Today I headed down to Mount Yoshino (Yoshinoyama) in Nara Prefecture to follow up on Raina's report from April 5th. The area is one of Japan's best cherry blossom spots as the town's mountain slopes are covered in approximately 30,000 cherry trees. The slopes are typically referred to in four divisions, each known as a Senbon, or one thousand trees (although they consist of many more than a thousand trees each). From the bottom to the top, the senbon are the Shimo Senbon (lower 1000 trees), Naka Senbon (middle 1000 trees), Kami Senbon (upper 1000 trees) and Oku Senbon (inner 1000 trees).
Due to the large elevation change along the slopes, the cherry blossoms start opening around the lower Shimo Senbon area and move up the mountain in a long season that typically lasts from late March to mid April. The majority of the trees around Yoshino are Yamazakura, a wilder type of cherry tree, which were at full bloom in the lower two areas and just starting to open around the upper areas one week ago.
A quick word about the crowds at Yoshinoyama. Normally I like to take the seasonal microbus from the Naka Senbon area up to the Oku Senbon and then walk down the mountain. However, the crowds were still at their peak today despite the lack of flowers, and the lines for the microbuses were about 150-200 people and an hour long. Still, I would probably recommend taking the bus as the mountain is much more enjoyable walking down than walking up and the overall time spent is about the same. Then again, if time is not an issue then you can easily walk both ways.
The Shimo Senbon area surrounds the road connecting Yoshino Station to the shrines and temples of Naka Senbon. Cherry trees line the road and cover the lower slopes; however, since our last visit they have lost most all of their petals and are predominantly covered in coppery or green new leaves.
Yoshino's Naka Senbon area is where you'll find most of the town's historic shrines and temples as well as a large variety of shops, restaurants and cafes. There is also a nice park area along a forested hill called the Naka Senbon Koen, which offers space to picnic under the trees. Unfortunately, the cherry blossom season has also come to a close around the Naka Senbon area. There were a handful of later blooming trees here and there that were still barely holding on to some of their petals, but the season is predominantly over around this part of the mountain as well.
The Kami Senbon area lies even further up toward to top of the mountains, and was the last chance to see some good cherry blossoms today (we don't typically cover the Oku Senbon area as there are not many cherry trees planted around there and there are no views of the slope). The area provides the best views of the cherry tree covered slopes below, with the most famous lookout point at the Hanayagura Viewpoint about 5 kilometers up the mountain. With the good weather today you could clearly see the temples around the Naka Senbon from Hanayagura. There were not many trees left in bloom below, but even so the cherry trees looked colorful from this distance.
The cherry blossoms around the Kami Senbon area were just opening on April 5th, and by now they progressed past the peak to a point between the petals were falling freely or it was the end of season depending on the particular spot on the mountain. Overall it was nice, but the season has just about come to an end around Kami Senbon as well.