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.
2015/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
Today I spent another wet day checking out the cherry blossoms around Mount Yoshino (Yoshinoyama) in Nara Prefecture, which is arguable one of Japan's best cherry blossom spots. Approximately 30,000 cherry trees are planted along the mountainside, which 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" moves up Mount Yoshino starting around the lower Shimo Senbon area typically around late March and works its way up through the Naka and Kami areas over the course of a week or so. This results in an unusually long season where you can potentially see all of the different stages of cherry blossoms on the same visit as you head up the mountain.
Note that the majority of the trees around Yoshino are Yamazakura, a wilder type of cherry tree compared to the more cultivated Somei Yoshino trees that dominate most parts of Japan and confusingly share a similarly name as the mountain. Yamazakura blossoms are slightly smaller and less numerous on the branches and come out together with the fresh, copper colored leaves, giving the trees a less intense look overall.
Also note that while the trees are located on a mountainside, much of the "hike" is on paved roads through town area filled with shops, restaurants, and temples. It isn't a particularly difficult climb and various buses, taxis, and a cable car provide a means to skip most of walk up altogether. I'd recommend using the buses to go to the uppermost areas and then enjoy the blossoms as you walk back down to the train station.
April 7, 2015 - full bloom
The Shimo Senbon area connects Yoshino Station to the town areas of Naka Senbon. The main attraction here is the cherry blossom lined road that leads up the mountain. Alternatively, you can take the cable car and fly overhead through the trees on your way up to the town area instead.
The cherry blossoms in this area typically open first so are usually the most advanced on the mountain. This year they opened on April 1st and were reported to reach full bloom yesterday. Though when I first saw the trees I thought that the petals were already beginning to fall, I think that can be attributed to the rainy weather as it is still a little too early for the petals to be dropping and I'd fully expect it to remain nice on the mountain through the week.
April 7, 2015 - full bloom
The bulk of Yoshino's historic temples are located around the Naka Senbon area midway up the mountain. This area also has a large variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes along with a lot of private residences. The cherry trees around Naka Senbon looked just at full bloom today so should provide plenty of beautiful views for another week or so. Unfortunately, its expected to be cold and or wet for the next few days which may make it difficult to get out and enjoy the blossoms.
One of the most famous views of the mountain can be enjoyed from Yoshimizu Shrine, however there was pretty heavy fog and light rain obscuring the views most of the day.
April 7, 2015 - approaching full bloom (50-80%)
The Kami Senbon area towards the top of the mountain provide the best views of the cherry tree covered slopes below, with the most famous panoramic views from the Hanayagura Viewpoint about 5 kilometers up the mountain. Unfortunately the fog was really thick and obscured the view for most of the time I was there.
The cherry blossoms around the Kami Senbon area opened on April 4th and aren't expected to reach full bloom until around the 9th. A lot of the trees look at or right before full bloom today already though, so it might even hit sooner.
April 7, 2015 - still closed
The Oku Senbon area is even further back in the mountains, with cherry trees that bloom about a week later than the rest of the mountain. However we don't typically cover it as there are not many cherry trees up here and the area doesn't offer views of the flower covered slopes. So consider this a little bonus coverage since I was in the area anyway.