Maruyama Park, at the eastern end of Shijo-dori, behind the Yasaka Shrine, becomes a busy and festive place in spring. The many cherry trees there are a riot of blossom and centre-stage stands a giant and ancient weeping cherry tree, raised on a small hillock and fenced-off to protect its roots. The pathways are lined with food stalls and hanami picnickers with their ubiquitous blue tarpolans spread on the ground revel. It's a great place to see Japanese customs associated with this beautiful and heady time of year happen in front of your eyes.
Cherry blossoms (sakura) are called the symbol of Japanese culture, and have been composed in many tankas (Japanese poems) from old times. From March to April, when the news of cherry blossoms flowering is received from south, people travel from all over Japan to see cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms are in bloom in a short period, only 5 days. Kyoto has many good sights for sakura viewing, for example:
- Kyoto Imperial Palace Park -
Kyoto Imperial Palace can be reached in about 10 minutes from Kyoto Station by the Karasuma Subway Line. Get off at Marutamachi or Imadegawa Station.
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple -
Kiyomizudera can be reached from Kyoto Station in about 15 minutes by bus. Take bus number 100 or 206 and get off at Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka, from where it is a 10-15 minute uphill walk to the temple.
- Heian-jingu Shrine -
From JR Kyoto Station take City Bus 5 to "Kyoto Kaikan Bijitusu-kan Mae".
10 min walk from "Higashi-yama" Tozai line subway stop.
- Maruyama Park -
Maruyama Park can be reached by bus from Kyoto Station in about 20 minutes. Take number 100 and 206 and get off at Gion bus stop. The park is just behind Yasaka Shrine.
- Along Kamogawa -
The Japanese have a very highly evolved, articulated, and ritualized love of nature. Simplicity and naturalness are highly prized. You won't really find highly logical european gardens or english gardens here, but rather great pains are taken for natural and simple settings. In Kyoto, I found that the garden settings were some of the best parts of enjoying the various temples. If you go, make sure to leave some time for the gardens/grounds as well as the temples.
The temple grounds are quite beautiful and well kept. I was particularly fond of the delicate and fresh greenery...moss, maples, pines. You'll see women placidly sweeping the moss to keep leaves off of it. Being from a dry mediterranean climate in LA, the greenery was stunning and very peaceful. I admired the attentive, care that was lavished on natural details.
Coming from a non-appreciator of gardens in general, I must admit I was impressed with Japanese gardens. They are not just a result of planting trees at random + removing the weed. They are planned architecture, and maybe yes, just maybe even art.You can find very nice gardens around most historic buildings.