Visiting Japan at this time of year is an excellent decision and it is with some luck that I have managed to arrive in Kyoto during full bloom.
There are sakura all over the city, in back yards, near housing estates, along the banks of many of the city’s waterways, occasionally a bonsai version can be spied outside a restaurant or on a shops counter. There are plastic flowers hanging from the street lanterns in the shopping district and many shops have sakura themed items, one of the local coffee chains has a sakura drink, I have tried sakura infused sake and seen some of the most tenuous marketing links imaginable. It is quite clear that to me that the Japanese celebrate sakura the way Americans celebrate autumn.
Just because the sun has gone down doesn’t mean it is time to stop celebrating these delicate and beautiful displays. Many of the blossoms around the city are lit in the most fantastical way, some are in fact more striking and beautiful at night than during the day, mostly due to the lack of unsightly background otherwise visible during daylight.
One of the parks illuminated each night until 1am is the Maruyama park just behind the Yasaka shrine, one of the easiest shrines to find in the city at the end of the main shopping street. The daytime stalls that sell snack food to the numerous visitors continue on until late at night, it’s quite a sight exploring the park at night for under the sakura trees all the space available is crammed with celebrating Japanese having a wonderful time enjoying the food and drink available. There is little music and no dancing just yet but really it’s an amazing excuse for a party that can last a few weeks.
With many places to view sakura around the city I enjoyed the almost crowd free Kamo river, although the blooms where not the most spectacular the setting was nice and quiet, moments from the interesting part of the city. I also found the canals that ran alongside Kiya-machi Dori and Shirakawa-minami Dori in the city to be particularly nice, the crowds although constant are often a bit smaller, with the flowers lit attractivly against the night sky. I thought these waterways gave a much better experience than the much hyped philosophers Path, which does deliver excellent sakura but didn’t impress me with the overall experience.