We are now midway through the cherry blossom season, and many of the cherry trees in the cities from Kyushu to the Kanto Region have reached full bloom (mankai). Kanazawa and Takamatsu were a couple of the latest places to reach mankai today. The sakura season is moving towards the Tohoku Region slowly but surely, with Fukushima and Sendai the only two cities that have started their cherry blossom season thus far. Fukushima actually reached full bloom yesterday (April 3), three days earlier compared to last year and ten days earlier than average.
With cherry blossom season at its peak in central and southern Japan, the weekend past was a busy period at many gardens and popular cherry blossom viewing spots those areas. Many people took the opportunity to have cherry blossom viewing (hanami) parties, and it seemed that there was a bit of squeezing and jostling for spots at some of the more popular places! One of the interesting things about the sakura season is seeing people sleeping on large blue tarps in gardens and parks. They are not homeless, but simply reserving prime spots for their party later. In some extreme cases, people have camped at their spots the night before at really popular spots. That's dedication!
Today, I was in Kyoto checking out a number of popular cherry blossom spots in the city. Kyoto reached mankai status on April 2, two days ago and the flowers I saw today were still at their peak. However, due to the rain and wind yesterday and today, some of the petals have started falling but not in large numbers. The trees are still full and fluffy, and I expect the best viewing period to be until around April 6 before the petals start falling in larger quantities.
I started my rainy day in Arashiyama where the cherry trees near Togetsukyo Bridge and the park near the Hankyu station were at full bloom. Despite the rain, there were still a fair number of visitors to Arashiyama. The rain from the past two days caused some of the petals to fall off, but the flower bunches still remain full and fluffy, and the best viewing period should be good till around April 6 and more petals start to fall off.
From Arashiyama, I took the train and bus to the start of the Philosopher's Path not far from Ginkakuji. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. It is definitely a popular cherry blossom spot, evident from the throngs of visitors who were there. There are a variety of cherry trees along the path, but most of them are the common mainstream Somei Yoshino variety. The earlier flowering varieties had their petals dropping but on the whole, the Somei Yoshino trees were full and captured the attention of many of the visitors.
From the Philosopher's Path, I made my way toward Heian Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reign from Kyoto. The shrine grounds are deceptively huge and one of its main attraction is the garden (600 yen for admission) behind the main buildings. The garden is home to many weeping cherry trees and they were more than midway towards full bloom when I was there today. It was delightful to stroll under the weeping cherry trees instead of the common mainstream Somei Yoshino. Warm weather is forecast for the next few days and I expect the weeping cherry blossoms to open more and reach full bloom before the end of this week.
Okazaki Canal is located just outside of Heian Shrine and that was where I headed next. Cherry trees line the banks of the canal and they were at full bloom when I was there. There are boat tours that take visitors along the canal and offer a different perspective of the cherry trees. This year the tours will run till May 8, from 9:30 to 16:30 and costs 1200 yen for a 25 minute boat ride. From now till April 10 during the peak cherry blossom season, the tours run till 20:30 allowing visitors to enjoy the evening illuminations.
My final stop for today was the Keage Incline, which is adjacent to Okazaki Canal. The gentle slope is lined by about one hundred cherry trees on both sides and is a very popular sakura spot. There were lots of visitors enjoy the open blossoms and I saw at least five wedding photoshoots in the short time that I was there. Like almost all of the places I visited today, the cherry trees here were at their peak and should remain at their best for the next few days. I expect the best viewing period to be until around April 6 before the petals start falling off freely and in large quantities.