Apr 10, 2016

Japan’s cherry blossoms


Streets lined by blooming trees, walkways covered in white and pink flower petals, cherry blossoms everywhere you look – these are just a few of the images in my head when thinking about spring in Japan.
The colorful cherry blossoms in Japan are not only an incredibly stunning sight, but also a symbol of Japanese culture, standing for the beauty yet at the same time transience and impermanence of life, reminding us of our own mortality.

The cherry blossom, called sakura () in Japanese, is blooming from about late March to even early May, depending on whereabouts in Japan you are. Cherry blossom season is a very popular time to visit Japan and tourists as well as Japanese people travel to the best spots to see the sakura trees.
Seeing the trees at full bloom really is a breathtaking sight – and there are so many different varieties of blossoms, differing in colors and shapes.


A few years ago (actually it’s already been freaking 7 years), I had been staying in Kyoto (京都) during cherry blossom season. Kyoto, with all its ancient temples and shrines, really has some great spots to see the blooming trees.

One of Kyoto’s most popular (and incredibly beautiful) places to see the sakura trees is the so called Philosopher's Walk. The Tetsugaku no Michi (哲学の道), which is the Japanese name of it, is an approximately 2 kilometers long pedestrian walkway alongside a canal that is lined by tons of sakura trees on both sides. Along the Philosopher’s Walk, there are numerous small shrines and temples as well as cafes and shops. It gets really busy there in spring.


A lovely place for hanami (花見, "flower viewing"; the Japanese tradition of meeting up under the blooming sakura trees for a picnic) in Kyoto is the Kyoto gyoen (京都御苑), a huge park in which the Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所, Kyoto gosho) is situated. 
The park is located very close to the University I had been studying at, so we even made a class trip there once.

My 7 years younger self posing in front of a blooming sakura tree at Kyoto gyoen

One of the greatest experiences I had in Japan was visiting one of the night light ups that are taking place at some of the temples and shrines in Kyoto during spring. For these events, the temples and shrines are open late into the evening and being illuminated beautifully in the dark. Like, they are not open until THAT late, but in regards to when they usually close and how early it is actually getting dark in Japan even in summer (it will be dark at 7 p.m., which I always though is rather crazy), 9 p.m. IS rather late in the evening.

I chose to go to the Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), which I believe is one of the most beautiful temples in Kyoto (also a pretty famous one even outside of Japan). And what I got to see there was simply stunning and so magical! Everything was lit up so beautifully, it looked really amazing. Also, from the Kiyomizu-dera you have a pretty good view all over Kyoto, which is even better at night than during daytime.
I really kind of lack the words to describe this magical experience. It was just breathtaking and – despite of the fact that I was there by myself – one of the most romantic spots I had been to. 
In the background you can see a bit of the view over Kyoto with the Kyoto Tower standing out

For more (and better quality) photos and information on this, visit: http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/en/visit/special_night_viewing/
There are also listed the dates for upcoming events – and oh my god, they are also doing this night light up thing in autumn, which I imagine to be even more beautiful than in spring (just look at those photos on the website!). I SO need to see this!

I’ll just leave some more photos here for you to enjoy and get all excited about spring :)

Sakura at the Heian Jingu (平安神宮) shrine
Unfortunately I don't remember which temple this photo was taken at
These are the pink blossoms of the beautiful plum tree (, ume), taken at Kyoto gyoen
Which kind of sakura tree is your favorite? (I really love the ones with the branches hanging down)

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