Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Cherry Blossom season is in full bloom now across Japan and all this cherry blossom talk is making me miss the beautiful sakura from my trip to Japan last year! Since a few people have been asking me where they should see the sakura in Japan, I thought I would share some of the places I've been to in Nara, Kyoto, Yoshino, Nagoya, Fujigoko and Tokyo!
For my trip, I flew into Osaka and departed from Tokyo so I made my way across the country by making multiple stops in between. Originally I wanted to stay in Kyoto but since it was such a hot destination for sakura, most hotels were either booked out or really expensive so I decided to stay in Nara instead which is only 45 minutes away from Kyoto by train. It turned out to be a great decision since I really enjoyed the city of Nara and the sakura was one of the best that I saw during my entire trip.
The best place to see sakura in Nara would have to be Nara Park which not only has 1700 cherry trees planted among the spacious grounds, it is also home to hundreds of free roaming deers that are usually pretty tame but can get quite aggressive if they think you will feed them. Exercise caution as you should with animals because I actually got headbutted by a few male deer that wanted the crackers in my hand.
While you are in the park, you can also pay visit to Todaiji Temple - a Buddhist temple that is one of Japan's most famous and historically significant temples.
Take a stroll through the many paths in the park and you will be enchanted with the many stages of blooming sakura.
Deer and sakura - don't they just make the perfect combo?
National Geographic moment!
At dusk, we wandered back to the Nara Park area and accidentally stumbled upon this floating Pavilion on a pond!
After Nara, I made my way to Kyoto and went to visit Arashiyama, a district on the outskirts of Kyoto which is famous for its bamboo groves where an abundant amount of bamboo surround both sides of a pathway. It has always been a place I wanted to go check out because all of gorgeous pictures I've seen online but the reality is quite the opposite as the walkways were full of people and it was impossible to get a shot without a body in it unless you arrived first thing in the morning probably. It wasn't the serene and calm walking path I've been looking forward to but luscious greenery is still worth a visit.
Tenryuji is the most important template in Arashiyama with a beautiful landscape garden which has survived through the years in its original form. I enjoyed walking through this temple while admiring the simple yet majestic wooden architecture and the Sogen Pond Garden surrounded by rocks, trees and mountains.
Different types of flowers can be seen in the Hyakkaen which means Garden of a Hundred Flowers.
The best place to see sakura in Arashiyama is across the Togetsukyo Bridge where dozens of cherry trees are planted in the riverside park adjacent to the bridge.
I just love this view of the many pleasure boats on the river against a mountain full of pink cherry trees - what a great way to see the flowers!
Back in Kyoto proper, I made my way to the Heian Shrine with a garden that is most famous for its weeping cherry trees! There are many types of cherry blossoms and I have a soft spot for weeping ones because I think they just look so beautiful as they all droop in unison like a cherry blossom waterfall. I highly recommend this garden especially if you want to see weeping cherry trees at night since they hosts night time illumination during sakura season.
The view at the top of the slope.
Located in Nara prefecture, Yoshinoyama is one of Japan's most famous sakura viewing spots as the mountain is covered by 30,000 different types of cherry trees! It is approximately 2 hours away from Kyoto by train so it would be a good day trip option. The mountain is divided into 4 sections: Shimo Senbon (lower 1000 trees) at the base, Naka Senbon (middle 1000 trees), Kami Senbon (upper 1000 trees) and Oku Senbon (inner 1000 trees). Because of the range in elevation, the blooming season for the sections can vary by a couple of days as the blossom moves up the mountain. Unfortunately many of the cherry trees hasn't quite blossomed yet during my visit so I could not view it in its full glory. Oh well - that's just another reason to visit Japan again!
This view from the Yoshimizu Shrine is particularly famous for its unobstructed views of the cherry trees across the mountain. There were many people taking pictures at the viewing spot but just be patient and you should be able to squeeze your way in.
After your hike, you can feed yourself with the many shops and restaurants in Naka Senbon with choices from street stalls to proper restaurants. Those with a view of the mountain are particularly popular! I ended up treating myself to some sakura soba which was made with ume or plum.
As one of my pit stops from Kyoto to Tokyo, I didn't visit Nagoya particularly for sakura but I was lucky enough to witness a gorgeous sunset with the Nagoya Castle lit up while surrounded by cherry trees.
Fujigoko (Fuji Five Lakes)
This view of the Chureito Pagoda with Mount Fuji in the background has been on my photography bucket list in Japan for years so I was ecstatic when I finally got to visit with perfect visibility of the mountain! They say that you have to consider yourself lucky to get a clear view as clouds and poor visibility can often block the view of the mountain. I guess I've been a pretty lucky gal since I have been able to get a clear view of Fuji the last few times I visited.
What's funny though is that the pagoda was much smaller than I'd thought it would be after seeing so many pictures of it! To take this classic picture was also a bit awkward as you basically have to climb up a little slope and try not to slip off while taking pictures of the pagoda between trees and people. Wide angle lens will definitely come in handy here as you will not be able to back up much up the slope.
Hiking up to the pagoda was a bit of an exercise on its own since it required many flights of stairs but the views are totally worth it!
The sakura was probably about 50% to full bloom when I was there but with a clear view of Mount Fuji, I still enjoyed my visit!
Last but not least, I would highly recommend the Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo which is one of its largest and popular park with many different types of cherry trees which made it ideal for those who has missed the main season by a week or so (which was what had happened to me). Most of the trees in the city were already past its bloom but many of the cherry trees in Shinjuku Gyoen were still in full bloom so I still got to enjoy my hanami! Keep in mind that no alcohol is allowed into the park though so you will have to enjoy the flowers sober.
Ueno Park is probably the most crowded and popular spot for sakura in the city so while the sights are definitely spectacular, the crowds kind of kills it for me so I'd prefer to enjoy my flowers elsewhere.