Stop and Smell the Cherry Blossoms
Cherry trees explode to life across Japan in spring, and it's a surreally hushed experience to stroll along a carpet of petals, then spread out on a blanket of blooms.
Each year in early April, Kyoto elevates itself into a cloud. Cherry trees, which explode to life everywhere across Japan—from the south's Kagoshima sometime in March all the way up to Hokkaido in May—are at their most brilliant bloom in this ancient city by mid-spring. You can time your visit to see the flowers at their peak, but arriving a week or two later has its own appeal—the trees are slightly undressed, the crowds are thinner, and the ground is carpeted in the most luxurious way. Philosopher's Walk, a 1.2-mile footpath, winds along a canal on Kyoto's north side. A stroll through this "flower tunnel" is a surreally hushed experience, your feet crunching on pale petals. Maruyama Park, in the eastern district, is a prime spot for a traditional flower-viewing, or hanami. Gather picnic fixings, including sakura-mochi (cherry cake), at park kiosks, pick your tree, and then spread out atop a blanket of blooms.
When to Go
Weekly blossom updates and forecasts are posted at the Japan Meteorological Agency's English-language website (www.jma.go.jp/jma/en/News/indexe_news.html). On April 11, Kyoto's Daigoji Temple, which has more than 800 sakura (cherry trees) in its garden, stages its annual cherry blossom parade (22 Daigohigashioji-cho, Fushimi-ku, 011-81/755-710-002, free).
Where to Stay
The simple but cozy Three Sisters Inn Annex is run by the helpful Yamada sisters. Rooms come with futons, and some have tatami mats. It's a 20-minute stroll from Philosopher's Walk (89 Irie-cho, Okazaki, Sakyo-ku, 011-81/757-616-333, doubles with private bath $86).