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Sakura, Beauty in Brevity

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Sakura heralds the start of spring in Japan. There's nothing quite like the sight of those first precious petals to raise the spirits and push the dreary winter blues to the back of the mind. Here are our favorite spots to see the pastel-pink blooms, whilst capturing the beauty created by a blanket of fallen flowers on the water.

Okazaki Canal & Keage Incline
The Okazaki Canal, running from the south to the east side of Heian Shrine, is part of the larger Lake Biwa Canal that since 1890 has provided the city of Kyoto with the power of water from Japan's largest lake, hidden just behind the city's eastern mountains. The canal, built in an effort to improve Kyoto's industrial development during a mini-decline that occurred after the capital was transferred to Tokyo in the Meiji Restoration (1868), still today provides the city with water and a renewed vitality. The area is particularly beautiful in springtime when it's sakura-lined banks burst into bloom, creating a vivid pink backdrop against the blue waters.

Picturesque spring scenery of the Heian Jingu Shrine’s huge torii gate and sakura
© Rachel Tranter Davies (AD BRAIN INC.)

By far the most famous part of the canal is the raised red-brick aqueduct at Nanzen-ji Temple, whose arches are the first stop in the city for the waters of Lake Biwa, but it is the Okazaki Canal that is the most beautiful. The vermillion bridge and giant torii of the Heian Shrine pop against the delicate palette created by thousands of petals in flower.

© Rachel Tranter Davies (AD BRAIN INC.)

Walk along the canal-side path to be showered in falling petals after the fleeting full bloom has passed. Only lasting a few days at its peak, the beauty of sakura is in its brevity and the fallen flowers carpeting the blue waters of the canal are a sight in themselves.

Until May 6: between 9:30 and 16:30; From 8:00 and until 20:30 from Mar. 28 to April 7; No service on April 15 & 22; 1,200 yen; Subway Tozai Line, Keage Stn.; kyoto-tabi.or.jp/events/jkkfn/_en/
© Rachel Tranter Davies (AD BRAIN INC.)

For a different perspective, board the springtime Jikkoku-bune boat ride, starting from Nanzen-ji boat pier. Once used for transportation, Jikkoku-bune, flat-bottomed boats, are now used as blossom-viewing cruise vessels that run along a 3-km stretch of canal taking in the branches in all their glory. During full bloom, nighttime boat rides under the illuminated trees are available.

© Rachel Tranter Davies (AD BRAIN INC.)

From the canal, head to the Keage Incline, a disused railway track that in a former life was the means of transporting Jikkoku-bune boats from the Okazaki Canal to and from elsewhere in the area. The incline is lined with around 100 sakura trees whose branches all but meet in the middle of the old railroad, creating an almost tunnel-like aspect of flowers and another great spot for enjoying a candy-colored carpet when the flowers start to fall.

Takase-gawa Canal
Though the Takase-gawa is called a river in Japanese, it is actually a canal. This is quite an amazing fact, when you consider that the canal ran from Nijo all the way down to the Yodo River in Fushimi/Chushojima, a distance of some 15 kilometers, in the 17th century.

A Takase boat can be found along Kiyamachi, south of Nijo
© Rachel Tranter Davies (AD BRAIN INC.)

The canal functioned as an important transportation artery for moving goods to and from Osaka. The canal played a special role in the wood trade. Lumber was harvested in the areas north and west of Kyoto. More than 100 Takase boats, characterized by their flat bottoms and high sides (there is one laden with sake barrels at the head of the canal, just south of Nijo), plied the canal.

© Kyoko Nagai (AD BRAIN INC.)

After the Meiji period (1868-1912), the Takase-gawa Canal was no longer used as a commercial canal. However, lined with trees on both sides, the canal adds a distinctive charm to downtown Kyoto. Especially at night and along Kiyamachi Street, the time when illuminous sakura blossoms glow outside the number of dining options that line the street, a perfect view to accompany your meal.

The Path of Philosophy
There is such an abundance of places to enjoy cherry blossoms that it is difficult to select a place to start. However, undoubtedly one of the finer places is Kyoto's famed Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku no Michi) which stretches in a 2.5-kilometer arch, along the gently flowing Shishigatani Canal, from the vicinity of Ginkaku-ji Temple to the surroundings of Eikan-do Temple and Nanzenji Temple.

Sakura tunnel along the Path of Philosophy© Jeremy Hoare

The Path of Philosophy got its name from Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945), a respected scholar of philosophy at nearby Kyoto University. He, like his Western counterpart Emmanuel Kant, seemed to find much inspiration and reflective pause in his daily morning walk along this canal.

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Nishida, who was extremely interested in European philosophy and attempted in his life's work to fuse Eastern and Western philosophy, was also a dedicated practitioner of Zen Buddhism. His daily walk along the path took him right by two of Kyoto's most respected Zen Temples (Ginkaku-ji Temple near the north end of the path and Nanzen-ji Temple at the south end).

© Kyoko Nagai (AD BRAIN INC.)

The path itself, which follows the course of a pleasantly flowing stream for much of its length, leads through a peaceful residential area located at the eastern edge of the valley that is amongst Kyoto's most representative and charming areas. Famed for its cherry trees, it is also full of historical places of interest -imperial tombs, ancient temple complexes, and a number of Buddhist graveyards which have for centuries been favored by Japanese artists and poets.

Recommended Sakura spots out of Kyoto

Sewari-tei Yodo River Bank
Approx. 1.4 km along the Sewari-tei river bank by Yodo River becomes a splendid sakura tunnel. As a part of the Yodo River National Park, it is a pleasant sakura viewing spot with a spacious lawn area and observatory. Boat rides on the Yodo River, marche and other fun events will be held during the sakura time. Access: A 10-min. walk from Keihan Yawata City Station.

Sewari-tei Bank in Yawata City; © Fumitaka Ito

Uji River & Byodo-in Temple
Uji has attracted people since the Heian period (794-1185) for its fascinating natural beauty. Many Heian aristocrats had their villas in the area and the most famous is Byodo-in Temple (World Heritage) which was built in 1052. When the sakura trees surrounding the Phoenix Hall reach full bloom they create a scene that looks like the Buddhist Pure Land. The banks of Uji River will be adorned with 2000 sakura trees, too. Access: A 10-min. walk from Keihan or JR Uji Station.

The marvelous architecture of Miho Museum nestled in the mountains of Shigaraki is counted as one of the masterpieces designed by I. M. Pei (1917-), the acclaimed American architect who also designed the world-famous glass pyramid of the Louvre Museum. Enjoy the pleasant walk along a slope admist which gorgeous cherry blossoms will greet you.