Nara prefecture has some of the most beautiful places to see sakura, or cherry blossoms in Japan. Nara park has a huge number of cherry blossom trees, and I do love cycling around the city to see all the blossoms. But, I honestly think the very best place to see cherry blossoms in Japan is in Yoshino, around Yoshino yama (吉野山).
I realize that many other prefectures also boast about their beautiful sakura-filled views, so if you can’t make it to Nara, you make do with those. It’s just, if you are anywhere vaguely close to Nara in spring, get yourself on a train to Yoshino, and then send me thank you hugs later.
How to reach the beautiful mountain full of cherry blossons
Most people arrive in Yoshino on the Kintestsu trainline. This will take 40 minutes from Nara (or just over an hour and a half from Kyoto.) You can plan your trip with hyperdia. From there, you can take a cable car up the first hill. However it isn’t a long walk, so if you arrive when the cable car has just left, or if there is a long queue; Just walk up the hill. It’s not particularly strenuous! While you are below the village, there are some amazing views up higher into the mountain. It is covered in thousands of cherry blossom trees.
History, temples and shrines:
Yoshino yama has been a good place to view sakura for a looong time! The first trees were planted here by monks over 1300 years ago. Nowadays there are more than 30,000 cherry blossom trees. You can a detailed history of Yoshino here.
All this means there are some amazing temples and shrines to explore. The Kinpusenji temple and Yoshimizu Shrine are the two most famous. They both have fantastic views of the surrounding sakura trees. You can also visit Chikurin-in and Nyoirinji Temple. If you walk further up the mountain, you can get to the gorgeous Mikumari Shrine.
You can find out your fortune at the various temples. How it works: You pay for a omikuji, and they’ll give you a box full of wooden sticks. Shake the box a few times and then shake out a single stick. The number on the stick tells you which fortune you should take.
The best thing about Japanese fortunes is that if you are going to have good fortune, just keep hold of it. BUT, if you don’t like what you read, never fear! You can tie your bad fortune onto one of the sakura trees. It’s really easy to abandon bad fortune, and forget about it. I really like the way trees can be covered in both blossoms and omikuji.
Tasty things to eat in Yoshino
There are small shops and stalls along the streets leading you towards the temples, shrines and cherry blossoms. There are plenty of yaki mochi, grilled rice cakes and country-style, spicy konnyaku. Konnyaku is hard to explain, it is a strange jelly-like substance that is meant to be really good for you, but it isn’t particularly flavorsome. I think the way it is served in the countryside in Nara (on a stick) is the least bad way to try it.
I always like to treat myself to a sakura flavoured soft serve ice cream during cherry blossom season. There are other traditional flavours available, like matcha, yuzu peel, or black sesame, but pink ice cream makes the most sense when you’re surrounded by pink flowers.
The most obvious traditional food to try in Nara is kakinohazushi. Nara prefecture doesn’t have any boarders with the sea, so this dish was a way to preserve fish before people had access to super speedy transportation and fridges! Each slice of fish is preserved in fragrant vinegar, placed on sushi rice and then wrapped in a persimmon leaf. So when you open your lunch, it will look like a box of perfectly folded leaves. Open each leaf to reveal some seriously tasty sushi.
Best place to see cherry blossoms in Japan
Once you’ve made it past all the shops, you head towards the area that makes Yoshino so stunning. There are just so many pink and white blossoms in all directions! This is a popular area to stop and have a picnic on the slopes of the mountain. I normally find that the higher you climb, the fewer people there are, but it will always be quite busy because Japanese people are serious about their enjoyment of hanami, blossom viewing.
All my photos are from yeeeears ago when I first visiting Yoshino with a group of friends on the JET program. We all lived in various places around Nara, so Yoshino was the perfect place to meet up, eat tasty foods, drink sake and chat to local hanami enthusiasts!
The best sakura views
I really like going up near the top of Yoshino yama, to be rewarded with views of the surrounding mountains, Yoshino village below, an of course, all the cherry blossoms.
As you can see, the paths are really well maintained and easy to follow, so although it’s more comfy to explore in hiking boots, you can get away with any comfy shoes. So, even with my super old photos, you can see this is a beautiful place to explore.
When to visit
Late March to early April
The dates will change slightly every year, but Japanese TV will have sakura forecasts, so you can watch the local news to find out when the blossoms will be in full bloom. As Yoshino is in the mountains, it is slightly colder than Nara city, so I would normally spend a couple of weeks taking photos in the city, and then head down to Yoshino a little later in the season.
Don’t fall for instagram hype:
Yoshino Yama IS incredibly beautiful BUT this is partly because the flowers move slowly up the mountain over a couple of weeks. So when the trees by the train station are starting to flower, the trees up near the top of the mountain are still bare. Then, by the time the trees at the top are mankai (fully in bloom) the trees halfway up will be a mix of green leaves and blossoms and the trees at the bottom will be mostly green.
The thing is, some photographers use composite images to show the whole mountain in bloom all at once. It doesn’t normally look like that! It is a beautiful place, but you don’t have to fake it!
So, if you’d like to see a mountain covered in white and pink flowers, seriously, get yourself to Yoshino. Bring a picnic and grab a seat like these obaa-chans.
Teeny bit of Japanese language so you can look like a hanami pro:
花見 Hanami: cherry blossom viewing
桜 Sakura: cherry blossoms
満開 Mankai: fully in bloom
花 Hana: flowers
山 Yama: mountain
おみくじ Omikuji: Fortune
What to order:
柿の葉寿司 Kakinohazushi: Sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves
こんにゃくKonnyaku: That jelly-like food on a stick
焼き餅 Yakimochi: Really tasty hot mochi
What to say if you make friends
かんぱい Kampai: cheers
美味しい Oishii: delicious
綺麗ですね Kireidesune: Isn’t it pretty (you’ll hear this a lot)
寒いですね Samuii desune: Isn’t it cold
ありがとうございます Arigatou gozaimasu: Thank you