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Sakura Exploration in Downtown Kyoto

Every year when spring comes, people in Kyoto start thinking about sakura, or cherry blossom. People often wonder when the first blossom petals will begin to open? When will they reach their fullest bloom? Where should one go to enjoy sakura this year...? In this ancient capital, there are a number of recommended cherry blossom viewing spots, which have survived many springs with people admiring the beauty of sakura. Each place has a unique scenery and individual beauty.

The blooming period of sakura is very short. Full bloom is usually reached within one week after the opening of the first blossoms. Typically, a week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms start to fall from the trees. During flowering weeks, strong winds and rain can heighten the rate at which petals fall, making the blooming season even shorter.

This year, KVG will guide you to recommended sakura spots in downtown Kyoto where you will be able to enjoy amazingly beautiful scenery and wonderfully relaxing moments interspersed with your regular sightseeing.

Experience Dining Underneath 200 Cherry Trees on Kiyamachi
Takase-gawa Canal

The beautiful cherry tree lined street between Nijo and Gojo, along the Takase River, is known as ''Kiyamachi.'' The name derives from the fact that there used to be many lumber merchants on the street and Kiya literally translates to 'wooden town'. Kiyamachi is lined with sakura, especially between Shijo and Gojo Street, where over two hundred Someiyoshino cherry trees (the most common cherry blossom in Japan) are planted along a 1km stretch. There are many stylish cafes along the Takase River where you can enjoy a pleasant moment watching the blossom while indulging in some traditional Japanese tea and sweets.

At night, the blossom of Kiyamachi between Oike and Nijo street is illuminated with 60 big spot lights. Here you can enjoy the gorgeous cherry blossom night view whilst listening to the tranquil flowing sound of the river. If you are in high spirits from drinking alcohol, perhaps at an earlier hanami party, then make sure to walk from Shijo to Gojo and take in the red Japanese lanterns of the many ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurants) lining the river against a backdrop of the Someiyoshino cherry trees.

*Illuminations are scheduled from the end of March to early April; 18:30-23:00).

Beauty Between Buildings - The Birthplace of Ikebana
Rokkaku-do Temple

Just a 5-min. walk south from the Karasuma Oike subway station, you will come across Rokkaku-do Temple. This temple, surrounded by the city and its many buildings, has myriad eye-catching spots and is renowned as the birthplace of ikebana - traditional Japanese flower arrangement. This temple is said to have been built by Shotoku Taishi, with the name ''Rokkaku'' referring to the hexagonal shape of the building and its roof. Dotted amongst the garden you will find various charming memorial statues.

In total, there are 16 small Rakan statues standing side by side in the precinct. Over their heads is the famous ''Miyuki Sakura'' cherry tree, blooming as if it were an angel's umbrella. Both locals and tourists alike enjoy the peace and tranquility of this relaxing place. Visit the Starbucks next to the temple and enjoy a coffee whilst gazing through the window of their temple-adjacent glass wall that overlooks this stunning sakura-scene. Arrive at the temple gate early before the crowds gather (open from 6:00 am) to appreciate the surroundings and savor a quiet moment amongst the cherry blossom.

Free admission; 6:00-17:00; On the north east corner of Karasuma Rokkaku; www.ikenobo.jp/rokkakudo

Very cute ''hato pigeon fortune telling'' is available at the temple (500 yen). The limited edition pink color pigeon can only be purchased during the springtime.

* Right: Limited editation pink color

Special Night Time Illumination Exhibition
April 7 - 9; 18:00-21:00

During the exhibition, the precinct will be elegantly illuminated with garden lanterns, and the temple will become luminescent against the dark of night.

This year, the ikebana flower works have been arranged according to the theme ''The Power of Flowers'', inspired by the movie release of an original historic tale related to flower arrangement in June of this year. Please enjoy this mystical scene in the middle of the city.

Spring Ikebana Flower Arrangement Exhibition
April 7 - 10; 10:00-18:00

*until 17:00 on the 8th, until 16:00 on the 10th
Venues: 4F-7F of Ikenobo Kaikan Bldg., Iemoto Dojo, 7F of WEST18 Bldg.
Entry: 500 yen (on the day)

Around 1,000 high-level arrangements created by flower masters of the Ikenobo School throughout Japan will be displayed all together in one place. Experience the true beauty of this traditional Japanese culture.

Escape the Downtown Bustle at this Ancient Temple
Bukko-ji Temple

If you are looking to relax amongst the blossom away from the hustle and bustle of Shijo Street, Bukko-ji is the perfect place. Step through the impressive Daishi-do gate with its detailed carving, and admire the surprisingly spacious inner precinct hiding within.

Once inside, in front of the Miei-do and Amida-do Halls, there are two gorgeous weeping cherry trees that when in bloom offer visitors a beautiful twin sakura scene. The recommendation is to sit on the wooden veranda in front of the cherry trees and relax, joining the locals in observing a quiet moment. At the final phase of the cherry blossom, petals that have fallen carpet the ground, offering visitors another breathtakingly elegant scene. During lunchtime on weekdays, many office workers visit this temple to enjoy a relaxing moment under the cherry trees whilst having lunch.

Free admission; 9:00-15:30; About 5-min. walk from Subway Karasuma Shijo Stn.

Cherry Blossom Viewing Parties & Spring Special Nighttime Opening
Various cherry blossom viewing events and special nighttime openings of temples and shrines will be held during the spring. Enjoy the beautiful scenery of cherry trees in Kyoto and lit-up scenes featuring a spring of marvelous scents!

Cherry Blossom Parties

Until April 9
Special Sakura Festival at Toei Kyoto Studio Park

During the festival period, various events will be held related to cherry blossom and Kyoto; Entry: 2,200 yen; 9:00-17:00 (until 18:00 on Sat., Sun. & National Holidays); Tel: 0570-064-349; http://www.toei-eigamura.com/

April 1-15
Heian Shrine

Tea ceremonies will be held in the exquisite garden teahouse of Heian Shrine; 600 yen to enter (additional 800 yen for tea); 9:00-16:00; Tel: 075-761-0221; www.heianjingu.or.jp

April 9
Nijo Castle

A special tea ceremony will be held in the Seiryu-en Garden of the castle, which is usually closed to the public; Two kinds of tea and a light meal will be offered; 3,500 yen (includes a gift plate); 10:00-15:00; Tel: 075-841-0096; www2.city.kyoto.lg.jp/bunshi/nijojo

April 9
Taiko Hanami Gyoretsu Procession at Daigo-ji Temple

This gorgeous procession recreates the atmosphere of the famous large cherry viewing party Hideyoshi Toyotomi used to hold on this site in the late 16th century; The procession starts at 13:00; The Daigo Cherry Blossom Viewing Party is held between April 1 and 21; Admission free (Small fee will be charged to enter past the Nio-mon gate); Access: Subway Tozai Line, Daigo Stn.; Tel: 075-571-0002; www.daigoji.or.jp

April 9-23
Kurama Temple

Located on Mount Kurama, this temple has been praised for its beautiful mountain cherry blossoms since the Heian period (794-1185); 300 yen; 9:00-16:30; Tel: 075-741-2003; www.kuramadera.or.jp

Spring Special Nighttime Opening

Until mid-April
Maruyama Park

This is the most popular cherry blossom viewing site in Kyoto; A grand weeping cherry tree will be lit-up by torch light from the end of March; Admission free; Sunset-01:00; Access: Kyoto City Bus #206, get off at Gion

Until mid-April
Hirano Shrine

The shrine precinct will be filled with a number of cherry trees; Many food stalls will be lined in the precinct as well; Admission free; Sunset-21:00; Access: Kyoto City Bus #205 ''Kinugasakomae''; Tel: 075-461-4450; www.hiranojinja.com

Until April 16
To-ji Temple

One of Kyoto's UNESCO World Heritage sites; With the five-story pagoda as backdrop, the double flower weeping cherry tree will exhibit its gorgeous appearance; 500 yen; 18:00-21:00; Access: Kintetsu Kyoto Line, Toji Stn.; Tel: 075-691-3325; www.toji.or.jp

Until April 16
Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994; The castle features about 200 varieties of cherry trees and its large garden will be lit up at night to create a supremely elegant scene; 400 yen; 18:00-21:00; Access: Kyoto City Bus #9, 50, 101 or Subway Tozai Line, Nijojo-mae Stn.; Tel: 075-841-0096; www2.city.kyoto.lg.jp/bunshi/nijojo

Until May 7
Kodai-ji Temple

This temple was founded by Nene, the wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (one of Japan's most famous warlords); The temple's large pond garden, tea ceremony rooms and buildings are surrounded by a bamboo forest creating an especially elegant atmosphere when lit up at night; 600 yen; Sunset- 21:30; Access: Kyoto City Bus #206, get off at Higashiyamayasui; Tel: 075-561-9966; www.kodaiji.com

Until May 7
Entoku-in Temple

This temple was where Nene lived out the end of her life; One part of the garden is a national scenic beauty spot; The temple has gorgeous sliding door paintings created by famous modern Japanese artists; 500 yen; Sunset-21:30; Access: Kyoto City Bus #206, get off at Higashiyamayasui; Tel: 075-525-0101; www.kodaiji.com/entoku-in/idx.shtml