Seven sakura spots to set up your picnic blanket and
drink till dusk.
Japan blooms once again into gorgeous, fluffy pinks and whites. Here in Kansai, there are so many spots to choose from to throw a cherry-blossom picnic or two. Below are seven to get you started this season.
Expo ’70 Commemorative Park
All 260 hectares of Expo ’70 Commemorative Park are worth a stroll – there are tranquil gardens, green swathes of trees, and large grass fields. But the highlight at this time of year is, of course, the cherry blossoms. This is a great hanami (cherry-blossom picnic) spot as it is not as crowded as some of the other large parks are during hanami season, like Osaka Castle Park, which can get pretty squishy and quite raucous later in the afternoons. Stretch out your tarp, spread out your basket of goodies, and enjoy the view!
Access: From Umeda Stn, take the Midosuji subway line to Senri-chuo Stn. From there, take the monorail to the park. Park entry is ¥250 per person.
Perched on the slopes of Mount Nagusa, the temple Kiimidera was founded over 1,200 years ago by the monk, Iko, who made the journey across from China. The temple affords a sweeping view of the serene Wakanoura Bay. It is famous for its almost 12-meter-tall standing wooden Kannon statue, the largest in Japan, and its early-blooming cherry blossoms. In fact, it has been chosen as one of Japan’s 100 most famous places for viewing sakura. The blossoms are lit up from 6pm to 10pm during the Kimiidera Sakura Festival, which runs until April 20.
Access: From JR Tennoji Stn, take the Hanwa line to Wakayama Stn. From there, take the JR Kinokuni line to Kimiidera Stn.
Maruyama Park, Kyoto
Next to Yasaka Shrine in the Higashiyama District, Maruyama Park is Kyoto’s premier hanami destination. So, if you are okay with crowds, this spot is a must-see during sakura season. A large shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree) is the focal point of the site and is illuminated at night to offer an exquisite display of Japanese spring beauty. While you’re there, enjoy the gardens, rest houses, small orchards, and Japanese restaurants in the park.
Access: From Kyoto Stn, take bus 100 or 206 for about 20 mins. Get off at Gion.
Heian Shrine, Kyoto
You can’t miss Heian Jingu – its torii gate, at 24.2 meters high, is one of the largest in Japan. The shrine boasts a large number of weeping cherry trees which bloom a few days after most others, making this spot ideal for a visit toward the end of the sakura season, around mid-April. While you’re there, why not take a boat tour (¥1,000 per person) along the Okazaki Canal that connects the Lake Biwa Canal network with Kamo River, which is lined with swathes of cherry trees. Boat tours leave every 15 to 30 minutes.
Access: From Kyoto Stn, take bus 5 or 100 for about 30 mins, or the subway to Higashiyama Stn, which takes about 20 mins, and from which the shrine is a 10-minute walk. Shrine admission is ¥600.
Mount Hiei, Shiga
While not as easily accessible as some of the other blossom spots in Kansai, Hieizan offers an excellent return on time invested in a trip to the top. Hikers and nature lovers will enjoy the trek up the mountain, history buffs will have more than enough to explore, and any tourist will enjoy both the views as well as a chance to experience one of the richest spiritual and historical locations in Japan. Including the grounds of Enryaku Temple, Hieizan Drive Way on Mount Hiei and Okuhiei Drive Way have more than 1,000 cherry blossom trees planted along their routes. The trees bloom a bit later than other areas; from around mid-April to early May.
Access: From Sanjo Keihan Stn or Demachiyanagi Stn, take the Keihan Electric Railway and transfer to the Hieizan Drive Bus. Get off at the Enryaku-ji Bus Center.
Combine a day out among the cherry blossoms with a visit to Japan’s finest and most renowned original castle. Two years have passed since the completion of the major restoration work on the castle, so the “white heron,” as it is nicknamed, will make the perfect backdrop for all your cherry-blossom photographs. On April 2, the Himeji Castle Cherry Blossom Viewing Festival is held on San-no-Maru (Third Bailey) Square at the foot of the castle. The festival includes recitals on traditional Japanese musical instruments. Until April 7, the Himeji Nighttime Cherry Blossom Viewing Festival will be on. During this event, visitors have free access to the Nishi-no-Maru (West Bailey) Garden, which is not normally open to the public at night, and the cherry blossoms will be lit up.
Access: From JR Osaka Stn, take the JR Special Rapid Service to Himeji Stn. The castle is a 10-minute walk from the station.
Mount Yoshino, Nara
As far as Nara cherry blossoms go, it is pretty much impossible to go past Yoshino mountain as the top spot in the prefecture, and arguably the whole of Japan.
Yoshinoyama is a north-facing mountain slope divided into four areas: the Shimo Senbon (lower 1,000 trees) at the base of the mountain, Naka Senbon (middle 1,000 trees), Kami Senbon (upper 1,000 trees), and Oku Senbon (inner 1,000 trees) at the top of the mountain. Enjoy the sakura as you ascend the mountain, passing through Yoshino’s touristy town with its historical temples and shrines along the way. Oku-senbon sits 800 meters up the mountain trail, so start your day early if you aim to reach the top!
Access: From Osaka Abenobashi Stn, take the Kintetsu Ltd. Exp. to Yoshino Stn. From there, hike up, or take the ropeway up to the lowest grove; Shimo-senbon.