While any excuse to visit Japan is good enough for me, having this year’s two-week adventure in Osaka and Kyoto coincide with the annual cherry blossom extravaganza gave this trip some extra luster. Traditionally, the cherry blossoms go into full bloom in late March/early April, but the timing can be tricky. Last year the blossoms came early, so by late March they were already gone.
Fortunately, all that pre-trip finger-crossing paid off, because we nailed the timing perfectly. The first leg of our tour was four days in Osaka for the last week of March, where the cherry blossoms were plentiful and colorful, especially along the riverside at Minami-Temma Park, but still a little young. By the time we got to Kyoto on April 1, though, the blossoms were full and fluffy and vibrantly colored … the peak of the season!
And they didn’t disappoint! Both white and pink versions of the cherry blossoms were equally impressive, probably reinforced by the sheer numbers of trees in both cities. They literally were everywhere, and everyday areas and ancient temples alike took on a fresh, springtime look.
Every scene looked like a painting or soft-focus photo.
It’s cherry trees as far as the eye can see along Osaka’s Kyū-Yodo River.
I’m not given to corny superlatives, but at times the cherry blooms were breathtaking!
Enhancing the air of specialness they create, the Japanese people really celebrate their cherry blossoms, as well they should. Their affinity for the cherry blossoms is almost spiritual, as if there’s a special connection between the people and the blossoms with their peaceful beauty. It’s as if they know that the blossoms will only be around for a short period of time, so they make the very best of that time.
So any place with cherry threes, and and especially any area under the branches, could quickly become a picnic area, with people throwing down blankets or tarps (usually blue), busting out the food and drink, and having a relaxing time with friends and family underneath the cherry blossoms.
It was really fun watching the locals letting their hair down, chilling out and enjoying themselves and the beauty of the trees. These scenes were usually pretty animated, with the sounds of music and laughter in the air, and little kids and dogs running about. It was cool to see how celebrating the cherry trees was a big part of the Japanese social fabric.
Kyoto’s Umekoji Park (home of the Kyoto Aquarium) was particularly active on a Saturday afternoon (above).
As was the beautiful Kyoto Botanical Gardens the next day (above). The Gardens were particularly dense with cherry trees, and worth a visit in any season. As with any picnic, food was a big part of the proceedings, and people ate everything from homemade and pre-prepared Japanese meals, yummy noodle dishes from local vendors, and even pizza!
Anywhere with both waterways and cherry trees made for especially popular meeting spots. The scene above was taken along a canal near Kyoto’s Nijo Castle, while the artists in the pic below were taken in Kyoto’s Gion district.
But nothing matched the fun and vibrancy of Kyoto’s Kamagawa Park at the Kamagawa Delta on a beautifully warm Saturday afternoon. Watch as hundreds of petals flutter to the ground whenever the wind comes up.
Appropriate for the occasion, many women wore their traditional kimonos when out visiting the cherry blossoms, like this vibrantly-colored selfie gal at the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, another beautiful area thick with cherry trees.
Couples having their wedding photos taken with cherry blossoms as a backdrop is very popular in Japan and couples locked in loving embrace was a common sight. The couple above was doing just that at Kyoto’s Nijo Castle.
However, what may have looked like an intimate moment was often anything but.
It was always fun watching hundreds of petals break loose with the wind, creating a snowstorm of of sorts, like the scene above near Kamogawa Park. Like the previous video I posted, this video was taken on April 9, and from what I could judge from posters announcing cherry blossom festivities around the city, April 10 marked the official end of the celebrations. A hard, heavy, all-day rain had fallen two days before, and the next day you could see that many of the trees looked thinner after all that rain knocked loose many of the petals. So the end was near for the cherry blossoms, for this year at least.
And the end may be near for traveling to Japan, as other parts of the world are calling. So I’m glad I got a chance to see the Japanese cherry blossoms in all their wondrous glory, and to experience the social and cultural scene that centers around the spring time of year in Japan.
And if you didn’t see enough cherry blossoms in the pics above, here’s a gallery of even more! As usual, I took an obscene amount of photos during my two weeks in Japan, so look for more from my adventures in Osaka and Kyoto in the very near future.