After about a week of peak cherry blossom viewing throughout western and central Japan, heavy rain and wind today has taken a toll on the blossoms across much of the country. Noticeable amounts of petals have been stripped from the cherry trees in many places where the flowers have been at full bloom for more than five or six days, including spots like Kyushu, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo.
While the weather will likely push many of Japan's best sakura spots beyond their best viewing states by the end of the day, fortunately, many trees in affected areas still have plenty of blossoms still sturdy enough to hang on to branches despite the rain. Spots where the blossoms only just reached full bloom within the last couple days should remain relatively unaffected after the rain clears, and the season also has yet to begin in much of the northern Tohoku Region and Hokkaido.
Today, to get a closer look at the conditions in the rainy Kansai Region, both Raina and I headed to Japan's ancient capital of Nara. Between the two of us, we made it to several of the city's best sakura spots to see just how much the rain affected the blossoms.
Raina—Today's dismal weather marked the start of the end of the cherry blossom season in Nara City. The strong winds and incessant rain brought many petals down and created small rivulets in Nara Park. The cherry trees had lost many petals in the rain and wind and looked a little sad today, all wet and dripping with rain. Cherry blossom petals littered the grass and collected in small puddles in the park. I saw many deer taking shelter under the cherry trees that surrounded the park. The rain should clear by tonight and the weather for the next few days looks to be sunny and warm. This coming weekend would probably be the last time to see cherry blossoms and perhaps get to experience small cherry blossom storms (hanafubuki) as the wind picks up the remaining petals.
Joe—My first stop this morning was to Horyuji Temple, one of Japan's most famous ancient Buddhist temples and home to the world's oldest surviving wooden buildings. As soon as I arrived at the temple grounds in the soaking rain, it was clear that the downpour had already started dragging the less-freshly opened petals off of the cherry trees here, with many petals freshly fallen to the ground across the complex.
That being said, however, most of the temple's sakura trees still had well over 50% of their petals still attached, and the trees still added beautiful splashes of color to the dark, ancient wooden palettes. While the temple only has maybe several dozen cherry trees in total, they definitely add to the atmosphere during the season, and, if the rain doesn't become too strong before the end of the day, should still offer some beautiful views of falling petals until early next week or so.
Raina—At the eastern end of Nara Park is the 342 meter tall Mount Wakakusayama. The mountain usually offers a bird's eye view of the city below, but with the bad weather today, not much was visible from the top. There is an admission fee of 150 yen to access the walking path to the top and the mountain can be climbed in about 15 to 20 minutes. I found myself to be the only crazy person to go up Mount Wakakusayama in the rain, only to realize on the way down that everyone in the shop and restaurant across the road were watching me in my folly. The state of the cherry trees here were worse off compared to the ones in Nara Park. The trees here were badly affected by the wind and rain, and had more petals on the ground than on the branches. There may not be many blossoms left on the trees left to see this coming weekend, and visitors who want to see blossoms would be better off at Nara Park.
Koriyama Castle Ruins
Joe—My next stop for the day was to the ruins of the former Koriyama Castle, located a few train stops north of Horyuji and just outside of central Nara. Despite the out-of-the way location, the grounds make for a very pleasant place for hanami partying with hundreds of sakura trees planted around the grounds.
Like the rest of Nara, the trees here were well past their peak, likely greatly due to the rain. Again, though, plenty of blossoms seemed to be withstanding the weather and should still offer some very nice viewing through the weekend and into next week.
Raina—My last stop of the day was Himuro Shrine which is across from the Nara National Museum. The shrine's main attraction is the large weeping cherry tree next to the entrance gate, and today, the petals have all dropped leaving green leaves in their place. The common mainstream Somei Yoshino cherry trees in the shrine were also affected by the rain and wind, and had petals taken off.