The magical season of cherry blossoms, or sakura as they’re called in Japan, is one of the most important annual events in the country. Each spring, Kyoto is transformed into a fairytale by the explosion of pastel pinks that bloom everywhere from the river banks to temple gardens. Cherry blossom viewing is such a unique, and anticipated tradition that there is even a word, hamani, to used to describe it. But where are the best hanami spots in Kyoto? And how should you get into the spirit and view Kyoto’s cherry blossoms like a local? Check out our local’s guide to hanami and discover the best sakura spots in Kyoto!
Hanami is much more than just looking at the most beautiful trees though! It’s getting together with your friends and loved ones, sharing food and drinks together under the blossoms as the petals drift down, and enjoying this fleeting but magical time of the year together. During the cherry viewing season, even local TV news and newspapers track "the cherry blossom front”, and let people know the best spots and the best timing so that they can organise hanami events and make the most of this brief but beautiful season!
When should you go to see the sakura?
In Kyoto, sakura usually bloom in the last week of March until the middle of April, but this year the best time for hamani is estimated to be from the 5th until the 11th of April. But don't worry if you’re visiting Kyoto too early for sakura! There is an earlier period, from the end of autumn until the beginning of spring when you can view fudan-sakura, or winter sakura. The best place to view these flowers is at the Jikko-in Temple, which is rarely visited by tourists, and since the trees here bloom outside of the main sakura season, you’ll be able to enjoy a much quieter experience in this tranquil Zen garden.
How to enjoy hanami like a local
Popular hamani spots can get very busy, and people even line up early in the morning to get a good spot to put their mat under the blossoms. Sakura are symbols of renewal and beauty, so it’s not only about getting together to see them, but to appreciate their meaning and the significance in the calendar.
Remember, it’s permitted to drink in public in Japan so locals gather with their friends and family, enjoy some beers or sake and share plates of tasty traditional dishes together, whether it’s a picnic brought from home, traditional sweets or street food picked up on the way. For the most authentic taste of sakura season, you have to try mochi, a sort of rice cake which during spring becomes sakura mochi. These traditional spring sweets are beautifully pink and wrapped in a sakura leaf, and you’ll find them at almost every wagashi (Japanese sweet) shop in Kyoto at this time of year.
But the best way to enjoy sakura season is to head to a hanami party! You can find some organised festivals, but it’s more common for locals to bring a mat, a picnic and even a karaoke system and set up camp for the day or night under the most beautiful tree they can find. If you view the cherry blossoms at night, we call it yozakura, and you’ll be able to enjoy a unique experience when they are transformed into other wordly, magical spectacles that look as though they’re floating. The most festive hanami parties take place over the weekends and in the evening, and if you’re lucky you might be invited to join the locals as they celebrate!
Book an experience in Kyoto and enjoy hanami with a local
Where are the best hanami spots in Kyoto?
Photo credit: hiveminer.com
This private garden is virtually unknown to foreigners, but the locals know it to be one of the best sakura spots in the city. Haratanien is a paradise of the most beautiful sakura, and although it can sometimes get a little crowded, the variety of cherry trees make the visit worthwhile - you can see both early and late blooming sakura, and one of the most magnificent shidare sakura (weeping cherry trees) in the whole city, which is a well kept local secret!
36 Okitayamaharadaniinuicho, Kita-ku,Kyoto - take a taxi from Kitaoji subway to the garden
Photo credit: wattention.com.sg
This is the most famous - and with good reason - yozakura (night time sakura viewing) spot in Kyoto. The oldest garden in the city, it’s not surprising that Maruyama's 800 cherry trees who call the park home make for a truly magical and spectacular experience. You’ll also hear it called ‘Gion’s Night-time Sakura’, and it’s renowned in particular for its hauntingly beautiful weeping cherry trees, which look, when they’re lit up at night, like etherial, floating trees.
Maruyamacho, Higashiyama Ward, 605-0071
Photo credit: bbc.com
Kyoto’s river, Kamo-gawa, is also a popular hanami spot. Along its banks are hundreds of trees, and the best thing about the sakura along the river is that you can see the different blooming stages of the sakura in each season. Spring is undoubtedly the best time, but the trees along the southern stretches are often the first in Kyoto to bloom, whilst the northern end is popular because during the peak season, the blossoms are even more spectacular thanks to the huge size of the trees. Strolling along the river and seeing the beautiful sakura trees, you won’t notice the distance or time passing, and it’s a great way to discover the city as well as see the blossoms.
The Path of Philosophy
Photo credit: en.bentoandco.com
Also known as the Philosopher’s Walk, it’s not hard to see why this path along a beautiful stretch of canal has been so called. Head here at dusk, as the crowds are leaving and the sakura are starting to be illuminated for the night, and enjoy a peaceful stroll along the canal. If you manage to time it right, when the trees are in full bloom the branches from each side touch, creating a magical tunnel that cocoons you in a pastel pink and a flurry of petals when the wind blows.
The path runs between Ginkakuji and the neighborhood of Nanzenji, take the subway to Keage and head north.
Photo credit: 90daysinkyoto.com
If anywhere in Kyoto will express what sakura symbolically represent, it’s the Hironjo-jinja shrine, where the trees were planted during the Heian period of 794 - 1185. Important as a symbol of new life, vitality and of course beauty, the sheer variety of species here - there are between 50 and 60 - means you can see even the rarest sakura come to life one after another in an endless display of blossoms.
1 Hirano Miyamotocho, Kita, 603-8322
Book a unique local experience in Kyoto