Biwako Valley Cherry Blossoms Festival – See Sakura at Ski Resort in Shiga
Osaka, Kyoto and Kansai
The opening section of The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, who was a Japanese court lady and a poet in the 11th century, depicts the beauty of spring in Kyoto. It has the following passage: “In spring, it is the dawn that is most beautiful. As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint and wisps of the purplish cloud trail over them.” This is one of the most famous passages of all Japanese literary works. Many students read out and memorize it in class in most Japanese schools. The “hills” she viewed when she might have been writing her essay are probably the range of 36 mountains in Higashiyama. You can see it in the east from the central Kyoto area. Kyoto has its different beauty in each season.
A lot of people visit Kyoto to enjoy the elegance from canopies of beautiful cherry blossoms that cover the whole city of Kyoto. On the other hand, there are many other spring events to boast and worthy of note. Let me introduce some of it in this article.
Spring weather in Kyoto is mild. At the beginning of March, the city is tinged with a lot of beautiful flowers and plants, starting with plum blossoms. Then, cherry blossoms, azaleas, wisteria, and irises all blooming in succession.
Date: March 3rd
Places: Shimogamo Shrine, Sakyo
Hina Matsuri is one of the traditional Japanese celebrations for young girls that takes place on March 3rd annually. People pray for young girls’ good health and happiness on one of the five auspicious dates of the lunar calendar called “go-sekku (五節句)”. The March 3rd festival is famous as “peach (桃)” sekku as it originated from peach trees that typically began to bloom around this time in ancient Japan. Kyoto has Hina Matsuri events in several places.
The first one I recommend is at Shimogamo Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto. At this event, a pair of small straw dolls are set afloat on a palm-sized straw boat and flowed into the Mitarashi River, which runs through the shrine. People believe that at this “doll floating” ceremony – “Nagashi-bina (流し雛)” is you carry your inner impurities and sins on the boats and send them away. At Sanjusangendo or officially “Renge-o-in (蓮華王院)”, “Shunto-e (春桃会)” ceremony takes place for the Hina matsuri celebration. The master of the Ikenobo, the oldest and largest school of “Ikebana (生花)” or Japanese floral art, offers a beautiful arrangement of flowers to the deity. Special amulets that only women can buy are available on this date only. If you are interested, please visit the official websites of the shrines: http://www.shimogamo-jinja.or.jp/english/ (for Shimogamo Shrine) and http://www.sanjusangendo.jp/ (for Sanjusangendo).
Dates: March 8th – 17th
Place: Alleys (between Shoren-in Temple and Kiyomizu-dera Temple) behind the Higashi-oji Street
Higashiyama Hanatouro is a spring illumination event that lights up the pathways in the old town of Kyoto. You will notice ancient temples and shrines that will provide you with a sophisticated atmosphere for night walking along this path. The 4.6-kilometer-long narrow alleys, linking between Shoren-in Temple and Kiyomizu-dera Temple, are lit with 2,400 lanterns on the side of the pathways.
All the lanterns are traditional craftworks of Kyoto: Kitayama cedars, Kiyomizu ceramics, Kyomei bamboos, and other stone or metal work. On Saturdays and Sundays, geiko and maiko in the Gion and Kamishichiken areas walk gracefully, which makes a lovely picture against the backdrops of beautiful reflection from the lanterns. This event, which started in 2003, becomes popular year by year. Currently, it attracts about one million people during the 10-day period. For more information about this event, please refer to the following article: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/see-kyoto-enveloped-in-mysterious-light-at-the-hanatouro-festival
Image courtesy of Zi Jing
Dates: March 14th and 15th
Place: Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Higashiyama
Wow! Looks as if it was in action movies called Japanese “tokusatsu (特撮)”. The face of the Blue Dragon reminds me of something like a formidable “kaiju (怪獣)” enemy of the Super Sentai heroes. But the dragon at Kiyomizu-dera Temple is a sacred deity. It is one of the four divine creatures which that protect against evils coming from four directions. The Blue Dragon protects the eastern border of one of Japan’s most famous and revered Buddhist temples. A lot of monks and people from the shopping street council come together and make an exciting procession around the temple. Gorgeous costumes they wear are also a feast for your eyes! This event started in 2000, relatively new, but it gives a new charm to the traditional city. The admission is ¥400 for an adult. For more information please refer to the following article: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/seiryu-e-sophisticated-blue-dragon-festival-kiyomizu-temple-kyoto.
Image courtesy of karesansui
Date: March 15th
Place: Seiryo-ji Temple, Ukyo
Seiryo-ji temple is in the Arashiyama area, which is popular and famous for its picturesque forest in Kyoto. This ancient temple, also known as “Saga Shaka” or Saga Buddha Temple, holds a religious ceremony – “Otaimatsu” on the evening of March 15th annually. Local people light three of the 7-meter-high torches that stand it in the grounds of the temple while the monks chant a prayer to Buddha around the torches. They also pray for a good rice harvest. The bright flames from the torches will usher in the arrival of early spring in Kyoto. You will also have an opportunity to enjoy “Kyogen (狂言)” plays three times on this day. Check on the official website for more details (Japanese only): http://seiryoji.or.jp/.
Dates: April 6th and 7th
Place: Prefectural Uji Park, Uji City
This annual cherry blossom festival has become a common sight in spring in Uji. Here, the final chapters of The Tale of Genji are set in. In early April, with 2,000 cherry trees in full bloom along both sides of the Uji River, fun events take place in Nakanoshima. It consists of two small islands: Tachibana-jima and To-no-shima. A bridge connects these islands. On Tachibana-jima, there is a symbolic “weeping” cherry tree.
On the peak of Sakura season, its branches are heavy with flowers, with many viewers under the trees. You will notice a lot of booths selling festival food and drinks, and people buy lunchboxes and sweets to enjoy at hanami or cherry blossom viewing. There is a pottery market on the other island of To-no-shima. If you want to enjoy this Sakura festival, please check on the following website: http://www.kyoto-uji-kankou.or.jp/.
Image courtesy of Ikkyu
Date: April 14th
Place: Imamiya Shrine, Kita
This festival has a unique origin. Participants believe that if the weather is good on the festival day, so it will be good on the days of all the other shrine rituals in Kyoto in the rest of the year. The god of Imamiya Shrine is the god of good health and long life. So, this festival takes place every year to please the shrine’s god, whose mood the weather relies on. To entertain the god, performers in red and white costumes dance around big red umbrellas with fresh flowers. People say that the umbrellas attract the attention of the fickle deity and bring good health to those who pass under them. If you are interested in this event, one of Kyoto’s three mysterious festivals, please check the official website of the shrine: http://www.imamiyajinja.org/.
Date: April 14th
Place: Shiramine-jingu Shrine, Kami-gyo
This shrine is famous for its deity – Seidai Myojin (精大明神), affectionately famous as the God of Soccer. The shrine was built on the premises of the Asukai (飛鳥井) clan, an aristocratic family in the 12th century. They have excelled at poetry and playing kemari, a ball kicking game similar to Sepak Takraw in Southeast Asia. On April 14th (and July 7th too), you can see the theatrical matches of kemari by some priests in medieval Japan costumes at the shrine. The lucky charm – “kanauwa (叶う輪)” or “dream-come-true ring” is very popular among visitors. Many people use it as a lucky charm for sports. For more details, please check the official website: http://www.shiraminejingu.or.jp/english/.
Dates: April 14th
Place: Daigo-ji Temple, Fushimi
Japanese love going out for cherry blossoms viewing. But no one was probably more enthusiastic about cherry blossoms than Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three great samurai lords that unified the country. In spring 1598, he held the largest tea party in Kyoto history. For the lavish hanami, Hideyoshi spared no expense in rebuilding an old temple gorgeously. He planted 700 cherry trees of all kinds of variety in the grounds of the elegantly refurbished temple. The temple is now Daigo-ji Temple. According to the records, the party was so exciting and huge-scale that it took hours to reach the shrine hall from the approach gate. More than 1,300 guests came at that time. The annual festival re-enacts the large-scale party hosted by Hideyoshi. There is an admission fee. If you want to see this fabulous parade, please check the official website of the shrine: http://www.daigoji.or.jp/index_e.html.
May is arguably the best month for a picnic. Lots of flowers bloom, and new green leaves come out. The first week of the month falls on the holidays – Golden Week (with the Coronation Day of the new Emperor this year). Thus, many tourist spots are busy, and hotels add peak season surcharges.
Image courtesy of juraihelm
Dates: May 3rd
Place: Shimogamo Shrine, Sakyo
This event takes place annually as an introductory ritual of Aoi Matsuri that takes place on May 15th. Yabusame is a traditional Japanese horse archery that has its origin at the Kamakura period. Back then, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo (源頼朝: 1147-1199), the founder of the shogunate system, was disappointed with the poor archery skills of his samurai troops. He thought of using yabusame as a form of archery practice.
And also, yabusame became a way to please and entertain deities whose blessings encourage the prosperity of the land, the people, and the good harvest. Yabusame-shinji at Shimogamo Shrine is one of the best traditional archery performances to see. If you want to catch a glimpse of court nobles in their yabusame outfits, please see the shrine’s official website: http://www.shimogamo-jinja.or.jp/english/.
Dates: May 3rd
Place: Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Fushimi
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, established in the 8th century, is the headquarters of over 30,000 Inari shines across the country. There are several spots to see in the shrine. For example its huge main hall, in front of which stands a vermilion “torii (鳥居)” gate that has just a stately presence, “senbon-torii (千本鳥居)” or Thousand Torii Gate, and so on. The two-week-long Inari Festival is one of the most important events of the shrine. It starts with its “first act” – “Shinko-sai (神幸祭)” in April and ends on May 3rd. On that day the “final and main act” of the festival – Kanko-sai (還幸祭), takes place. Gorgeous portable “mikoshi (神輿)” shrines, which rested for some time after the Shinko-sai, parade around the shrine. If you want to see how cool these mikoshi look, please check the shrine’s official website: http://inari.jp/en/.
Image courtesy of かずっち
Date: May 11th
Place: Throughout the Ohara area, Sakyo
Ohara, which is in the north of Kyoto, is a small town famous for its placid nunneries. One of which is described in the Ukifune chapter from The Tale of Genji. And the word “me (女)” means a “woman” in English. “Oharame”, meaning women from Ohara, were engaged in firewood peddling for a long time.
At Oharame Festival that goes on from April 20th to June 14th, female tourists can experience being an Oharame. They will wear tight-sleeved kimono with white leggings under it and straw sandals on their feet. As a part of the festival and its main event, there is a parade – Oharame Jidai Procession. In addition, a lot of female participants, young and old, dress up in Oharame costumes from almost every period of Japanese history. You can rent the Oharama outfits at a discount rate from the regular rental charge ¥2,500. For more details, please visit the official website of the town: https://www.kyoto-ohara-kankouhosyoukai.net/.
Image courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Date: May 15th
Places: Shimogamo Shrine, Sakyo
Kamigamo Shrine, Kita
Shimogamo Shrine again. This time, it hosts Aoi Matsuri with its sibling Kamigamo Shrine. (These two shrines are affectionately lumped together as the Kamo Shrines.) This matsuri is one of Kyoto’s three great festivals as well as one of the most famous matsuri in Japan. Actually, it starts on May 1st, when the “yabusame” equestrian ceremony takes place as an introductory ritual of the festival at the heritage-listed deep forest in the grounds of the former shrine.
On May 15th you will see the festival’s main attraction – “Heian Parade”. People in noble attire from the Heian period of medieval Japan walk stately in a gorgeous procession from the Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines. The elegant parade takes about five hours to go around the city so you can enjoy the event without making haste. Here is the link to this festival article, which I wrote for FestivalGo: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/aoi-festival-must-see-parade.
Once again, Kyoto boasts its different beauty in different seasons. Especially in the early April, cherry blossoms in full bloom around Kyoto will overwhelm you. There are many spots for viewing the cherry blossoms and enjoying its beauty. Besides, there is no wrong season for visiting the ancient capital of Japan!
If you would like a local guide to spend a day with you or take you to a festival and tell you even more about Kyoto, please check the banner below.
Kyoto is an old capital of Japan and a cultural and historical mecca for everyone who visits this country. It is the most popular city among tourists and a must-see destination indeed. Kyoto boasts over 4000 historical places including shrines, temples, and attracts visitors with its charming atmosphere of an ancient city. This city is great for shopping, bicycling, hiking, museums, galleries, green spaces, and features many famous festivals. In the following article, you will find 100 things and many ideas on how to spend your time in Kyoto! Please, have a look, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/100-things-kyoto-sightseeing-spots-traditional-japanese-events
Cherry blossoms are an essential part of Japanese culture. And, viewing cherry blossoms (Hanami) is very popular in Japan during the spring. This is because cherry blossoms, which the Japanese call “Sakura” are stunning at this season.
If you are planning to visit Japan this spring and want to discover more cherry blossoms spots in Kyoto area, please check the following article. It’s covering the best Hanami spots in the old capital and provides you with the essential information, so you can get the most from your Sakura trip!
Here`s the link. URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2566/
Osaka is very close to Kyoto. It will be a miss if you don’t visit Osaka to see cherry blossoms when you are in the Kansai area in spring. Please check the following article to find out the best cherry blossoms viewing spots in Osaka and Kansai!
Kyoto and Osaka have many beautiful spots to see Cherry blossoms. However, other areas also have excellent places for hanami. Tokyo features many of those spots as well! If you are in Tokyo around spring and looking for a place to see cherry blossoms, Why don’t you check the following article?
A lot of people when they get to a Matsuri for the first time feel a bit lost. They confuse about what is happening around. If you are new to Japanese Festivals or want to know an alternative way of how you can enjoy these events, the following article will provide you with a set of helpful tips on how to choose a proper festival and activities you should try there. Please don`t hesitate to take a look at it!
For all foodies who enjoy Japanese Festivals would be nice to get acquainted with the rich choice offered by Yatai (Japanese festival food stalls). The food presented during Matsuri is pretty different from the one you get at the restaurants in Japan. Besides, there is a certain charm in grabbing some snack from a food stall and diving back into the festival crowd. I am sure that you will discover something new about Japanese festival food from the following article!