Japan is one of a handful of countries in the world that can offer magnificent scenery in each and every season of the year. Whether it be spring, summer, autumn, or winter, you can expect to witness the marvel of nature Japan has to offer. Only a couple of months after celebrating New Year’s Day, it’s time for the snow to melt away, and the delicate pink flowers to blossom.
Sakura (桜), or cherry blossom, is probably the best-known flower in Japan. It has been celebrated in Japanese culture for centuries. The best time to view the blooming of cherry blossoms varies in different parts of Japan.
The blooming period starts from February in the southern region, such as Okinawa (沖縄) or Kyushu (九州), and then moves northwards to Hokkaido (北海道), where cherry blossoms make a full bloom in early May. The arrival of cherry blossoms also signifies the ending of a harsh, cold winter and the welcoming of a pleasant spring.
Cherry blossoms can be found throughout Japan. However, the density of cherry blossom trees differs in each location. One of the most popular areas to view cherry blossom is in Kyoto (京都). During the hanami (花見- cherry blossom viewing) festivity, Kyoto is usually crowded with both Japanese locals and foreign tourists gathering around the town to admire the beauty of the pink blossoms.
There can be a long list of places to visit while in Kyoto. However, if you have limited time and only need to see the best of the best, here are the top five places to make the most of cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto in just one day.
1. Sagano Romantic Train
Sagano Romantic Train, also known as Sagano Torokko (嵯峨野トロッコ列車) or Sagano Scenic Railway (嵯峨野観光鉄道), is an old railway which has been retired from the Japanese Rail Line since 1989. The retro carriages are now running only to serve tourists on a picturesque, seven-kilometer journey along the Hozu River (保津川).
Taking a ride in spring will allow you to experience the tunnel of cherry blossoms from the train’s wagon while overlooking the clear river streaming from afar. The trail takes approximately 25 minutes on this heavenly rail passage, and it will be one of the most mesmerizing moments to remember.
- You can buy advance tickets at West Japan Railway’s JR ticket office, main travel agencies all over Japan, and the Central Japan Travel Center of Chubu Centrair International Airport. You can also buy tickets on the day but if you do, make sure to arrive early to avoid disappointment.
- The fare is 620 yen and 310 yen for adult and child, respectively.
- It is recommended to take a one-way ride from Saga Torokko Station (トロッコ嵯峨駅) to Kameoka Torokko Station (トロッコ亀岡駅), then take a Hozu-gawa River Boat Ride back to Arashiyama (嵐山).
- The boat ride takes approximately 2 hours.
2. Keage Incline (蹴上インクライン)
Along another abandoned rail system, which is now a tourist attraction especially during cherry blossom weeks, lines about 90 cherry blossom trees. The walk along the railway down the slope will give you an illusion of a cherry blossom tunnel. This place will give you a sense of Kyoto in its old days.
3. Okazaki Canal Cruise
Once finishing the Keage Incline at Lake Biwa (琵琶湖), walk a little farther towards Heian Shrine (平安神宮). Just in front of the big red torii (鳥居) gate, you can get a glimpse of Okazaki Canal (岡崎疎水).
From here, you can take an Okazaki Canal cruise to enjoy the stretch of cherry blossom trees along the river. It will be a whole new perspective to appreciate a cloud of pink sakura. The cruise runs along a three-kilometer route and takes approximately 25 minutes.
- You can make a reservation on the internet or pay on the day.
- There is also a night cruise where a cherry blossom tree illumination will be on display.
- The fare is 1,200 yen for adults and 600 yen for children.
4. Gion-Shirakawa (祇園白川)
From Kyoto’s bustling area of Gion (祇園), there’s a quiet little street along a small canal. This area is known as the Shirakawa (白川) area, where cherry blossom trees and willow trees line up along a peaceful canal with a touch of an ancient Kyoto architecture. Possibly one of the most enticing areas in Kyoto, you may be lucky to meet a maiko (舞子) or geisha (芸者) dressed up in a traditional kimono (着物).
- Visit the Shirakawa area a bit before dusk and stay until the willow trees along the canal are lit up.
- Experience another side of Kyoto where you can almost time-travel to Kyoto’s Meiji (明治) era.
5. Maruyama Park (円山公園)
Exhausted from the day-long sakura hunt yet? Why not finish the night with a casual picnic under a bunch of cherry blossom trees at Maruyama Park? It can be easily accessed from Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社).
After sunset, there will be an illumination and a lively Hanami festival at the park, where you can browse over a line of food stalls and a wide selection of drinks.
- Take your time and buy some food from the food stalls. Sit and enjoy the illuminated sakura trees under a moonlit sky.
- Don’t forget to bring warm clothes since the temperature can drop at night.
The opportunity to enjoy this magnificent gift of nature is very brief. Cherry blossoms only bloom for one to two weeks at each location. So, plan your trip well in order to make the best of this season. It is also highly recommended that you do some research on the weather forecast and the cherry blossom forecast. Have a great time!