by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2011/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
Today I made the trek out to Yoshinoyama (Mount Yoshino) in Nara Prefecture. Mount Yoshino is one of Japan's most famous cherry blossom spots and lends its name to the country's predominant somei yoshino cherry blossom variety.
There are approximately 30,000 cherry trees planted along the mountainside, which make for some spectacular views when they are in full bloom. Yoshino is divided into four areas each known as a Senbon, or one thousand trees. From the bottom of the mountain, visitors travel through Shimo Senbon (lower 1000 trees), Naka Senbon (middle 1000 trees), Kami Senbon (upper 1000 trees), and finally to Oku Senbon (inner 1000 trees).
The "cherry blossom front" at Mount Yoshino begins in the lower Shimo Senbon area and works its way up the mountain as the season progresses. This gives Mount Yoshino a long cherry blossom season where you can see dramatically different stages of cherry blossoms as you head higher and higher up the mountain.
Note that while the trees are located on a mountainside, much of the "hike" is through town area filled with shops, restaurants, and temples. It isn't a particularly difficult climb and the entire walk can be done on paved roads. Alternatively, various buses, taxis, and a cable car provide a means to skip most of the walking altogether.
April 8, 2011 - opening (10-50%)
From Yoshino Station, a cherry blossom lined road leads through Shimo Senbon and connects to the ridge that leads up the mountain. Dozens of souvenir shops, restaurants, food stands, and other stores line the road along the ridge and give the area a very town like feel.
The cherry blossoms in this area are generally the most advanced in Yoshino. Today the somei yoshino trees were still in the opening stages and had less than 50% of their blossoms open. The area next to the cablecar was the furthest along and had some of the highest concentration of cherry blossoms, but there were also a few trees here and there that hung over the shops and restaurants that line the road through Shimo Sanbon.
April 8, 2011 - just opened (0-10%) (somei yoshino)
April 8, 2011 - full bloom (weeping cherry)
Naka Senbon is the most town like part of the mountain and has a large variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes, along with a lot of private residences and most of Yoshino's temples.
As you headed further up the mountain the trees were less and less advanced. By Kinpusenji Temple, the leading Buddhist temple in Yoshino which lies at the beginning of Naka Senbon, the somei yoshino trees were still mostly closed. However, along the wooded slopes around Naka Senbon the somei yoshino trees were just beginning to open.
There were also a lot of weeping cherry trees and other early opening cherry varieties found all around Naka Senbon. These trees have reached full bloom and are providing the majority of the color in the area. They look like they will remain at their best for at least a few more days, and hopefully long enough for the somei yoshino trees to take over.
April 8, 2011 - about to open
The best views of the cherry tree covered mountain slope are from the lower three areas, so I only ventured as far as the Hanayagura Viewpoint at the top of the Kami Senbon area, roughly 5 kilometers up the mountain. From here you had a spectacular panoramic view of all three areas below. Unfortunately there was a lack of color as the trees below were still quite bare since it is still early in the season on Mount Yoshino.
As expected, Kami Senbon was the least advanced part of the mountain that I visited today. The cherry blossoms are still only buds, but they are already at the point where they are just about ready to burst open. Hopefully they will begin to open in the next few days.