On the second leg of my journey looking for the best cherry blossom sights, I looked no further than the city where I live in now: Kyoto! A significant amount of my research informed me that Kyoto was a great place to catch cherry blossoms sights, and I complied a list of places to go in Kyoto and crossed them off my list one at a time.
Kyoto’s peak cherry blossom season this year was the beginning of April, as the buds had started opening in the last week of March. I headed to Kiyomizu-dera, a world famous temple crowded with tourists and had written in my previous Kyoto posts, but was met with sparse cherry blossom trees. There were some trees with fully bloomed cherry blossoms, but not enough to take killer pictures. I headed elsewhere to find more cherry blossoms, I made it to Kodaiji, a temple complex with an extensive garden including a small bamboo forest, to see a spectacular sight: a weeping cherry blossom tree!
Kodaiji is known for its shidarezakura tree, which means weeping cherry blossom tree. These weeping trees are less common to find, so there was a line to take a picture of this tree up close. Located within a zen garden, this tree was a beauty to capture on film.
A closer look of the tree from the line I waited on to get an even closer look.
I wished there were more trees like the shidarezakura back in the United States!
On my way towards Yasaka Shrine, which is closer to the downtown area of Kyoto and in the Gion (geisha) district, I encountered many cherry blossom trees. I was not familiar with all of the shrines and temples I walked past to get to Yasaka Shrine, but here is a picture of one:
I quite liked the view of the cherry blossoms shadowing over the Buddhist statue.
Another place on my list of cherry blossom spots was Maruyama Park, a park adjacent to Yasaka Shrine. Before this excursion, I had only ever walked to the main shrine grounds and had not visited the park next to it. As with many special events like cherry blossom season, public parks and other spaces tend to have food stands that sell all different kinds street foods. People sit with their friends, families, or coworkers in the designated eating areas beneath many cherry blossom trees, an activity called hanami. Maruyama Park is a popular place to enjoy hanami and I snapped a few pictures of the bustling park underneath a sea of cherry blossom trees.
A popular activity to do during the cherry blossom season, hanami: many picnics going on under the cherry blossom trees with food you can get beforehand or at the plentiful food stalls near the picnic areas.
A festival lantern with cherry blossoms and hanami-enjoyers in the background.
On my way to the next cherry blossom spot on my list I passed by Chion-in, a Buddhist temple. The Sanmon, also known as the main gate, of Chion-in was easily one of the biggest gates for a temple I have ever seen. It was also surrounded by many cherry blossom trees (and tourists entering), so I stopped for a bit to take some pictures. I decided not to enter as I had many places on my list to get to, so I went along after taking some time at the Chion-in main gate.
Many staris led up the entrance of the gate and I enjoyed seeing the juxtaposition of traditional temple architecture with the cherry blossom trees.
After my short detour at the Sanmon of Chion-in, I made it to Keage Incline. The railroad tracks there were once used to transport boats and other materials as there is a Okazaki Canal next to it. It is no longer in use but has become a popular spot to see cherry blossoms since the tracks are lined with cherry blossom trees. Truly, there are so many trees as far as the eye can see!
Since I visited Keage Incline on the weekend, it was easily the most crowded place on my excursion so far. I could not take a single picture of the cherry blossoms with the tracks without there being many people also doing the same. The pictures I took below show that! And along my way down the tracks, there was water flowing down towards the canal, so I followed the water towards Okazaki Canal, another cherry blossom spot!
The beginning of the tracks leading up on an incline, with many cherry blossom trees in the distance.
As crowded as Keage Incline was, I am glad I went to such a famous place where many Japanese locals seemed to enjoy as well.
A view of the water rushing down with cherry blossoms at the top. I followed the water to the canal next.
The water flowing past Keage Incline into Okazaki Canal comes from Lake Biwa, and it provides water for the city of Kyoto. The canal is located next to Heian Shrine, which is a very popular shrine to visit, and is known for its huge tori (shrine gate). The canal is underneath a lot of cherry blossom trees, and there is a boat ride service you can take around the canal to experience the cherry blossoms in a whole new way!
There is a museum describing the history of the canal located next to it. You can walk around the canal underneath the cherry blossom trees too, which many tourists took advantage of. I was glad that I could get a view of the cherry blossoms beneath me for once and not from above me.
The closer you get to Heian Shrine, the more likely you can see the red tori. I liked being able to see the gate with a view of the blue canal water and cherry blossoms.
The last stop on my list of cherry blossom spots in Kyoto was definitely my favorite of them all. Philosopher’s Path (in Japanese it is called tetsugaku no michi) is a stone path that stretches for two kilometers and is lined with cherry blossom trees. The name of the path comes from Nishida Kitaro, who was a professor at Kyoto University and would walk and meditate on the path on his way to work. The walk under the cherry blossoms is very serene and I spent the rest of my afternoon walking along the water.
There were many cafes and restaurants lining the road of Philosopher’s Path. The beginning of the path is marked by Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, and ends at Nanzenji, a famous temple known for its autumn leaves. There was one street performer playing the cello (I think) and another artist selling watercolor post cards. While Philosopher’s Path was quite crowded, it seemed like everyone was in awe of the beauty of all the cherry blossoms. You could get close to the cherry blossoms and take pictures right underneath them. Some people even wore traditional Japanese clothing, a kimono, to took pictures with the cherry blossoms.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the cherry blossoms, and I swore to myself that I would return again one day to walk underneath the cherry blossoms on Philosopher’s Path. There aren’t many times in my life where I can so distinctly remember how I felt by looking at the photo I took of a place, but Philosopher’s Path is one such moment.
I took this picture standing on the mini bridges of the canal, which is connected to Okazaki Canal near Heian Shrine where I visited before Philosopher’s Path. There were many people on the other bridge in the distance, probably taking a close picture of the cherry blossoms.
Every now and then there were wooden signs with the directions of the nearby temples that lined Philosopher’s Path.
This picture is definitely one of my favorites! Sometimes cherry blossom petals would fall into the canal water and be swept away, showing the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms.
Getting to see the cherry blossoms during peak season in Kyoto was a highlight during my time in Japan. Many of the places I visited that day were accessible by bus and foot, so I got to visit these places more than once during the cherry blossom season. There truly is no view of cherry blossoms like the ones in Japan, so I urge anyone that can visit Japan at all, do so during cherry blossom season! Sure, there were many tourists in the places I visited, but there were also many Japanese people taking in the sights.
It is unfortunate that cherry blossom season only lasts about two weeks, but that is what makes the experience of seeing them so special. The whole country, not just the places I visited, bursts with cherry blossoms around early spring, so everyone in the country is blessed with the chance to see them firsthand. What an amazing experience!