You might be asking yourself a few questions today. Things like, “Did I leave the gas on?” “How is it already February?” And, most pertinently, “Why is Stefanie talking about cherry blossom viewing when we’re still so far away from it?”
Originally, I was going to make a post about ume (plum) blossoms, as we’re in the right season for them. Ume blossoms, often overlooked in favor of cherry blossoms, have a lovely smell and help guide you through the last of winter into spring.
Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is all of my pictures of ume are terrible, and thus far in Kyoto there is one (1) tree that is blooming in Gosho. And that tree is surrounded by people with camera lenses three times the size of my head.
So, let’s talk about cherry blossoms today!
If you want to see them in Japan, you should do a little digging for research. But never fear; hanami （花見） is such a big deal that you won’t be wanting for any information. There are websites that will tell you not only when the blossoms will bloom, but when their peak day will be. Generally, though, you can expect to see them from the end of March to mid-April, depending on where you are in Japan.
There’s also no shortage of places to see them; if you’re in the Kansai area and you ride the Hankyu train, you’ll see them lining the tracks in some places. Walk along the Kamo River in Kyoto and get your fill. Alternatively, there are so many shrines, temples, and parks where you can go and enjoy them at your leisure.
My favorite spot, though?
Yoshino Mountain in Nara.
Access: Yoshino is pretty darn far from Kyoto. If you leave from Kyoto Station plan for it to take two hours on the Kintetsu line, and to transfer at Kashiharajingumae Station. If you’re in Osaka, great! It’ll only take more like 90 minutes. Either way, bring something to do.
That said, the path to and around Yoshino is pretty clear-cut. You start at the bottom of the mountain, where you’ll be greeted by a couple of omiyage stores. I stopped at one to try the “yomogi ice cream”. Note: Yomogi (よもぎ） translates to Japanese mugwort. As you can imagine, it has a very earthy taste. You can mix it up with a bit of sakura flavored ice cream and that makes it a little lighter, flavor-wise.
From there, it’s all uphill. Well, mostly; you’ll go through the town, along a couple of temples and shrines, and get plenty of chances to admire the scenery. If you go during the right season, there are buses to take; otherwise, there’s a ropeway you can use to get yourself around.
Popularity: Yoshino is extremely popular for cherry blossom viewers, so I highly recommend going on a weekday if possible. We went on a Tuesday, and a bit early in the season, so there was almost nobody else around. It allowed us to take our time admiring everything. I’d also suggest getting on a train early, as most things will close around 5pm.
Worth it? Absolutely. Despite going early, we were greeted with mountains that looked almost exactly like the sakura/yomogi ice cream I ate on the way up; green mountains with swirls of white or light pink on them. It was absolutely lovely, and I’ll definitely be going back there.
My recommendation: bring lunch with you! While there are restaurants around, my friend and I made up our own things and took it along, which allowed us plenty of flexibility for choosing a spot to stop. Once in a while in the mountains you’ll run across a clearing with picnic tables– you can plop down there and dine. Just remember to take your trash home with you. Don’t expect there to be anywhere to throw things away.
Have you been to Yoshino Mountain? Where’s your ideal cherry blossom viewing place? Do you have any recent pictures of ume blossoms? (If so, please share! I do hope to get out there and get some pictures in the next week or two, weather/time permitting.)