Seeing these famous sakura (cherry blossoms) in person was my primary objective in travelling to Japan for vacation in early 2018. I knew they were prevalent here in North America as well but my city’s too cold it, so I never really saw one here.
Spoiler alert: It did not disappoint.
I arrived in Tokyo during the last week of March 2018. The blossom season varies from year to year, but based on my quick-and-dirty research it usually averages between March and April, so I planned my vacation around the last week of March and first week of April.
Little did I know that even the blossoms themselves come in many different varieties, with each their own timeline of blossoming – some tend to be earlier, while others go on a bit later in the season.
My very first encounter with the early blooms was in the famous Shibuya scramble on my first evening right after I got off the plane. These ones appear brighter as they seemed to reflect all the lights around them.
The Shinjuku Garden is another good spot to find early blooms. The park houses many different varieties of the blossoms so there is an abundant chance of catching blossoms whichever time of the spring season.
I found some more early blooms in Zojoji – it’s a shrine that sits very close to the Tokyo Tower. These blossoms perfectly complement the Jizo statues that line up the temple grounds. These guardians look after young children and ensure that they grow up healthy.
Ueno Park had a lot of them, but they weren’t in full bloom yet.
The Japanese weren’t kidding about hanami (花見; flower watching) – they love their blossoms so much that they make it a point to save a spot in the park as early as they can to avoid the rush, regardless if they’re in full bloom or not!
Other than parks and shrines, these blossoms are almost everywhere. I usually found them lining major street sidewalks, intersections and beside the rivers.
I managed to get a photo taken in Gotanda (五反田). Pardon the hockey jersey, this was when I got the news that we made it to the Playoffs so I figured I’d wear mine and see if I meet fellow Jets fans around Tokyo. Sadly I never met anyone. 😦 I’m possibly just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Usually the trees bloom earlier in the southern parts of the country then goes gradually upwards, so when I traveled to Kyoto a few days later, I was right in time for its full bloom!
My first stop in Kyoto is the Toei Kyoto Studio Park. For many toku fans like myself, this is a frequent location where they shoot Edo period scenes featured in Kamen Rider and Super Sentai.
I found another type of blossom inside the park, this one’s more white than pink and have a very light fragrance to it.
I went to do some temple visits over the next few days. Many temples have their own sets of blossoms as well, but nothing stood out save for the ones in front of the Ninna-ji shrine!
I found another type of cherry tree called the “waterfall cherry tree” (滝桜; takizakura) while exploring the grounds of the Kodai-ji temple in Kyoto’s Higashiyama District. Unlike other trees, the branches of these trees droop down and its leaves create cascading shapes, similar to that of a waterfall.
For folks who enjoy walking while sightseeing, I’d recommend the Philosopher’s Walk as well. It’s a 2-kilometre pathway stretching from the Ginkaku-ji Shrine to Nanzen-ji and is lined by hundreds of cherry trees.
It was a perfect day when I visited, we had a light wind blowing and it’s sending many blossoms floating in the air and gasps of amazement can be heard everywhere. These cherry trees make the perfect foreground for the traditional houses that surround the vicinity.
At the end of the trail lies Nanzen-ji temple and a landmark called the Keage Incline (蹴上インクライン). It is a 580-metre long slope with a pair of railroad tracks, formerly used to transport boats and heavy equipment in the late 1800’s. It became a famous spot for its cherry trees on both sides of the tracks which look amazing during the full bloom season.
I made the mistake of not coming here early enough as there’s a already a huge crowd, but I was still able to capture this photo from the dead centre of the track, just slightly above the crowd.
After walking the trails and the incline, I made my way back to Maruyama Park to wrap up the day and join in the hanami festivities.
I spent my last few days back in Tokyo, where the blooming season has passed and rain is starting to become more frequent. I spent my last day in Sumida Ward where I caught the last few blossoms in Asakusa.
Japan has always been known for their cherry blossoms – they look amazing in photos and magazines but it’s a real treat seeing them with my own eyes!
I won’t be going back until 2021 as I’m planning to avoid the Olympics crowd but I think I will check out Japan’s autumn season next!
All photos were taken by yours truly using my Galaxy S7 edge phone that I had with me at the time.
“Lost Chronicles” are memories of past adventures itching to be recorded down in history.