Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

Thinking back to our Kyoto trip last spring, I’m struck by memories of the welcoming city... and so many cherry blossoms in full bloom!

Last year, Maureen and I decided to check another item off the bucket list. This time it was seeing the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. It could have easily gone wrong had we arrived even a week or so later, because the season is so brief. That is part of its appeal – a rare opportunity to experience true beauty that happens for only two short weeks a year. I made sure to record the details in my travel diary to preserve the memory.

April 1st, 2019

We arrived after a two-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo, and it was quickly evident why Kyoto is known as the cultural capital of Japan. Temples, shrines, historical sites and, of course, the magnificent cherry blossoms each spring.

It has always been a dream of mine to see the sakura and to take part in hanami – the act of cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto. It’s not about just seeing the flowers, but rather is a social experience (more on that later!). We planned the timing of our trip carefully, arriving in early April – spring in Kyoto – right when the blooms should be at their peak. The season is so fleeting, and we didn’t want to risk missing it.

Maureen and I used our Accor Plus membership to save on a stay at Kyoto Yura Hotel MGallery, and I’m so glad we chose it. The hotel has a beautiful modern design, yet evokes the old-world glamour of ancient Kyoto. We arrived in the early evening, and it was fabulous to head to our luxurious room to relax, knowing that everything was taken care of. We had a lovely dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, 54th Station Grill, followed by a nightcap in the bar. (I couldn’t resist a spot of Japanese whiskey, while Maureen had a white wine spritzer.) I hope to try a Japanese degustation course while we’re here.

 

April 2nd, 2019

Maureen and I got up early this morning and had a hearty breakfast in the hotel. We hadn’t added it into our booking as we thought we’d be out and about trying local dishes every morning but after a bit of culinary exploration yesterday we realised we were in way over our heads when it came to ordering dishes in the local restaurants. That and our Accor Plus discount meant we’d only need to pay for one meal.

After chatting with the friendly concierge, we took his advice to head straight for the Keage Incline. A disused railway track flanked by cherry trees, this is one of the best spots for cherry blossoms in Kyoto. It’s understandably very popular, so we wanted to beat the crowds. What a gorgeous sight it was: scores of soft-white petals clinging to branches that reached overhead. After walking up the gentle slope, we made our way to the waterfront to take a boat cruise down Lake Biwa Canal, another excellent way to view the blossoms on either side of the banks.


The sakura extravaganza continued at Kiyomizudera Temple, where we stood on its huge wooden deck – high up over the hillside – and watched the sun set in shades of glorious orange and pink. In the face of such beauty, I felt transported to another place and completely at peace. Maureen loved it too.

 
April 3rd, 2019

Although we had already seen many Kyoto cherry blossoms, I was still yearning for the true hanami. At its heart, hanami is a shared experience – of spirit, wonder and appreciation of the natural beauty around us. Luckily, Maureen and I love making new friends, and our visit to Maruyama Park made for a day we won’t soon forget. 

Under the dappled shade of weeping cherry trees, their pale-pink petals fluttering in the gentle breeze, was a great throng of merrymakers. Pop-up restaurants whipped up sakura-themed treats, and the outdoor tables were close enough for conversation to flow between those who had been strangers merely moments before. We struck up a conversation with a lovely middle-aged couple, Bruce and Gwen, and it turned out they were from Australia too!


For a good few hours we sat around the table, amidst a sea of gorgeous cherry blossoms – sharing food, drinks and stories. Gwen offered us some sakura-themed sweets they had bought from a little shop, one of many dotting the charming laneways of old town Kyoto. As night fell, a whole new scene emerged: hundreds of cherry trees illuminated, like delicate pink-white spectres against the evening sky. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic day.