The cherry blossom season continues to pick up pick up steam across the country, and reports from Kyushu to Tokyo are announcing full bloom this week. After several weeks of warmer-than-usual weather, the "sakura front" is about one week early compared to average years.
This week most of western Japan, including Kyoto, Osaka, Kyushu and Shikoku, will be reaching their best viewing. And with warm, sunny weather in the forecast, this week should be a perfect time to go out and view the blossoms.
After a beautiful day of full-bloom sakura in Tokyo yesterday, today I headed to Kyoto to check on the blossoms there. Excitingly, the blossoms in the former capital were very near full bloom today in several of the city's best sakura spots.
My first stop for the day was to the Kyoto Imperial Park. In the northwest corner of the sprawling park grounds lies a small grove of weeping cherry trees (or shidarezakura) which usually bloom in late March.
Today, the trees here seemed right on schedule, and most were at or near full bloom. These trees should remain in bloom through this week and into next week barring any inclement weather.
My next stop today was to Kyoto's other renowned palace, Nijo Castle. This former residence of the shogun hosts some nice cherry trees patches on its spacious grounds, mainly in two separate spots: the Seiryu-en Garden and the cherry tree grove, each featuring different tree varieties.
The trees in the Seiryu-en Garden today were mostly at or near full bloom, and will likely be at their best viewing into next week. The cherry tree grove, however (as well as most of the other lone sakura trees scattered across the grounds), were still only just beginning to bloom and probably won't reach their peak until next week.
Nijo Castle also features a nighttime illumination from March 23 to April 15 between 18:00 and 21:30 each night (last entry at 21:00). Admission is 600 yen.
Keage Incline and Okazaki Canal
After palace hopping, I next headed to eastern Kyoto to check out the Keage Incline. The incline was once part of a canal and tunnel system that linked Kyoto to Lake Biwa opening the city to water trade. Now, the slope is lined with a stunning array of Somei Yoshino cherry trees.
Today, the slope's trees were nearly almost all in full bloom and looking quite spectacular.
At the end of the Keage Incline is a small reservoir which forms the start of the Okazaki Canal, a waterway that connected the old Lake Biwa canal system to Kyoto's Kamo River. Like the incline, the canal is also surrounded by hundreds of cherry trees which today were all at or near full bloom.
For a different perspective on the blossoms, boat tours of the canal are available every 15-30 minutes from March 24 to May 6 between 9:30 and 16:30. From March 30 to April 10 tours run until 20:30 as the trees along the canal are lit up. Cruises are 1000 yen per person.
My last stop for the day was to Maruyama Park, just a short walk south of the Okazaki Canal area. In addition to being famous as Kyoto's first public park, it is perhaps more renowned as one of the city's most beloved cherry blossom viewing spots.
Today, the park's many trees, including the massive shidarezakura around which the park is centered, were at full bloom and will likely be at their best viewing all week and into next week (assuming the mild weather forecasts hold out).
While popular any time of day, at night, the tree illuminations attract even bigger crowds looking to enjoy the festive atmosphere, food and drink. The light up lasts until midnight each night in the park while the trees are in bloom.