The start of Kyoto's eagerly awaited cherry blossom season was announced on Sunday, March 22, a full week earlier than last year's but still a few days behind Tokyo where the blossom is already aproaching full bloom. To see how things were progressing, I spent today visiting several of Kyoto's most popular viewing spots and found the blossom to be at a very early stage, with only a few of the rarer varieties flowering in earnest. If the relatively warm weather continues, the best viewing period for the more advanced spots could begin over the weekend with blossoms reaching an overall peak early next week.
Arriving quite early in the morning for my first stop of the day at Arashiyama before the usual rush of visitors, I coudn't resist the opportunity for a stroll through the famous Sagano Bamboo Grove, finding it almost empty. The many Somei Yoshino trees in the area around the Togetsukyo bridge were for the most part still in buds, but several of an earlier-blooming variety along the river were already blossoming nicely, and a line of trees on the mountainside appeared close to full bloom, adding a lovely splash of pink to the landscape. Arashiyama tends to reach full bloom a couple of days later than central Kyoto, so the blossom here will most likely hit its stride towards the middle of next week.
For visitors keen for a glimpse of the blossoms as soon as possible, my first recommendation would be the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, where a beautiful grove of early-blooming weeping cherry trees can be found on the northern side of the grounds. Unlike my other destinations today, the trees here were at or aproaching full bloom and number of visitors could be seen enjoying the blossoms and taking pictures. This would be an ideal spot to visit in the next few days, but most of the trees here will have passed their best by the time most spots in the city begin to peak.
Next on my itinerary was the Philosopher's Path, one of the city's best known walking routes loosely connecting Ginkakuji and Nanzenji temples along a little canal. Apart from the occasional spray of early blossom, most of the trees lining the path were still quite bare and it will be a few days before it really comes into its own.
Although at about the same early stage as the Philosopher's path, the Keage Incline was noticeably busier with lots of young people, many in colorful kimono. Here I noticed a few more of the earlier-blooming varieties showing some attractive blossom but again most of the avenue of trees was limited to buds and some very early flowers. The section of the Okazaki Canal running from the base of the incline to the area of the Heian Shrine is another of the city's most iconic spots but was almost entirely bare. This should be a particularly good spot to enjoy the blossoms once they reach full bloom, as visitors can enjoy the view from a boat tour until April 8 and the trees will be illuminated during peak period.
My final stop for the day was at Maruyama Park, usually the most popular in the city for hanami parties. The park's centrepiece, a large weeping cherry tree, was approaching full bloom but almost all of the other trees are of the standard type and only beginning to show. Due to the coronavirus, none of the usual foodstalls or outdoor restaurants will be in operation and parties have been prohibited, but visitors are still welcome to come and see the blossoms and should be able to enjoy them at their best from around four days time.