|At Kurama Temple|
The Japanese have long loved the short-lived blooms and over the years have planted them everywhere, especially in Kyoto where the whole city seems to blush in pale pink around the first week of April.
I must say I love the cherry blossoms too. In a lot of ways it is the first joyful glimpse of light and color after the dull, dark winter. The pale pink Somei-yoshino variety seem to glow with their own light when the sun hits them, and the sky turns a richer blue hinting of summer a few months away.
Visitors--Japanese and foreign--descend on Kyoto's most famous cherry blossom spots making the public transportation noticeably more crowded this time of year.
I feel like I went and did all the touristy and famous places stuff as an exchange student, and now a big consideration in choosing a place to look at the blossoms is whether it's going to be crowded or not. These days, I'd just like to walk around and take pictures slowly, or spread a picnic blanket in peace. So here are my favorite places for cherry blossoms rated on a crowded scale from 1-10 (1=able to take a photo with no humans in it, 10=walk at a snail's pace with other folks' body parts touching you as policemen with megaphones remind you it's very crowded). Even so, I visited these places on weekdays. I'm not quite brave enough for the weekends!
1. The Philosopher's Path 哲学の道 6
One of Kyoto's most popular destinations for cherry blossoms, the sheer volume of the blossoms at the start of the path will likely make you forget the crowds. This long walk along a canal thins out in terms of both crowds and blossoms as one goes south, but there are some great pictureseque views and many shrines, temples, and cafes on the way. Keep following it through Nanzenji to the Biwako Incline and you won't be disappointed.
2. Toji Temple 東寺 7
We had to wait in line about 20 minutes to get in on a weekday night for the light-up event, but once in it didn't feel quite so crowded. The grounds are spacious so people spread out, and perhaps the darkness helps create the illusion of a less crowded space.
We went when the blossoms were past their peak and blowing in the air like snow--breathtaking.
3. Kurama Temple 鞍馬寺 3
Miss the season in Kyoto? Don't worry, the blossoms in the mountains just to the north are still in full bloom! It's a little hard to access from the city center, perhaps one reason it wasn't so crowded. There weren't so many trees, but I loved drinking them in along with the clear mountain air.
4. Kyoto Imperial Palace 京都御所 2
More than avenues of hundreds of trees the imperial palace is about one or two beautifully-shaped trees here and there. There are a couple different places around the expansive park to see cherry trees, so it never feels crowded. The twice annual opening of the inner palace to the public is quite another story.
5. Kamogawa and Takanogawa 鴨川と高野川 2
Kyoto is split by a large river Kamogawa which is joined by Takanogawa halfway through to form a Y shape through the middle of the city. Hundreds of cherry trees are planted all along it within the city--take a leisurely bike-ride along blossom-shaded paths or lay out a picnic. The conjunction of the two rivers at Demachiyanagi is probably the most crowded area; head north along either river for the best picnic spots. Along the bank of Kamogawa near Kitaoji street is an avenue of darker pink weeping cherries where there are also food stalls and music events on the weekend during the blossom season. I never grow tired of bird-, blossom-, and people-watching along this river.
5. Matsugasaki Canal Area 松ヶ崎駅周辺の水路 1
This was right outside my doorstep as an exchange student, a hidden little avenue of flowers and water from Lake Biwa. The sheer volume of blossoms rivals the Philosopher's Path, but few people seem to know about it. To find it, get on the Karasuma subway line heading north and get off at Matsugasaki station. Walk east along the street from the station until you see a canal of water flowing south. Follow it and you'll find the blossoms!
So there you have the spots I recommend. Come with me and we'll go admire them together!