The Hanakueshiki Ceremony is held every year on April 10, 11, and 12 at Kinpusenji Temple. The festival is said to be 1000 years old. It begins with a procession to Kinpusenji Temple followed by the Goma Fire Ceremony held in the temple grounds. The holy men and women burn pine branches and then add the gomaki (the Buddhist 'sticks' that people write prayers on) in order to awaken the god Zao Gongen to let him know that the cherry blossoms are in bloom while simultaneously sending the prayers to him.
After that, directly in front of the temple's main hall (Zaodo Hall) they toss rice cakes out into the crowd below. Of course, you want to try to catch one to get good luck. The luck is supposed to come after you eat one of them, although if you get one that was not caught in the air off the ground, use your best judgement!
The procession begins at Chikurin-in Temple at 10am, but there is no need to follow the entire procession (unless you really want to), so it's best to arrive later at Kinupsenji when it gets more interesting. Once they arrive, the Goma Fire Ceremony takes place and around 1pm they throw rice cakes. It's a great experience, especially since you will already be enjoying the cherry blossoms and there is enough time to see some sites before and then finish after the ceremony so you don't miss anything.
Mikumari Shrine was built by Toyotomi Hidetori (son of Toyotomi Hideyoshi). The shrine's architecture is very unique; it is enclosed on all sides except for the entryway and there is a cherry tree in the center. The roofs on each side are beautiful and together with the rest of the shrine's features creates an impressive scene from inside however, the closed nature of the shrine actually makes it difficult to capture its beauty in a photo, because there is not enough space to get wide shots! Even those who enjoy shrines and have gone to many should find the architecture of Mikumari to stand out among others as different and unusual.
Entrance is free.
Yoshimizu Shrine has long been an important site on Mount Yoshino from its days as a home for Minamoto Yoshitsune in the 12th century and Emperor Go-Daigo in the 14th century.
When the blossoms are at their peak, Yoshimizu Shrine is where the best and most iconic view can be seen. While visitors may have their own opinions about where the "best" view is, this particular view is historically important: Toyotomi Hideyoshi hosted his famous cherry blossom viewing gatherings here at Yoshimizu Shrine in order to see and treat his guests to this view! The shrine area provides an excellent view of the distant mountains which are filled with cherry blossom.
Inside the shrine there are some old artifacts and paintings. Entrance is 400 yen.
Yoshino Staton, along the Kintetsu Line, serves Yoshino. In Kyoto, Kyoto Station contains Kintetsu Railway. The Keihan Line intersects at Tanbabashi, so you can transfer to the Kintetsu Line from there if you are on the Keihan Line.
From Osaka, you can actually go directly to Yoshino from OsakaAbenobashi Station. Tsuruhashi Station on the Loop Line is connected to the Kintetsu Line.
From Yoshino Station you can walk up to where the shrines and temples are or you can take the Yoshino Ropeway.
During cherry blossom season trains to Yoshino get extremely crowded! It's as though the Tokyo rush hour trains have somewhere time-warped into the Nara countryside! Any other time of year and you will find these trains will be rather quiet with open seats.