With nearly every city in western Japan having declared their sakura season to be in full bloom (mankai), now we can only hope the petals hold on as long as possible to preserve peak viewing conditions. Last Friday when Raina was in Kyoto, she reported that the city had hit full bloom. Today I went back to Japan's former capital to five of Kyoto's most popular sakura spots. Happily, I can report that a majority of the trees around the city still have most of their petals. However, some are starting to lose them and with the high chance of rain tomorrow, I'm affraid many may finally let go. I advise anyone hoping to see cherry blossoms in Kyoto to visit this week.
On a brighter note, recent warm temperatures across Japan have resulted in the sakura front continuing to progress northward. On the 8th, both Niigata and Fukushima officially announced that their sakura seasons had begun (kaika). It won't be long now until the buds in Akita start opening. If you're wondering when each city will be at their peak this cherry blossom season, we've created a complete nationwide sakura forecast here.
The first spot I visited was Arashiyama in western Kyoto which has been a tourist destination since the Heian Period (794-1185). The most notable sakura area in this district is the park just across the Togetsukyo bridge. Here I was pleased to find that the blossoms in this area are still robust and have not started to fall. On the main shopping street there were large crowds, but once across the bridge, people seemed to head in different directions making it less congested.
Next I moved on to the Okazaki Canal, which is only a short walk from the famous Heian Shrine. Compared to the photos from Raina's report on Friday, the area looked almost identical. The trees are still full and beautiful. However, a few petals have started to fall and I expect the upcoming rain tomorrow to take a heavy toll. For those looking for another angle on the sakura which line the canal, boat rides are available from 8AM until 9PM during peak sakura season (25 minutes, 1200 yen).
In the main courtyard of the Heian Shrine is a single sakura tree. When I arrived today this was losing petals rapidly. I expect it will be bare by the end of the week. However, the weeping sakura which bloom slightly later (Yaebeni Shidare) in the garden behind the main buildings were in full bloom. Even with the rains tomorrow, they will still likely be at their peak into the weekend. It is one of the best places to visit Kyoto towards the end of the season.
My penultimate spot to visit today was the Keage Incline. This is located directly next to Nanzenji Temple and is an easy walk from Heian Shrine. The petals today were still mostly attached to the trees, but are definitely starting to dislodge. Given the upcoming rain tomorrow, I predict the sakura in this area will only be worth viewing until Thursday or Friday.
To end the day, I visited the Philosopher's Path, perhaps Kyoto's number one sakura spot (our website lists it first anyway). Here I found the iconic walkway and canal still looking photogenic. Yes, a few petals are starting to fall, but in general the whole path still looks more or less at its peak. I wouldn't be surprised however if the coming rain and wind tomorrow cause the area to lose many blossoms. If you hope to see this classic Kyoto sakura spot looking its best this year, I recommend coming in the next two or three days.