This year's cherry blossom season is fully underway as the blossoms are now reaching their best viewing in the greater Tokyo area and are well on their way in most major cities in southern and central Japan.
As Charly reported yesterday, most of central Tokyo's best viewing spots will be reaching full bloom in the next few days and should likely remain at their best through the weekend. South of Tokyo, Raina reported from Kyoto Saturday that the city's blossoms should be at full bloom by the end of the week, and in Hiroshima and Kyushu's major cities, the blossoms are already at their best viewing now.
Today, I headed just south of Tokyo to Kamakura where I found the blossoms there approaching full bloom in most places. With warm temperatures and good weather predicted, I expect the blossoms to be at their best viewing through this week and likely into the weekend.
To start the day, I first headed to the Great Buddha (or Daibutsu) of Kamakura located in Kotokuin Temple. At 11.4 meters tall, the Daibutsu is one of Japan's tallest bronze Buddha statues (the largest of which is located at Todaiji Temple's in Nara).
Next to the statue itself, there is only one cherry tree, which this morning only had about 20% of its blossoms open. Just outside the main courtyard, though, there is a small collection of cherry trees which were nearly at full bloom and looking rather pretty today.
With mild weather predicted this week, all the sakura (cherry blossoms) here should be at their best viewing by the end of the week, and likely remain pretty through next weekend.
After visiting the Great Buddha, I left the temple grounds and took a sharp right, following the road for about 200 meters, where I found the trailhead of the Kuzuharaoka Trail one of Kamakura's many hiking trails that weave through the city's surrounding hills and connect many of its temples and other sites.
From Kotokuin, I followed the trail up and down a hilly, sometimes steep forested ridge for about 30 minutes, occasionally catching vistas out to the ocean in the distance. After the short, pleasant hike, I reached my next destination for the day: Genjiyama Park. In addition to being the site of some interesting historical events (including a beheading!), the hilltop park boasts a few dozen cherry trees scattered around the clearings at the park's high point. The atmosphere makes for a wonderful spot for hanami picnics, which some park-goers were enjoying today.
Unlike other places in town, the cherry trees at the park were mainly yamazakura, a wild species whose leaves tend to come out at the same time as their blossoms, unlike the mainstream, cultivated Somei Yoshino variety which are found in most city parks in Japan. I found the blossoms here at full bloom today, a bit more developed than in the lower parts of town. Barring unexpected strong winds or rain, I expect them to remain at their best viewing through the rest of the week.
My last stop for the day was to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura's most prominent Shinto shrine, dedicated to Hachiman, the patron god of the samurai and the powerful Minamoto family who established the shrine (and the Kamakura government here in the 12th century).
Inside the shrine grounds, the Genpei Pond offers the best cherry blossom viewing here, especially within the shrine's peony garden. While the sakura here were very near—but not quite at—full bloom, the peony flowers happened to be ready to make up the slack and were gorgeously in fluffy full bloom today. The sakura, though, should catch up in a day or two and I expect will remain at full bloom for the rest of the week.
While the shrine is magnificent on its own, the wide approach that leads all the way from the waterfront through Kamakura's city center and up to the shrine's main gates, known as the Dankazura, is especially impressive. A large portion of the pedestrian approach near the shrine is also lined with cherry trees, which were newly planted a couple years ago after the walkway was completely renovated. Though the new trees aren't very large yet here, they still offer a pleasant atmosphere for strolling.
Today, the blossoms along the approach were still a little behind their more mature neighbors around the pond, and may last a little longer, though with a less intense effect since the trees haven't yet grown as many blossoms.