Japanese cherry blossoms, or sakura as they’re called in Japanese, are known around the world for their beauty. Typically only lasting a few weeks in March or April, they can be tricky to view if you’re traveling from overseas and need to pin down travel plans. But, with the help of weather forecasts, you can typically expect to see at least some cherry blossoms no matter how early you have to plan your trips.
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When is cherry blossom season in Kyoto?
Sakura season is typically from late March to mid-April. It varies each year depending on weather conditions so it’s important to check the forecasts that come from the Japanese Meteorological Agency like ours Here. It also depends on the location in Japan. The blooms typically open first in the southern region, and the blooming progresses northward. So it’s possible to catch peak bloom in a few different regions of Japan if you’re willing to travel.
In Kyoto, sakura season is usually the mid-to end of March into the beginning of April. In 2022 the first blossoms were on March 25th and full bloom was April 1st.
Why is cherry blossom season so important in Japan?
Viewing cherry blossoms has been a national pastime since the 8th century. There are many species of cherry, some of which have been cultivated through cross-breeding. These efforts took off in the 14th century when they became cultivated as ornamental flowers.
But why is Japan so fascinated with the sakura phenomenon since centuries ago? Cherry blossom trees have many meanings to the Japanese. A lot has to do with the very brief life of the flowers, blooming only for about a week to ten days.
Their fleeting beauty illustrates all too perfectly that nothing in this world is permanent, everything passes away at some point. A sad but beautiful admiration for this impermanence has been an important part of the Japanese mindset since ancient times. In Japanese, it’s called “mono no aware.” This mindset can be found in the smallest things of Japanese daily life.
Best Ways to Enjoy the Blossoms
While you can definitely stroll through a park to enjoy the cherry blossoms, there are other ways you can get into the spirit of spring. Here are some typical things you can do to enjoy the cherry blossoms in Japan:
Hanami: This means “flower viewing” and is a great Japanese tradition of having a picnic under the sakura and enjoying the blossoms. Bring a tarp to sit on, snacks and drinks. But make sure you check that the park allows hanami or you’ll be disappointed.
Sakura Festivals: These cherry blossom festivals provide food stalls, pretty lanterns, and even entertainment. They are held around peak blossom season and they are a perfect way to view the blossoms and enjoy the spring weather. Kyoto Cherry Blossom Festival is a must-visit in you’re in the area when it’s happening. You can also see our list of Sakura Festivals Here.
Yozakura: This refers to cherry blossoms that are illuminated at night. They offer a different take on the cherry blossom-viewing experience.
Hikes: The best chance of seeing some quiet cherry blossoms in their natural habitat is to head out into the mountains for a spring walk. Pack a picnic and it’s the best way to welcome spring.
Differences between cherry, plum, and peach blossoms.
The cherry blossom (sakura) may at times be confused with the plum blossoms (ume) or peach blossoms (momo). Plum blossom spots in Japan tend to bloom earlier in the season – from mid-February to mid-March – while the cherry blossom season peaks in April. Peach blossoms bloom around the same time as cherry blossoms but have a very sweet smell. All trees produce flowers ranging in color from white to pink, to red but can be easily identified in the following steps:
Petals and Growing pattern
- Cherry flowers have a small split or notch in each petal; plums and peaches do not.
- Plum flowers have round tips, peach has pointed petals.
- Cherry blossoms produce multiple flowers per bud, while plums produce only one and peaches have only 2.
- New cherry leaves are green in color, while plum tree leaves emerge with a purple or red hue.
Colors and Scents
Plum: Flower colors can be broadly divided into white and crimson, though complex color differences can occur between them. For example, some buds turn pink when they bloom, and some buds turn white. Some buds have a pale pistil, and only the petals are red. They have a sweet, gentle scent similar to jasmine.
Peach: Flowers can be white, pink, or red. The color varies by type and individual plant. Different colored flowers might even grow on one tree! The scent is sweet and mild, which you can smell from both the flowers and the leaves.
Cherry Blossom: Can be white, light pink, or dark pink, depending on the type and individual plant. The cherry blossom scent is usually very mild, and Yoshino cherry trees are particularly faint, barely noticeable even if you bring your nose close. While there are more fragrant varieties with stronger scents, you won’t usually see them around town.
Best Places to See Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto
Toji Temple is home to Japan’s tallest five-storied pagoda for a wooden structure. The temple’s official name is Kyo-o-gokokuji Temple. It is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Around 200 beautiful cherry blossom trees bloom here. Be sure to take a photo with the five-storied pagoda in the background to capture a traditional Japanese essence.
The Fuji Zakura, the cherry tree Toji Temple is most known for, is a shidare-zakura (weeping cherry) tree that is over 130 years old. It towers 13 meters tall and has an artistic beauty that is especially wonderful during the illuminations from late March to early April.
Location: 1 Kujocho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, 601-8473
This lesser-known World Heritage Site is famous for omuro sakura cherry trees, which are said to be the latest blooming cherries in the whole of Kyoto. The forest of these trees in the inner grounds reaches a height of only about two to three meters, bringing the blossoms closer to the ground for great portrait shots.
You will also find trees of the mainstream somei yoshino variety in front of the main hall and weeping cherry trees near the bell tower.
The Philosopher’s Path is a quaint stone path that takes you through the north of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The walkway follows a canal that is lined by hundreds of cherry trees showcasing vibrant shades of pink, red, and white. The 2-kilometer path was the place where Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, used to walk and practice meditation.
See Also: Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
The Philosopher’s Path runs between Ginkakuji and the neighborhood of Nanzenji and takes around 30 minutes to walk. The closest subway station is Keage which is 1km away. If you want to start at the south of the path, get off at Miyanomaecho.
HaYoshimine-dera Temple was constructed around the middle of the Heian period. It is also one of the 33 temples in the Kinki area with a statue of Kannon that issues charms. The “Yoryu no Matsu” (Gliding Dragon pine tree), a national monument, is a majestic pine tree with branches that stretch horizontally for almost 40 meters. The weeping cherry blossom trees planted by Tsunayoshi Tokugawa’s mother, Keishoin, are also famous.
Takenaka Inari Shrine
Yoshiminedera (吉峰寺) is a temple of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism located in Kyoto’s western mountains
One of the most photogenic spots in spring, Takenaka Inari Shrine (竹中稲荷社) is a small shrine that not many tourists visit. Numbers of red torii gates stand along the lines of cherry trees and create the majestic scenery.
Daigoji Temple in Kyoto is designated as a World Heritage site. The temple is a one-of-a-kind place to admire the sakura.
It is not only a place where the people offer their prayers but also where visitors can appreciate precious cultural assets such as the five-storied pagoda and the Sanboin, with its beautifully-kept garden. Daigoji’s collection, which consists of 150,000 artifacts such as Buddhist statues and paintings, includes 69,419 national treasures and 6,522 important cultural assets designated by the Japanese government. This temple has played an important role as a guardian of traditional culture.
Visitors can enjoy the cherry blossoms located everywhere on the grounds, along with the prized architecture of the temple buildings. It is said that Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who ruled over Japan more than 400 years ago, came to this temple to view the cherry blossoms.
Approximately 300 cherry blossom trees are planted at Heian Jingu Shrine, which was established in 1895. The shrine is very impressive with its vermillion pillars and green roof. It appears even more gorgeous when combined with the pink of the cherry blossoms.
Hirano Shrine has been renowned for its cherry blossoms since long ago. It was believed that the blooming of the sakigake-zakura, a cherry blossom variety that originated at the shrine, indicated the beginning of the hanami season in Kyoto.
The approximately 60 cherry blossom varieties planted on the grounds bloom at different times. As a result, the blossoms can be enjoyed for about a month and a half, with the first bloom usually occurring in early March. Visitors can also enjoy a sakura illumination between late March and mid-April.
The private garden opens exclusively during cherry blossom season. Haradani-en Garden (原谷園) is slightly hard to reach but secretly known as the best-hidden spot for cherry blossom viewing.
Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera Temple is known for its wish-granting waters, but it also houses 1500 cherry blossom trees on its hilly slopes. I didn’t see that many blossoming trees when I arrived but it is possible the area was not blooming at that time. The iconic temple shot is said to be a panoramic shot from behind the temple looking out. Unfortunately, the temple is currently under construction. But as temple grounds, you can explore the area, enjoy the three-story pagoda, wishing waters, and find your own sakura moments.
Maruyama Koen is Kyoto’s oldest garden, which opened in 1886. This Japanese garden, which has fountains and wisteria flowers, boasts a wide variety of scenery changing with the four seasons. Japanese-style restaurants, cafes, and an amphitheater with the capacity of 3,000 seats are also available in this garden, making it a place of recreation for the citizens of Kyoto. In spring, about 800 cherry trees bloom, and the garden is filled with tourists. Don’t miss the famous shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree), or Gion Yozakura (“night viewing of the cherry trees in Gion”). The illumination emphasizes the beauty of the Japanese cherry trees in bloom.
Yodogawa Riverside Park
Walk under a tunnel of blossoms at this beautiful spot south of Kyoto City, where cherry trees line a path that runs along the top of an embankment between the Kizugawa and Ujigawa rivers. About 250 cherry trees line the 1.4-kilometer promenade in the Sewaritei District. Gaze at the petals from spacious lawn areas or from a 25-meter-high viewing post. Go higher still by scaling the nearby cherry tree-covered Mount Otokoyama to visit the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine.
Cherry Blossoms are one of Japan’s most sought-after tourist attractions. With their beauty and limited appearance, it’s not hard to see why so many people love them. Kyoto cherry blossom viewing, in particular, is popular because of the old and classic feeling of the city mixed with the beauty of the Kyoto cherry blossoms.
Hopefully, this guide has given you some ideas of where you want to travel to see the sakura in Japan and how to do it.
Let us know if the comments below what your favorite viewing spot is.
Traveling to Japan in Spring
Spring can be an amazing time to travel to Japan. With cool weather that hasn’t yet turned humid, beautiful clear skies, and of course the allure of cherry blossoms, it’s many people’s favorite time to visit the islands. Here are some of our resources for traveling to Japan in the springtime.
- Japan Hotels
- Japan Rail Pass
- Cherry Blossom Tours
- What to do in Japan in Spring
- Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
- Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
- Where to See Cherry Blossoms Around Mt. Fuji
- Best Cherry Blossom Festivals in Japan
- Best Spring Hikes in Japan for Cherry Blossoms
- 5 Places to See Night Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
- Cherry Blossom Photography Tips
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Are you ready for Japan?
- Book Your Flights– To find the cheapest flights, flexibility is a must. Some great options are Google Flights for the calendars to find the cheapest options, Skiplagged, and Skyscanner. For more options see our resources page. For Japan, check flights for both Tokyo Airports (Haneda and Narita), as well as Osaka (Kansai).
- Find Transportation- Buy your JR Pass for your bullet train and inter-city travel before you leave home. Research a Suica card, the public transportation card you can either buy before or as soon as you arrive.
- Book Your Accommodation– Look at Booking.com, Hotels.com, or Expedia for hotels in Japan. You can also look at AirBnB or VRBO as we’ve had great luck finding inexpensive, large, and clean homes to rent.
- Book Tours and Experiences- Check Klook or Viator for some of the best tours and attractions for a great price for experiences like Tokyo Skytree, TeamLab Borderless, and Universal Osaka. For Tokyo Disney Resort, check my guide here.
- Stay Connected– Order a pocket WIFI for airport pickup if you’re with a family or group, or order a SIM card just for your phone. Check out our guide to staying connected here.
- Buy Travel Insurance- I always recommend World Nomads for insurance. It’s better to protect yourself in case of mishaps. Learn more about World Nomads in this FAQ post.
- Pack Your Bags– Check out my packing lists, or my favorite travel gear to help you remember all of the essentials.
- Learn About Japan– Learn about Japan with guidebooks like Lonely Planet, or, shameless plug, search around my site for more info.