October 17, 2018
by Suguru Takauji, Yuka Yamazaki & Hanami Yanagi
Japan has the world’s most beautiful cherry blossoms, or sakura, which bloom every year in the spring. Kyoto has a lot of shrines and temples, many of which have cherry trees on their grounds. We cannot introduce all of them at once, so in this article, we chose to focus on three that we think are some of the best places to see the amazing sakura.
Maruyama park is the oldest park in Kyoto. It is located on the east side of Kyoto, about 15 on foot from Kawaramachi station. There are many temples and shrines near the park, so you can see many different ones in a single day. Best of all, there are many kinds of cherry trees in the area. In fact, it is said that there are about 1,000 individual cherry trees blooming each spring.
During the sakura season, many Japanese go to Maruyama park, find a place to sit down, and start drinking and eating. There are lot of small shops open there selling fried potatoes and other snacks. Tons of people visit and enjoy the scene while wearing kimono. If you want to go cherry-blossom viewing and sit down while you do it, you can borrow a picnic blanket in the park.
The most famous cherry tree is called Gion Sidare or ‘Night Cherry Tree of Gion’. This impressive tree is about 12 meters tall, and the root circumference is about 4 meters. It blooms in April and it is even lit up at night by numerous lights. It is an expression of the time when people enjoyed it over 1,200 years ago. It is truly an amazing tree that people come from all over the world to see
Further inside Maruyama Park are two bronze statues, one of Ryoma Sakamoto and the other of Shintaro Nakaoka. Ryoma Sakammoto is a man of patriot. He tried to face-lift in Edo era. Shintaro Nakaoka is also man of noble patriot. They were assassinated. They buried at the Maruyama Park. Therefore, their bronze statues were built in here. Near to the road is named ‘Ryouma-zake’. If you like Japanese history, be sure not to miss these statues.
In the center of the park, there is a large pond surrounded by a traditional Japanese garden. The view changes in accordance with the seasons. Not only are the sakura beautiful, but so are the wild flowers that grow there.
Right next to Maruyama Park is the famous Yasaka Shrine. It is called Gion-san by the local Japanese people.
The most impressive thing is its ‘Seirou-mon’. This is the gate. It is symbol in here. It is found a Muromachi era. The viewing of ‘Seirou-mon’ gaze up from stone step is beautiful. This shrine is the head temple and spiritual place of disease-free.
North of Maruyama Park is a famous temple called Chion-in. It is the oldest temple made of wood in Japan. Its giant sanmon gate stands in the entrance. Next to it, there are several large, beautiful cherry trees. When their petals land on the steps, it is so beautiful.
In sum, the area in and around Maruyama Park is filled with opportunities to experience the wonderful sakura in bloom.
Kitano Shrine is a well-known Shinto shrine located in the Kamigyoku area of Kyoto, and can be reached by a 30-min bus ride from Kyoto Station.
This shrine is associated with the god of study, so many Japanese students come to pray before they are having big exam. This is the most powerful study god in Japan. This shrine’s history goes all the way back to the Heian period, over 1,000 years ago. Since then people have been praying here for good results in their studies and exams.
Kitano Shrine has a very nice garden with many kinds of trees. One of them is a species unique to the Kitano Shrine, called a Kitano Cherry Blossom. When it is in bloom, the color for the sakura petals is white. However, it slowly grows pink day-by-day. Finally, at the end of its bloom cycle, it has become dark pink. Isn’t that beautiful? The interesting thing is that people didn’t know it was a unique species until they researched it in the past few years.
The oldest tree on the grounds is 120 years old. How cool is that? The cherry tree is 120 years old, so it knows the end of shogun history and saw what happened in Japan during WW2 in 1945. These days, like a number of other shrines and temples around Kyoto, Kitano Shrine lights up its sakura tree collection at night. They are so beautiful.
You can not only enjoy the lit up cherry trees, but also the traditional shrine buildings. The main shrine building is such a cute structure. When night falls and it is lit up with a nice color, it is amazing.
In Autumn, Kitano Shrine has different appearance. Cherry blossoms don’t bloom this time of year. However, there are more than 300 maple trees in the garden. Their leaves turn darker in the fall, to colors like orange or brown. It is also quite lovely. It is called koyo in Japanese. Colored leaves fall down from the trees and cover the walking path. There are tons of leaves all over the place. It is amazingly beautiful. It is seems like leaf rain.
In the winter season, if you are super lucky, you can see the building covered by snow. It is also very beautiful.
As you can see, you can enjoy the Kitano Shrine in each season of the year, as each offers us a different appearance. But our recommendation is Spring. Don’t you feel romantic surrounded by 120-year-old cherry trees that get pinker day-by-day? We hope you visit there one day.
Sanzenin is in the silent mountains in the countryside north of Kyoto city, in a small village named Ohara. The way to Sanzenin is a gentle slope with rice cracker shops and Japanese pickles shops along the way. Therefore, I recommend you go to Sanzenin by checking out these shops. You can enjoy Sanzenin throughout the year because the viewing is so beautiful every day. Especially, cherry blossom and hydrangeas are most famous flowers in this place. For example, several thousand hydrangeas are planted at Sanzenin. The peak bloom period is June to July. As you pass under the main gate, there is Japanese traditional garden covered with the moss. At first glance, maybe you think it has a messy appearance. However, the all positions are calculated.
Also, there are a large number of miniature Ozizou-sama on the moss. Ozizou-sama is the target of belief in Japan. They are called warabe-zizou by Japanese people. The meaning of Warabe is child in Japanese. All waraze-zizou face and the body plans are different. I recommend you find your favorite one.
Inside the temple ground, there is Ojo Gokuraku in. This is temple.You can’t take pictures there, so you have to observe the rules. However, the scenery from Ojo Gokuraku in is so beautiful, and there is an old-world flavor. Although the garden is covered with green, in the autumn, you can see autumn colors. In addition, the autumn leaves fall upon the ground, so the scenery changes.
At the Yu-seien temple, there is Ougonsui of water. It is a kind of water that Japanese people say gives us long life. If you touch this water, you can get happiness. Near Sanzenin is Housen-in, a small temple where you can eat Japanese cake and green tea. This temple has a irori. Irori is Japanese traditional fireplace, that gives you a Japanese feeling. Moreover, you can see a Japanese traditional garden from the temple in which bamboo and Japanese cedar are planted.. The scenery is different from that of Sanzenin. However, it is hidden in a notable spot, so you can enjoy the silence of Kyoto there.
So that brings us to the end of our article. Remember, Maruyama Park is the oldest park in Kyoto. Therefore, you can learn about ancient Japanese culture and enjoy the same beautiful cherry blossoms that people of long ago enjoyed. At the Kitano shrine, you can enjoy viewing cherry blossoms and plums. Finally, at Sanzenin temple, in addition to cherry blossoms in the spring, you can enjoy the colorful hydrangeas in June during the rainy season.