Kyoto is the former Imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years. Like its old name “Heian-Kyo” (literally means “tranquility and peace”), the city peacefully remained as the center of culture, history, religion, and tourism in Japan. Exploring the streets and alleys is a sweet and fulfilling experience, and it’s a good way to understand the Japanese culture for many first-timers. More, the seasons in Kyoto offers different sceneries, only you need to know to be at the right place at the right time.
This time – we are going to Kyoto in the spring, visit some of the city’s classic historic places and see cherry blossoms.
My 1-day cherry blossom viewing plan in Kyoto
It’s about time.
Yes, in winter, it’s about time to plan and organize a trip to Japan for an amazing, romantic, breathtaking cherry blossom viewing experience.
In Japan, “flower viewing” is called “Hanami” – “Hana” means flower, usually cherry or plum in spring, “Mi” means “to view” or “to see”. It is one of the Japanese traditional customs and an instant image pop up in mind from Manga which folks sat on a huge mat on the ground in the park and happily eating, and drinking, and singing Karaoke…
I have been visiting Japan for cherry blossoms in different places for a few years now, and I think I will share them one by one. However, the most iconic Hanami destinations would no doubt be in Kyoto.
So here it is, some popular places in Kyoto where you could spot lovely cherry blossom: Wake up in the morning and enjoy a little breakfast, and then wherever you are, you will need a Kyoto City bus all-day pass that allows you to travel around the city the whole day!
Gion > Yasaka Shrine > Shirokawa Area > Maruyama Park > Hanami Koji Street
Daily Budget: JPY5000-8000 (exclude shopping)
One day bus pass
The bus pass could be purchased on the bus.
Price: Adult JPY500, Child JPY250
Coverage: Zones include Arashiyama, Sagano, Takao, Shugakuin, etc. – it would be enough for my plan 🙂
Philosopher’s path 哲学の道 and Ginkaku-Ji 銀閣寺
I stayed in Kyoto Plaza Hotel (京都プラザホテル) which is a budget hotel, and as always, I like it close to the JR train station. Hop on bus #100 @ the bus stop in front of the JR train station and for about 12 bus stops (28 mins), hop off the Ginkaku-Ji Mae station and cross the road to arrive at the Philosopher’s path – a pleasant pedestrian stone path along a stream with hundreds of cherry trees planted. Philosopher’s walk is definitely on the first of my list for cherry blossom viewing. Go earlier in the morning to avoid the crowd, and it has enough space and angles to make sure you get stunning photos with the amazing scenery – up close and personal 🙂
Have fun posing in front of your favorite trees and photo-taking, go back to the main road once you arrive at Ginkaku-Ji, and drop by the small gift shops and send a postcard home at the post office.
Hop on bus #100 again, and you should reach Gojo-zaka Mae, walk along Shimizu New Way Chawan-zaka that heading towards the iconic (and possibly most recognizable?) temple in Kyoto – Kiyomizu Dera.
Out of all temples, pagodas, palaces, and historic sites in the ancient city of Kyoto, Kiyomizu-Dera is probably the most famous and recognized attraction.
There are a lot of things to see and do in the temple: Admire the magnificent architecture in the main hall, the Jishu Shrine, and enjoy an unobstructed view of the Kyoto city at the balcony. Taste the water that flows from three separate streams at the Otowa Waterfall using cups attached to long poles, purchase lucky charms at the temple shop, or find true love at the Okuninushi. Legend has it, if you could walk from one love stone in the shrine to the other one (18-meter apart) with your eyes closed, you will find true love.
The temple also celebrates the seasons and it is one of the best viewing spots of cherry blossoms in spring. I highly recommend sitting down at the Rokkatei and enjoy a bowl of udon and red bean soup as an early lunch (just to avoid the crowd at lunchtime). Sitting in the pavilion, a comforting breeze blows down the sakura drops like confetti, landing on your head, and landing on your bowl …. right there, a poetic movie scene right in front of your eyes.
Rokkatei – www.rokkatei.co.jp
Matsubara Dori 二年坂、三年坂、松原通
The temple is connected to three busy shopping streets (or “zakas” in Japanese) – Gojo-zaka, chawan-zaka, and Shimizu New Way, the three paths are filled with gift shops, cafes, and restaurants, and the scenery changes through the seasons. Another recommendation is the Okuten tofu place along the Matsubara Dori – a warming bun and tofu soup will warm you up and give you the energy for the walk before dinner 😛 yum yum.
Maruyama Park 円山公園
Maruyama Park is one of the most notable cherry blossom viewing places in the city. The park connects Yasaka Shrine, east end of Shiji Street in the Gion District. The highlight of the park is a hundred-year-old weeping cherry tree. If you visit the tree at night, the tree is lit up for an alternative viewing experience.
If you visit during the day, have a taste of local snacks in the food stalls, and check out the souvenirs and festivities. I had so much fun being a local and sat under the cherry blossom in the open area.
Gion 祇園 and Hanami Koji Dori 花見小路
You will have an exciting time shopping Omiyage in hundreds of souvenir shops and gift shops in the Gion area – prepare giant bags so you don’t have to carry them around ~ if you want some snacks, or if you are a sweet tooth, dessert places and cake shops are all around. I was overwhelmed by each shop and it makes every trip to Kyoto brand new and exciting.
Right before dinner, take some photos at the Shirakawa area – ever since I saw a picture (maybe from the “Memoir of a Geisha”) of weeping cherry and willow suspension over the serene stream, I have put it on my bucket list of things-to-do in Kyoto.
To top up the whole experience (and if you still have some time to spare), try on the rickshaw and end the day with an unforgettable experience.
Gion, in fact, is the most famous Geisha district in Kyoto. After dinner, have a walk along the Hanami Koji Dori, you may (and probably) run into a working Geisha on the road !!
Tip: Many people visit Shirokawa at night for Night Sakura, and there is a chance to run into a working Geisha, too!