Kyoto Cherry Blossom

Kyoto’s Sakura Secrets

by Robert Schrader on March 28, 2020

If you’re on the fence about a Kyoto cherry blossom trip, allow me to knock you off it. Kyoto is exquisitely beautiful most every day of the year, but during cherry blossom season, I’d say it’s the most gorgeous place in the world.

Which is to say hanami in Kyoto is a perfect experience. Most notably, if you don’t get out amid the temples and bamboo forests as soon as possible after the sunrises, you will very likely contend with apocalyptic crowds (assuming you didn’t visit in 2020, when coronavirus was terrorizing the world).

The second complication travelers tend to have is deciding upon the most beautiful places in Kyoto to enjoy the sakura. I can’t help with the crowds, but if you continue reading, you’ll learn my favorite cherry blossom spots in Kyoto.

Need help planning your Kyoto cherry blossom trip? Commission a custom Japan itinerary!

When Do Kyoto Cherry Blossoms Bloom?

In a normal year, the Kyoto sakura bloom in the last days of March or the first days of April, and reach full bloom (mankai in Japanese) somewhere between April 4-6. Of course, “normal” means very little in the era of climate change. I’ve been in Kyoto during several cherry blossom seasons, and have witnessed full bloom as early as March 28 and as late as April 7. As is the case throughout Japan during this time of year, the most flexible you can be, the more likely you are to get some cherry blossom action!

This doesn’t mean you have to spend a full week in Japan’s former capital in order to enjoy full bloom in Kyoto, of course, although that is helpful (Not to mention, doing so also allows you to partake in some of the day trips I’ll be mentioning in a few paragraphs.) Another way to be “flexible” is to be open to seeing different species of cherry blossoms in different spots around the city. I’ll try and point out some early- and late-blooming varieties in the subsequent paragraphs in order to illustrate this.

The Best Spots to See Kyoto Cherry Blossoms

Kiyomizu-dera

 

While it’s certainly not the only place to enjoy Higashiyama cherry blossoms, Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu-dera temple (whose main hall re-opened in 2020, after several years of renovation) has a lot going for it. For starters, in addition to the gorgeous sakura, you can enjoy a panoramic city view from various points on the temple’s property. This is especially beautiful if you’re able to come at sunset, when the kaleidoscope of light colors the cherry blossoms into a veritable rainbow.

Philosopher’s Path

 

On the other end of historical Higashiyama, just to the south of the Kyoto Silver Pavilion Ginkaku-ji, the Philosopher’s Path is probably one of the most famous cherry blossom spots in all of Japan. I recommend heading here early in the morning, which not only allows you to avoid crowds, but gives you time. This way, you can follow the path all the way back into the main part of Higashiyama, passing temples like Nanzen-ji, Chinon-in and Kodai-ji as you traipse.

Ninenzaka

 

If you follow the Philosopher’s Path then continue walking southward (in the direction of Kiyomizu-dera, to be specific), you’ll arrive to another one of my favorite Kyoto cherry blossom spots. Specifically, the Ninenzaka street, over which a massive shiderazakura “weeping” cherry tree hangs, making it one of the most popular spots in all of Kyoto to photograph. In my opinion, this spot is most beautiful in the morning, when the light falls just right on its pastel pink blossoms.

Kamo River

 

Love the Philosopher’s Path, but want to see cherry blossom trees along a larger Kyoto river? Walk westward from Higashiyama or Gion toward the Kamo River, which runs north-south through the heart of Kyoto. The entire bank is lined with cherry trees, which makes it one of the most gorgeous spots in the city to see them. One thing I love about Kamo River is that trees here bloom a bit early. If you happen to arrive in Kyoto just before mankai, you can see the trees here at full bloom.

Maruyama Park

 

Another place to see a gorgeous weeping cherry tree (TIP: This one also tends to bloom relatively early) is Maruyama Park, located right in the heart of Higashiyama. Whether you come in the early morning before the crowds, or at night time when this special specimen lights up for the whole city to enjoy, one thing I love about Maruyama Park is the extent to which all roads (in Kyoto, anyway) lead here.

Other Kyoto Cherry Blossom Spots

Of course, these spots are not the only answer to the question “where to see sakura in Kyoto.” Here are some other places you can go:

  • Hei-an Shrine
  • Tenryu-ji
  • Daigo-ji
  • Keage Incline
  • Daikaku-ji
Want to create a custom Kyoto cherry blossom itinerary, with personally curated spots and laser-focused attention on full bloom dates? Commission a custom Japan trip today!
 
 

Cherry Blossom Day Trips from Kyoto

Whether you’re pondering a Himeji day trip from Kyoto or want to frolic under the sakura with the deer of Nara, there are worthwhile reasons to escape the center of Kyoto to see cherry blossoms. One particularly enticing option (although it’s a very long “day” indeed) is Mt. Yoshino, located in Nara prefecture south of Nara city. The namesake mountain of Japan’s most famous type of cherry tree, this pink and white-covered slope is notable for several weeks of blooming, on account of its variable altitude.

In the opposite direction of a Kyoto to Nara excursion, you can head north and east toward Lake Biwa, where several potential hanami vistas await. Castles in Nagahama and Hikone (the latter of which, in my opinion, is the most worthwhile) are less-crowded alternatives to sightseeing spots in central Kyoto. Another option is to head due north from Kyoto’s city center to Kurama-dera, which is an enjoyable day hike in addition to being full of cherry blossoms.

The Bottom Line

If you’ve been stressed as you plan your Kyoto cherry blossom, that ends today. Over the past thousand words or so, I’ve not only told you when to visit Kyoto to have the best chance of seeing mankai, but have outlined nearly a dozen incredible cherry blossoms in the city. In, and around: I’ve also cited several cherry blossom day trips you can take from Kyoto, to make your exploration of the Kansai region complete at this most beautiful type of year. Kyoto during cherry blossom season is the most beautiful place in the world, even if you fly blind. Can you imagine how flawless your trip will be if you follow just a few of my suggestions?

About The Author

is the author of 145 posts on Japan Starts Here. Robert created Japan Starts Here so the web would have a beautiful hub of Japan travel information and inspiration. He also runs the popular website Leave Your Daily Hell.

 
 

Japan Starts Here is information—and inspiration—for all your trips to Japan. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 
 

Previous post:

Next post: