The Cherry Blossom season in Kyoto starts in late March, and from March 29 to April 14 you can experience its fleeting beauty in many of Kyoto’s parks, temple and castle gardens. Called hanami in Japanese, its time to celebrate spring with a picnic underneath a full bloom of cherry trees. Whether you are drinking or dancing, you can look up to see a galaxy of flowers above you. At night, many places are lit up, with the blossoms taking on a magical glow. This is Kyoto’s magnificent seven after dark:
Gion – Cherry trees frame the Shirakawa canal, and if you are lucky, you can catch a glimpse of a passing Geisha or Maiko. The best spots are between Kawabata Street to Tatsumi bridge
Kiyomizu Temple – located on a moderate hill, take in the city skyline and the cherry blossoms from the deck of Kyoto’s top attraction. Next door is Jishu, a magnet for those seeking love. 18:00-21:00 Entry: ¥400
In the spring, Kiyomizu Temple features a cherry blossom light-up at night, which is a truly beautiful event.
Kodaiji and Entoku– Kodaiji has possibly the most beautiful light up in Kyoto, the pond is an almost perfect reflection of the trees above. You can also partake in a tea ceremony in a traditional room (additional charge). To cater for the crowds, it is open from Mar. 12 to Early May, from Sunset - 21:30. Entry: ¥600.
Shoren-in Temple has the elegance you expect from a Kyoto garden with less crowds compared with Kiyomizu and Kodaji. It is just a 5 minute walk from Higashiyama subway station, allowing you to bypass the traffic and crowded buses during peak hours.
Hirano Shrine is the home of hanami, with a festival held here every year since the year 985. Street food vendors and other activities add to the jovial atmosphere, with the lanterns adding a warm glow to the cherry trees.
Photos of cherry blossom festival at Hirano Shrine, the oldest annual festival in Kyoto, begun in 985. At night lanterns are lit..
To-ji Temple is a World Heritage site, with Japan’s tallest wooden tower. The contrast between the five-story pagoda and the cherry blossoms is a photographer’s delight from every angle. The light up is from 18:00-21:00 Entry is ¥500 to the gardens.
Nijo Castle is one of Kyoto’s top sites, with both the castle and cherry blossoms lit up at this time. Expect to take half an hour or so to cover its vast grounds. It is conveniently located near Nijo-jo mae subway station, just one stop from JR Nijo Station. 18:00-21:00 - ¥400.
A short photographic introduction to Nijō Castle's cherry blossom illumination
While it is tempting to cram everything in one night, I would recommend spacing them over different nights. An easy itinery would be to start at Nijo, and then take the subway to Shoren-in. Another night could take in some other places in East Kyoto, such as Kiyomizu/ Gion/ Todaiji.