by Joe, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2015/04/14 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Yoshino
As the cherry blossom season is ramping up in Tohoku this week, the Kansai Region, including places like Kyoto and Osaka, are reaching the end of the season. The end of the season, though, can be a great time to enjoy late-season cherry blossoms, and Kansai offers a few good places to catch some sakura (cherry blossoms) before they're gone for the year. This includes the region's (and arguably Japan's) premier cherry blossom viewing destination: Mount Yoshino.
I was greeted in Yoshino this morning by lots of rain, but I was surprised to be far from alone in the dreary weather. Hundreds of visitors were still pouring into Yoshino Station and making their way up the hills to try and see some end-of-the-season sakura (cherry blossoms) today.
Yoshino is divided into four distinct areas with cherry blossoms, graded by elevation: the Shimo Senbon (or lower "thousand trees"), Naka Senbon (middle), Kami Senbon (upper), and Oku Senbon ("deep" or "inner" area). The large area and range of elevations Yoshino covers allows for the trees on its hillside to bloom at different times (starting in the low areas and moving up the hill), usually over the course of a few weeks. Last week, Scott was here and reported that the blossoms were in full bloom in the lower and middle areas, but the higher areas hadn't peaked yet. A week later, I wanted to find out today what areas were still blooming.
April 14, 2015 - past peak
Assuming the best blossoms might be in the upper areas today, I took the 360 yen, 15-minute shuttle bus from Yoshino Station to the Naka Senbon (the middle area), and hiked up from there to the higher Kami Senbon. On the way, it was clear that even in this relatively later-blooming area the season was already starting to wrap up. On the hillsides (when they were visible through the passing rain clouds), there were only a few patches of pink blossoms here and there.
My main destination in the Kami Senbon was the Hanayagura viewpoint, which on a clear day sports a breathtaking view of the blossoming trees below during the season. Today, the rain clouds weren't very accommodating for showing off the sakura below, unfortunately, but did make for some fairly atmospheric views of clouds envloping the hills. A peppering of cherry trees in the highest parts of the Kami Senbon, however, were still rather full and only just starting to lose their petals today.
Just a couple hundred meters further up the hill from the Hanayagura viewpoint lies another highlight in the Kami Senbon: Mikumari Shrine. In its quiet, atmospheric courtyard there is a single old cherry tree which was in full bloom today, and more than worth walk up the hill to see.
April 14, 2015 - past peak
As the rain started picking up, I decided to descend down the mountain back to the Naka Senbon, where the trees were even more clearly past their peak today. Very few trees had any blossoms, save a few hangers on. The fog cleared a bit in the area when I arrived, however, finally showing off some of the surrounding hills. Even without blossoms, the multi-colored leaves of the hillside trees were still quite pretty.
The Naka Senbon is also home to many of Yoshino's most important and impressive temples and shrines. Chikurin-in Temple is one of these, and also happens to have a lovely inner garden that sports its own sakura which were in bloom today (entrance to the garden is 300 yen).
April 14, 2015 - approaching full bloom (50-80%)
With the rain calming in the Naka Senbon, I decided to follow the advice of some fellow flower hunters and took the 400 yen, 20-minute mini-bus ride to the Oku Senbon, where the cherry blossoms tend to bloom almost a full week behind even the Kami Senbon. Today, I found that to indeed be the case, as the trees in this area were just about to reach their own peak. The Oku Senbon, however, has far fewer cherry trees than the other parts of the mountain, so it can be a little underwhelming, especially when there's lots of rain (as there happened to be by the time I reached the area).
April 14, 2015 - end of season
To round out my visit, on my way back to Yoshino Station, I walked back from the Naka Senbon bus stop through the low Shimo Senbon. Here, the trees and plants were already starting to show lots of fresh new green foliage in place of blossoms (again, save a lone late-blooming trees here and there). It was a good reminder of how much elevation can affect seasonal colors, true not only for cherry blossoms, but also autumn leaves.