22 Mar 2019 in Discover Japan
Our tips to make the most of Kyoto’s cherry blossom, spring cuisine and geisha dances!
A spring visit to Kyoto is on many people’s bucket lists. The city’s famed temples are even more photogenic framed against the ephemeral whites and pinks of cherry blossoms. It’s a period when you can get up-close to Kyoto’s exclusive geisha thanks to a series of annual dances open to the public.
What’s more, spring brings exciting new ingredients to Kyoto’s world-renowned kaiseki cuisine.
But spring also brings tourists in their hundreds of thousands. Which is why a little inside knowledge can help you beat the crowds and make the most of your stay.
How about getting off the beaten track with a boat ride down a valley overlooked by swathes of ancient cherry trees? Or an exclusive springtime meal on a private riverside terrace with views of cherry blossom lit up at night?
This spring, HOSHINOYA Kyoto is offering both experiences to its guests. And because it’s located in a wooded area in western Arashiyama, this traditional ryokan is a great place to get away from the bustle of sakura-season Kyoto.
Flower-viewing in nature
The boat tour from HOSHINOYA Kyoto is certainly the most peaceful way to contemplate the cherry blossom.
From your ryokan, you’ll take a private house-boat, following the meanders of the Oi river through bucolic hillsides thick with seasonal sakura. The slopes on either side of the river are home to around 1500 cherry trees, including yoshino and yamazakura varieties that are said to date back to the beginning of the 13th century.
Kyoto’s top cherry blossom spots
While the boat trip is contemplative, Kyoto’s city centre is buzzing in springtime. But there are also are a number of excellent sakura spots less frequented by tourists.
Start in Arashiyama, the leafy district of HOSHINOYA Kyoto. You’ll find cherry blossom aplenty in the lavish gardens of Tenryu-ji, a monumental Zen temple founded in 1339. Just a short walk away, Kameyama-koen park rises up to a panoramic viewpoint with sakura lining its paths.
In central Kyoto, it’s worth braving the inevitable crowds at the Imperial Palace Park for the stunning weeping cherry trees (shidare-zakura). Perhaps most popular of all is Maruyama Park with its showcase shidare-zakura lit up at night. Come with your own picnic, as it’s a great spot for a hanami party, as are the banks of the Kamo river.
You can expect lighter crowds on Philosopher’s Path, a canal-side walkway lined with hundreds of sakura trees on both sides of the water. Hillside Shinyo-do temple is also off most tourists’ radar and boasts spectacular cherry tree-filled grounds.
During sakura season, many parts of Kyoto are illuminated at night so you can carry on appreciating the cherry blossom even when it’s dark. Highlights include the world-famed Kiyomizu-dera and Kodai-ji temples, as well as Nijo Castle.
The arrival of spring brings exciting new ingredients to Kyoto cuisine. Chief among them is takenoko bamboo shoots. It’s a Japanese tradition to eat these young shoots in spring when they are at their most crisp, succulent and juicy. And Kyoto is famed nationwide for its exceptional production.
The best way to sample takenoko is as part of a multi-course kaiseki menu, a Kyoto speciality. And this is precisely what HOSHINOYA Kyoto offers during sakura season – with the added bonus of a private table on an outdoor terrace with views of illuminated yamazakura cherry blossom.
Overlooking the Oi river, you’ll dine on a seasonal menu specially created by award-winning chef Ichiro Kubota. You can expect spring greens, ghost shrimp with wild vegetables, Spanish mackerel roasted with rapeseed and, of course, takenoko rice, the purest way to appreciate the natural meatiness and soft texture of young bamboo shoots.
This is Kyoto’s spring at its most delectable and romantic.
The final ingredient of your springtime stay in Kyoto? A ticket to see geisha, known locally as geiko, performing traditional dance and music.
Spring is a unique opportunity to admire Kyoto’s famed geiko up-close at the Miyako Odori and Kyo Odori, daily shows held at local theatres to celebrate the coming of spring. Make sure you book your tickets well in advance!