As more and more sights reach full bloom across Japan, it seems that most areas are hitting their peak about 3-4 days earlier than in an average season. This is not nearly as early as their opening dates suggested - most started blooming about 5-7 days earlier than average - but the slowdown can be attributed to several days of cold weather that passed through just after most sights opened. Note that this doesn't apply to the Tohoku and Hokkaido regions. Those areas seem to be opening even earlier than average, but how they eventually develop will be highly dependent on the weather.
Today brought me back to Kyoto to check out some more of the county's most popular cherry blossom spots. It was lightly raining when I arrived, as it was in other parts of Japan today, but it wasn't coming down hard enough and the blossoms are still strong enough that it should have little effect on the flowers. The return visit also gave me an opportunity to see how well my predictions held up from my last visit on March 29th. At that time, the cherry blossoms around Kyoto were still in the early opening stages, and I had predicted that they would reach the peak around the weekend. Based on what I saw today, that estimate might have been a little conservative as the majority of trees looked like they were just on the verge of peak and should cross over the threshold by tomorrow, if not even later on today.
My first stop this morning was to Nijo Castle, the former Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shogun. The castle grounds are home to collections of flowering trees that include a range of cherry tree varieties that make for a relatively long blooming season. There are three areas for cherry blossoms around Nijo Castle. The main and most spectacular area lies on the northeast corner of the castle grounds and is referred to as the Seiryu-en Garden. Dozens of large cherry trees, supplemented by a healthy dose of early blooming weeping cherries, cover the garden forming tunnels of blossoms over the pathways. The main Somei Yoshino cherry trees were approaching full bloom this morning, and they should cross the threshold very soon, if not today. The weeping cherry trees in the garden were at full bloom, further enhancing the spectacle.
Two other parts of the park, the pathways along the western wall and the aptly named Sakura-no-en (Cherry Blossom Garden), are mostly filled with later blooming cherry trees, including Yaebeni Shidarezakura and some more exotic varieties, that were still in the early stages of opening today. Nijo Castle will be illuminated in the evenings from 18:00 to 21:30 through April 17th. Admission costs 400 yen and ends at 21:00.
Upon leaving the castle, I hopped on the cross town subway and made a really quick stop by the Okazaki Canal. It was starting to rain, and I just wanted to check up on at least one sight from my last trip for comparison. The blossoms have progressed since I last visited, but they still look to be below the 50% open mark. Still, I think my earlier prediction for the canal might be too conservative considering the warm weather forecast for the next several days. Last time I underestimated just how advanced the closed blossoms were, and if you look at the close up shot you can see they they look practically ready to pop open. In light of that I think the peak could hit the canal this weekend rather than early next week.
Next I walked over to Maruyama Park over in the city's historic Higashiyama district. The park is one of Kyoto's best cherry blossom spots and the city's most popular place to hold flower viewing (hanami) parties. It is so popular that, despite the rain, people were out picnicking today. The various groups had built little shelters of umbrellas to keep themselves relatively dry.
The cherry blossoms around Maruyama Park looked to have just started approaching full bloom, which would put them slightly behind some of the other sights I visited today. Still I think they are on track to reach full bloom tomorrow or the next day. The giant weeping cherry tree that is the centerpiece of the park, however, has reached full bloom. It should remain at its peak for the next three or four days before the blossoms start to fall, but rain is has been forecast for Sunday and Monday so that may have a potential effect. The large weeping cherry tree and other parts of the park are illuminated until 25:00 through the blooming season.
My final destination today was Daigoji Temple down in the southeastern corner of Kyoto. This large temple complex is home to some of the city's best weeping cherry trees, making it a good spot to visit earlier in the season when those trees are in bloom. Daigoji's weeping cherry trees were at full bloom today and extremely beautiful despite the rainy weather. There are also lots of the more common Somei Yoshino cherry trees planted along the temple walls and around the various buildings. These trees (which are basically the reference species for Japanese cherry trees) were still approaching the peak and probably won't hit it for a day or two.