Let’s see Cherry Blossoms in Japan’s ancient capitals Vol.2 ~ Nara ~

Nara, like Kyoto is a popular tourist destination in the region and welcomes many visitors from home and abroad throughout the year. Nara’s cherry blossom season is slightly later than other areas, so you’ll be able to catch the blossoms even if your trip is in April. The city will be crowded with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) visitors during the cherry blossom season, and you will be able to enjoy the amazing sight that the cherry blossoms and the atmosphere of the ancient capital create. Although crowds must be expected during the cherry-blossom season, if you hire a charter vehicle you can travel around efficiently to the places you want to go!

Popular Hanami Spot Ranking – Nara

1. Mount Yoshino http://www.yoshinoyama-sakura.jp/

■ Highlights: It is not an exaggeration to say that Mount Yoshino is the No.1 cherry blossom spot in the whole country. If you want to experience Japanese cherry blossoms to the fullest, a trip to Yoshino is a must. At Mount Yoshino, about 30,000 cherry trees of around 200 varieties densely pack the mountains and valleys. “Hitome Senbon (one glance, a thousand trees)” is a phrase that has been passed down through the years to describe the cherry blossoms in Yoshino, meaning “luxury of seeing one thousand cherry blossoms at a glance”. The trees are illuminated at night every year, which creates an even more of a mystical scenery. Yoshino Omine is also registered as a World Heritage Site, and you can visit numerous historic buildings in this area.

Since the location is far from Nara city and public transport is also very congested at cherry blossom season, so it will be much easier if you hire a charter vehicle.

※The times for the illumination at night is different each year, so please check prior to your visit.

■ Typical Blooming Season: Early April to late April

Access: https://goo.gl/maps/6aeH82L2R5C2

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■ Nakasho Hot Spring: http://www.nantokanko.jp/midokoro/1297.html

This is a hot spring located along Yoshino River where you can stop over at, which uses the water from Yoshino River for their running hot water. You can see the beautiful views of the Yoshino River from the bathroom and is a place much loved by locals. There is a café restaurant called Men Saryo where you can take a break or snack on light meals, and it is a spot where you can stop by before or after cherry-blossom viewing.

2. Nara Park (Nara City) http://nara-park.com/

■ Highlights: This park is the famous symbol of Nara that has the Todaiji Buddha statue. Many tourists come to visit throughout the year and the park is famous for free roaming deer that visitors can hand feed. The small cherry blossoms called Nara no Yaezakura is the main attraction during the season, but you can see a variety of other cherry blossoms too. Although it depends on the climate, you can enjoy the cherry blossoms for a relatively long period from late March until late April. As the park grounds are so big, we suggest you hire a charter vehicle and stop by for cherry-blossom viewing as part of your sightseeing tour.

■ Typical Blooming Season: late March to late April

Access: https://goo.gl/maps/EoRpkLywX5r

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■ Todaiji Temple: http://nara-park.com/spot/todaiji/

The Todaiji Temple situated at the back of Nara Park was the world’s largest wooden building. Built in the first half of the 8th century, you can see various national treasures and important cultural assets at this temple. The national treasure Birushana Buddha (The Great Buddha of Nara) is famous as the symbol of Nara, and many visitors from all over the world come to see this attraction. A huge Buddha statue of about 18 meters is truly a masterpiece. There are also other great attractions such as Shosoin, Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Kofukuji Temple. There are plenty of restaurants, cafés and souvenir shops near Nara Park so why not explore the area afterwards?

3. Koriyama Castle Ruins (Yamatokoriyama city) http://www.yk-kankou.jp/

Boasting over 400 years of history since it was first built, Koriyama Castle is known as one of Japan’s best castles. There are about 800 cherry blossoms surrounding the moat around the castle, and the contrast of the castle and the cherry blossoms is beautiful. When you climb the castle tower, you can see the amazing cherry blossom scenery below. The site will be illuminated at night, and you can enjoy quite a different scenery from daytime.

※The times for the illumination at night is different each year, so please check prior to your visit.

■ Typical Blooming Season: late March to early April

Access: https://goo.gl/maps/ZsXSQo6Fc3F2

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■ Kikuya Confectionery: https://kikuya.co.jp/

A traditional Japanese-style sweets store that has been handed down since its foundation 400 years ago. The entrance to the shop and the ceiling has been kept as it was in the old days. The most popular item is “Kiku no Kotobuki”, which is created using the finest quality white beans. Many say it has a texture like western cakes while still being a distinctly Japanese sweet, making it popular with people of all ages. It is also ideal for souvenirs.

4. Tsukigase Lakeside (Tsukigasenagahiki, Nara City) http://www.tsukigasekanko.jp/place/

■ Highlights: Said to be one of the most scenic places in Japan, it is famous for the plum forest that surrounds Nabari River and the valley. Along the Tsukigase Lake, rows of cherry trees line the lakeside for 4km, and you can see the beautiful cherry blossoms harmonized with nature. The view of the cherry blossoms and mountain streams from the suspension bridge Hachimanbashi over Tsukigase Lake is a distinctly Japanese sight. It is more convenient to use a charter vehicle as it is far from Nara City and difficult to reach via public transport.

■ Typical Blooming Season: Early April to late April

Access: https://goo.gl/maps/6BiuSYHVVjr

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Kohan no Sato, Tsukigase: http://www.tsukigasekanko.jp/member/member2/

Based on the concept of ‘rustic-style cafeteria using seasonal ingredients’, this is a restaurant where local housewives wield their skills and offer you with lovely homestyle dishes. It is reasonable and relaxing, and it will be suitable for a brief stop or for lunch. There is also a shop where you can buy local specialties.

5. Matabee Sakura (Uda City):

■ Highlight: The cherry tree called “Matabee Sakura” is located where the residence of the famous Japanese warlord Matabee Goto used to be. This Shidarezakura, which is said to be 300 years old, is breathtakingly beautiful tree with an amazing shape. The view of the cherry blossoms against the green of the mountains and pink peach blossoms in the background is magnificent. Every year, many cherry-blossom viewers gather from home and abroad. Since it is far from Nara city, you need to transfer between train or bus if you’re using public transport. It will be much easier if you use a charter vehicle, plus you won’t lose any time waiting for your next bus/train.

Access : https://goo.gl/maps/Q5qQ6hDro652

■ Typical Blooming Season: Early April to mid-April

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Murouji Temple: http://www.murouji.or.jp/

Murouji Temple is a temple deep in the midst of a mountain, and although the exact time of foundation is still not known it is estimated to be around year 770AD. This temple is a significant cultural heritage site, as its premises contain many national treasures (Kondo and five-storied pagoda) and important cultural property (Mikurodo) and most of the Buddhas housed here are also listed as either national treasure or important cultural property. The precincts are surrounded by deep forests which creates a mysterious atmosphere. Since it is also located in the mountains, it is best to use a charter vehicle.

Avoid the Crowds! Nara’s Secret Hanami spot

1. Cherry blossom trees along Saho River (Nara City)

Along the Saho River that flows through Nara city, there are rows of cherry trees that stretch for about 5 km. Although it is crowded with hanami visitors every year, there are promenades on the riverbank and the rows of cherry blossom trees stretch a long way, you can usually watch cherry blossoms without feeling too crowded. As it will be illuminated at night, you can pay a visit to end your day of sightseeing or even after dinner.

■ Typical Blooming Season: Early April to mid-April

■ Why is it less crowded?

Since the cherry blossoms are growing along the river and the visitors do not concentrate in one area, you can see the cherry blossoms as you walk along the riverside. You can enjoy a relaxing walk as the promenade is well maintained and there are no roads with cars nearby. It is best to be dropped off by your charter vehicle nearby then get picked up after you’ve finished exploring the area.

■ Access: https://goo.gl/maps/gRYcGKSBfY22

2. Heijo Palace (Saki-cho, Nara city): http://heijo-kyo.com/

This is the archaeological site of the Heijo Palace where Emperor and official facilities gathered in ancient Japan, and now it has now been turned into a museum. About 120 cherry blossoms are dotted around the premises. As the site is very large, it is good for cherry blossom viewing in families and groups. It is less than an hour drive away from Nara Park, so it is recommended that you stop by for sightseeing.

■ Typical Blooming Season: Early April to late April

Opening Hours: 9:00am ~ 4:30pm (※Admission is until 4:00om) Closed: Mondays

■ Why is it less crowded?

Since the cherry trees are not concentrated in one area, it is less crowded, and you can see the cherry blossoms wherever you like. There are slightly fewer people here compared to other cherry blossom spots, so you can take your time in appreciating the lovely flowers.

■ Access: https://goo.gl/maps/AHDW7wZX9yo

Tips and Tricks to avoid the crowds

■ Go to places that is hard to reach via public transport

Nara is surrounded by mountains and many of the tourist attractions are quite hard to get to if you use public transport. In addition, many famous cherry blossoms viewing spots of Nara are in mountainous areas and valleys. Therefore, you should use a charter vehicle and leave early in the morning or visit at night, so you will have more time to relish the cherry blossoms. With a charter vehicle, you can also reach the cherry blossoms spots in the suburbs more easily and you can leave as soon as you’ve finished cherry-blossom viewing. You are able travel in between hanami spots and tourist attractions easily and efficiently.

■ Visit famous hanami spots in the morning, enjoy the cherry blossoms in the city at night

Nara has a lot of famous cherry blossom spots, so many tourists come from home and abroad to see them. Therefore, it’s better to visit early in the morning, where cherry blossoms in the suburbs are relatively less crowded. You should go sightseeing in the afternoon, then return to Nara City in the evening to see the cherry blossoms at night before or after dinner and make it a truly fulfilling trip.