bench and chair is taken and you can’t just feast your eyes at leisure, unless you know a few local secrets. I have lived here for a long time, and I would like our visitors to relax and enjoy the cherry blossom showers. I am happy to share my secrets with you; teach you the hidden cherry blossom spots of Kyoto; they are very beautiful, but with fewer visitors, allowing you to quietly contemplate and enjoy these fleeting moments.

Kyoto resident reveals the most tranquil and crowd-free cherry blossom viewing spots.

Konkai-Komyoji Temple

Konkai-Komyoji Temple with a long and venerable history is located near the famous Heian Jingu Shrine, and was founded about 1,000 years ago. It is the preeminent temple of the Jodo Buddhist sect, and in the Edo period, there was a time when the renowned Shinsengumi, a shogunate samurai group, used the temple as their stronghold. In the spacious precincts there are many large cherry trees as well as a splendid wooden gate and buildings, which are certainly worth seeing. The temple sits atop a small hill, giving beautiful views down into the streets, especially in the romantic evening twilight when the cherry blossom are bathed in the light of the setting sun.
 
Address: 121 Kurodani-cho Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
TEL: 075-771-2204
Hours: 9:00 – 16:00
Access: From JR Kyoto Station take City Bus 100 to the Higashitennocho bus stop. Total journey time: Approx. 30 min.


 

Shoujiji Temple and Oharano-jinja Shrine

For a couple of hundred years the Shoujiji Temple has been famous for its magnificent cherry blossoms and trees planted by a renowned priest. Since the location is slightly away from the heart of Kyoto City, the temple does not have as many visitors. It is popularly known as Hana no Tera, meaning the temple of flowers in honor of the other splendid spring blossoms that adorn its grounds. Legend says this temple was founded around 800 when the Heian Capital was established. Within the temple hall, you can view exquisite and precious Buddhist statues. The Oharano-jinja Shrine located nearby also has tranquil and beautiful cherry trees scattered in its grounds, just perfect for passing the time in a gentle stroll and maybe a picture or two.
 
Address: 1194 Minami-Kasuga-cho, Oharano, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto
TEL: 075-331-0601
Hours: 9:00 – 16:30
Access: From JR Kyoto Station take the Kyoto Line to Mukomachi. Take Hankyu Bus to Minami-Kasuga-cho. Total journey time: Approx. 45 min.


 

Shoseien

Higashi Honganji Temple has hundreds of years of tradition, but its Shoseien gardens designed by the famous landscape gardener, Jozan Ishikawa, were not laid out until the Edo period. They have attractive ponds, and gardens with many kinds of trees, and beautiful cherry blossoms can also be found. The gardens are an oasis of tranquility and it is difficult to believe as you relax and enjoy the cherry blossoms that only a few strides away are the busy streets of Kyoto. From olden times, Shoseien has served as a guest palace for the many politicians, aristocrats, and high-ranking officials visiting Kyoto. The garden halls host many fine works of art. Even though it is located close to the main JR Kyoto Station, it is not so well known and has fewer visitors.
 
Location: Higashi-Tamamizu-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
TEL: 075-371-9210
Hours: 9:00 – 15:30
Access: Approx. 10 min walk form the JR Kyoto Station


 

Kamigamo-jinja Shrine

Kamigamo-jinja is the oldest shrine in Kyoto and has been selected as a World Cultural Heritage site. It is a very special place and is quite rightly ranked among the very best of Japan’s shrines. The approach to the shrine is cloaked in beautiful woods, and in spring, a spectacular profusion of multi-colored cherry blossoms in a variety of shapes and sizes greet the visitor; some of them are very rare and distinctive. The main sections of the vivid vermilion colored building were built about 400 years ago. A nearby Japanese-style confectionery store offers the hungry visitor tasty mochi rice cakes; for those with a sweet tooth, I strongly recommend them.
 
Address: 339 Motoyama, Kamigamo, Kita-ku, Kyoto
TEL: 075-781-0011
Hours: 10:00 – 16:00
Access: From JR Kyoto Station take City Bus 9 to the Kamigamo Misonobashi bus stop. 5 min walk from the bus stop. Total journey time: Approx. 45 min.


 

Kyoto in April and so much to do…

There is so much to see and do in Kyoto in April; the famous Miyako Odori, the dance performances of the apprentice geisha, many local festivals are held now, and restaurants offering new menus showcasing the fresh seasonal vegetables; all of this goes to create a very cheerful and bustling atmosphere after the cold and quiet of winter.
 
But the words hanami and sakura are on everyone’s lips, flower viewing and cherry blossom; in Kyoto throughout April local people are always spreading the cherry blossom gossip. “Did you know the cherry blossoms in that temple are now in full bloom?” or “The cherry blossom buds along the river will come into flower soon?” Everyone is up-to-date on this micro sakura zensen or cherry blossom front as it slowly flowers across Kyoto.
 
Kyoto is a very old city that served as the home of the court of Japan for about 900 years, until the capital was moved to Tokyo, only some 150 years ago. The city is bejeweled with many shrines and temples, many of them hundreds of years old, where you will find truly ancient cherry trees, perhaps dreaming of long gone days of Imperial splendor when cherry blossom viewing was a pastime restricted to the nobility.
 
Fortunately, the city and its cherry trees escaped the destruction of World War II, and so today you will see an unsurpassed variety of colors, shades, sizes, and shapes of blossom. You can catch sight of cherry blossoms everywhere, in the avenues, the school playgrounds, the banks of the rivers, and parks. Feast your senses.
 
Tips to enjoy cherry blossoms
Keep up to date. The beauty of the cherry blossom is made even more poignant by the fleetingly short life of these delicate blooms. A puff of wind and they are gone in a moment, so it is wise to check with your hotel staff or the Tourist Information in the JR Kyoto Station. Every day they monitor the progress of the cherry blossom in most of the Kyoto viewing spots, such as temples, shrines or districts.
Hire a bike. Sometimes it can be quicker and more enjoyable to hire a bicycle rather than taking the bus or subway to your viewing spots. Bicycle is one of my favorite ways to appreciate the season and the beauty of Kyoto’s ever changing blossoms.
 
Eat, drink and be merry. Hanami in Japanese doesn’t just mean viewing cherry blossoms, it means enjoying the flowers whilst also eating and drinking with family and friends. This has been a tradition that stretches back for centuries, and is as popular now as in the woodprints of Utamaro of the 1700s. Why not treat yourself and a few select friends to some delicious treats from a department store, take-away or bakery, and enjoy a modern-day Japanese hanami?
 
Enjoy the clouds of cherry blossoms even in crowded springtime Kyoto!
In April, as predictable as migrating birds, visitors from all over Japan, flock to Kyoto to feast their eyes upon the beautiful cherry blossoms. By train, by bus, and by plane they join the many tourists from all over the world who have flown in to catch this spectacular event. For many it is the first and perhaps only time in their lives they will see this gorgeous display of nature, and so it is worth doing a little research to make the very best of the occasion. This is the great challenge of being a tourist in a strange and wonderful land, how to escape being one of the crowd. The cherry blossom season in Kyoto is crowded, but with a little local knowledge you can seek out the quieter, but equally beautiful, less well-known viewing spots. Please come to Kyoto, and if you get up early enough you might unknowingly rub shoulders with me as we enjoy the wondrous views before the others arrive. I believe you have a saying: The early bird…
 
Profile of Takahiro Fujita
Fujita-san is an editor of guidebooks for travelers, and a tourist event planner based in Kyoto. He is passionate about letting the world and Japan know about the beauty of Kyoto, and launched Nozomi Inc. in his district. He is a writer of many books, magazines, and websites and of course although Kyoto is steeped in history, he makes sure there are the latest Kyoto mobile phone apps. He also plans events in temples, shrines, and cultural venues, and supports local enterprises in the launch of new business.
 

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