The cherry blossom season is just around the corner about 1 to 2 weeks away. Popular known as ‘Sakura’, cherry blossom is also regarded as the national flower of Japan. Specifically in Japan, the blooming usually starts between late March and early April depending on the weather.
As for my case, I visited Kyoto from 8th to 15th of April 2015 which was last year for my very real and first cherry blossom experience. Due to unpredictable weather (hot wave arrived a little bit earlier), some hanami spots achieved its full bloom few days earlier. However, my family and I still managed to catch not a glimpse but several sakura hanami spots with full bloom. Based on my personal experience, below are my top four recommended yet great spots for hanami or sakura viewing.
No.1 Sagano Scenic Railway.
Stood at no.1 in my list, is the The Sagano Scenic Railway (aka the Sagano Romantic Train or Sagano Torokko). This train is a sightseeing train that runs along the soothing emerald Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka. We took this old-school train through the mountains which took about 25 minutes. This 7 kilometers journey gave us a very pleasant scenery of the forests as well as cherry blossoms along the track.
Take a short journey by viewing the 1080p 60 fps youtube video of Sagano Scenic Railway
The price for a one way ticket between Torokko Sagano and Torokko Kameostation cost 620 yen.
All seats are reserved, although standing tickets are sold if the seats are full. Tickets can be purchased at Torokko Saga Station, or at JR ticket offices in the Kansai Region. However, it is highly recommended to purchase tickets in advance to ensure a seat during the peak seasons especially during the sakura season and autumm season. You can choose to purchase a return ticket or purchase a ticket for river cruise along the hozugawa river which will cost about 3000 yen and the cruise will take approximately 2 hours.
The Torokko Sagano station can be accessed by taking the JR train from Kyoto Station to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station which will take about 15 minutes and 240 yen one way from Kyoto Station.
No.2 Kamo River
No.2 best spots for cherry blossom is the the Kamo River. Lliterally translated as Duck River, it is a popular 31km stretch riverbanks for hanami. There are several locations at Kamo river for hanami, however, I personally suggest the stretch of river bank at the Kitaoji Bridge section. The river there is lined with many cherry blossoms hanging over wooden framework for visitors to admire while strolling the river banks. I personally recommend this spot as there were not any tourist or I would say very minimal foreigners thus makes the place less congested.
The Kitaoji Bridge section of Kamo River can be visited before or after visiting the Kinkakuji aka Golden Pavillion. Entrance is totally free in this case..well there’s no entrance to begin with.
No.3 Nijo-Castle (Nijoujou)
At No.3 in my list is the Nijo-Castle. This castle was built by the Tokugawa Ieyasu in the year 1603 to protect the Kyoto Imperial Palace. During the season, the garden in the courtyard are filled with various cherry and plum blossom species. My family and I visited the Nijo-Castle for night illumination of the cherry blossom for a change instead of day time. The experience was wonderful which includes free professional koto performance.
The usual opening hours is from 8:45am – 4pm (the castle closes at 5pm). However, during the sakura season, the castle is opened until at least 10pm if I am not mistaken.
General admission – ￥600
Junior highschool, highschool – ￥350
Primary school ￥200
Location: Get off at JR Nijo Station
No.4 Philosopher’s walk
Last but not the least, is ‘Philosopher’s Walk’. This 2km stretch consist of a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry blossom trees. In the month of April this place will be filled up with tonnes of cherry blossom petals flowing along the river. This path also leads to the Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion). The path gets its name from Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation on his daily commute to Kyoto University.
Enjoy the short video of the Philosopher’s Walk with the canal full of sakura petals.
Well that’s my top 4 best and great spots for cherry blossom/sakura in Kyoto. I hope you enjoy this post and I hope that this will help and guide your sakura viewing mission in Kyoto. I am sure that there will be other great places for sakura such as the Kiyomizudera and the Maruyama Koen. Time was limited and I hope to be able to further explore Kyoto in the near future.