Spring is here and now is the time to make plans to enjoy the much-loved tradition of hanami cherry blossom viewing - drinking and picnicking with friends, family and co-workers under the sakura flowers. Nara prefecture is a wonderful destination for sakura viewing as its
rich history and natural beauty offer a variety of destinations where you can experience the magic of the season in all its glory. So let's get straight to it - here is our list of amazing places to enjoy the sakura trees in Nara prefecture.
Matabei Sakura is basically one giant sakura tree with a back-story that is as romantic as the tree is beautiful.
Goto Matabei was a high-ranking samurai in the Toyotomi Clan's army during the early part of the 17th century. During the Osaka Summer War of 1615, the final battle between the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Toyotomi Clan, Matabei demonstrated incredible valor and bravery before being wounded by a bullet and committing seppuku. Despite a clear record of his death, local legends of him living on after the battle persisted and spread across Japan.
The legend in O-Uda Hongo Village, in the mountains of east-central Nara, is tied up in a 300+ year old weeping "shidare sakura" tree growing out of the ruins of the Goto family's mountainside estate. According to the story, Matabei (or his soul) returned to his home in O-Uda and awaited a time when he and the Toyotomi Clan would be revived.
While he waited, a weeping sakura tree began growing out of the ruins of his estate, a magnificent tree that continues to grow to this day. A more spectacular monument to the soul of a fallen warrior is hard to imagine. The Matabei Sakura tree is enormous. It stands at 13 meters in height and has a trunk circumference exceeding 3 meters.
The combination of the tree's streaming pink blossoms, ruins, mountains and other flowering plants around it makes for a truly spectacular scene.
The Matabei Sakura is off the beaten track. Take the Kintetsu Osaka Line train to Haibara Station, switch to an O-Uda bound bus and get off at the last stop.
The Saho River, “Sahogawa” in Japanese, flows from Nara’s northern border with Kyoto to the Yamato River south of the city. Sakura trees line the banks of the Saho River throughout its course, but the section of the river from Omiya-dori Avenue to the border with Yamato Koriyama City is perhaps the most beautiful. The area around this stretch of the river is residential, vehicle traffic is light, walking and cycling paths stretch along both of the river’s banks, and park-like lawns and river promenades allow access to the river and provide great locations for a hanami picnic. The illuminated river banks during the evenings are truly a magnificent sight.
Find yourself on this stretch of the Saho River by catching a bus from the number 10 platform at JR Nara Station to the Nara Prefectural Library and Information Center (Kenritsu-tosho-johokan) and get off at the last stop.
Alternatively, walk north from Kintetsu Shinomiya Station to the river and take a right to enjoy the most picturesque part of the route. This part of the route (from Shinomiya to Funabashi Shopping Arcade) is also illuminated over the weekend during peak season.
Sakura trees are scattered throughout the vast grounds of Nara Park, but no location can compete with the beauty of Ukimi-do gazebo and Sagi-ike Pond. Ukimi-do is an octagonal gazebo which was built in 1912 and later restored in 1994. Ukimi-do means, floating pavilion and the design of the structure gives it the appearance as if it were indeed floating on the surface of Sagi-ike Pond.
The clear reflection of the gazebo and those of the sakura and pine trees surrounding the pond take the beauty of the already scenic location to a whole new level.
The nearest bus stop is Kasuga Taisha Omote-sando bus stop, but Ukimido is easily accessed on foot, being just a leisurely 20-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station.
Yamato Koriyama Castle
In 1580 the Lord Tsutsui Junkei built Yamato Koriyama Castle atop the fortifications vacated by his recently defeated enemy, Matsunaga Hisahide. Toyotomi Hidenaga, the younger brother of the great warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was made lord of Koriyama Castle in 1585 and ordered to expand and fortify the existing structure. As the area surrounding the castle lacked the large stones necessary for the construction of its walls Hidenaga confiscated the large stones he needed from nearby temples and shrines.
Even gravestones and statues were seized. The statue of a jizo, the guardian deity of children and travelers, can be seen in the walls today where it was installed upside down. Toyotomi Hidenaga’s influence also pulled commerce in from the surrounding area turning Yamato Koriyama into a thriving castle town. The castle changed hands in 1595 and 1615 before being placed under the control of the Yanagisawa Clan in 1724. Japan’s push for modernization from 1868 onward saw Koriyama Castle’s buildings demolished and the site abandoned.
Yamato Koriyama Castle and its grounds were turned into a park during the 20th century and several gates, turrets and other buildings were reconstructed during the 1980s. The numerous sakura trees planted within the castle’s grounds coupled with the intact moats, stone walls, foundations and reconstructed gates and turrets have earned Yamato Koriyama Castle a spot on Japan’s list of 100 best hanami locations. Despite the acclaim and a yearly spring festival coinciding with the sakura, Yamato Koriyama Castle sees far less crowds than Nara Park making for a more pleasant hanami experience.
The castle is easily accessed via a 5 minute walk from Kintetsu Koriyama Station (a 45-minute train ride from Kyoto) or a 25-minute walk from JR Koriyama Station one stop to the south of JR Nara Station.
Koriyama castle also holds a wonderful plum bonsai exhibition. See our article about it here.
Hasedera Temple is the origin and grand temple of many "Hasedera Temples" throughout Japan, and the head temple of the Shingon sect. It has a magnificent complex with 3,000 sub-temples. The area of Hase has long been a sacred place, and is even mentioned in the Tale of Genji and the Manyoshu.
Hasedera Temple is known as the eighth temple of the Saigoku Sanjusansho pilgrimage route and is beloved as a "Flower Temple" where the grounds are adorned with flowers throughout the four seasons, attracting many pilgrims. During special admission periods, visitors can enter the national treasure main hall and offer prayers directly at the feet of the Kannon statue..
The grounds of Hase-dera are vast and full of seasonal flowers. A lot of work and effort goes into maintaining the beauty of the temple, as their popular Instagram page testifies. During hanami season and koyo season, Hase-dera Temple comes alive with vibrant colors
To access Hase-dera Temple from Osaka, take the Kintetsu Line from Osaka to Hase-dera Station. From Kyoto, you will need to make a quick transfer at Yamato Yagi Station. From Hase-dera Station, it is a 15-minute walk to the temple through a very quaint temple town full of souvenir shops and restaurants.
The temple was founded in the first year of the Daika era (645), and it is one of the oldest temples in Japan. The principal image of Abe Monjuin is the Bodhisattva Monju, who is famous for the saying "When three people gather, wisdom will arise."
In spring, the temple grounds are adorned with around 500 blooming Somei Yoshino cherry blossom trees, creating a beautiful vista of pastel-pink majesty. The Golden Pavilion, situated in the middle of Monju Pond, is completely encircled by cherry trees.
When the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the sight of the trees being reflected on the water's surface and the petals gracefully swirling around the gazebo is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular sakura scenes in all of the prefecture.
Tsubosaka-dera Temple's profile as a prime sakura viewing spot has grown rapidly over the past decade as its sakura trees have grown to full maturity. Buddha's head poking through the top of the sakura trees has become an Instagram staple for photographers at this time of year.
Tsubosaka-dera is closely associated with eye health. The temple was commissioned after the Buddhist ascetic, Benki Shami cured the then empress of her blindness.
More recently though, it’s been fighting leprosy in India. The 3 white marble Buddhas, the bas relief wall showing the life of the Buddha, and the Tajma Hall-like Tenjikutorai Daiseki-do Hall were all carved in India as a gesture of gratitude for the support given by Tsubosaka Temple. The combination of the Indian-made art and architecture and the traditional and ancient Japanese architecture, including the original Hakkaden Octagonal Hall (refurbished in the Edo period), a 3-story pagoda from 1497 (a National Treasure), and the Niomon Temple Gate (1212) and the Rei-Do Hall (14th century) the oldest structures on the grounds, gives Tsubosaka Temple a fun and unique feel unmatched by any other temple.
Tsubosaka-dera Temple is about 4km from Tsubosakayama Station on the Kintetsu Yoshino Line just under an hour away from Nara Visitor Center & Inn. Take the train from Kintetsu Nara Station, change to a Kashihara Jingumae bound train at Yamato Saidaiji Station, and then a Yoshino bound train at Kashihara Jingumae. Get off at Tsubosakayama Station, the third stop.
After the decline of the forestry industry, the owners of this mountain decided to reimagine it as "Takami Village" and decorated it with 1,000 weeping cherry trees. After a couple of decades of careful nurturing, Takami-no-Sato has now become one of the most beautiful places in the whole of Kansai to take in the spectacle that is hanami.
Takami-no-Sato can be directly accessed by public transport but it's not a straightforward process. The nearest station is Kintetsu Haibara Station. From there, there will be a direct bus to Takami no Sato which will operate from April 10 to April 23, 2023, departing at 9:45 AM.
The return bus back to Haibara Station departures from Takami-no-Sato at 1:30 PM. The round-trip fare is ¥2,400. Reservations must be made in advance by phone to Nara Kotsu at 0742-22-5110 by 5:00 PM the day before the visit.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the station for about 40 minutes (one-way fare is around ¥7,000).
Approximately 600 spaces are available free of charge. A shuttle bus service is available for free to travel between the parking lots and the admission office. Please note that during peak cherry blossom season, particularly on weekends, admission may be restricted. However, visitors using the train or bus will not be affected.
Mt. Yoshino was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2004 for its ancient temples and sacred Shugendo Buddhist pilgrimage roads. Emperors and samurai have been planting sakura trees at Mt. Yoshino since the Heian period (794-1192) to pray for luck, health and prosperity for themselves and their families, and to preserve the sacredness and beauty of Mt. Yoshino. As a result of this practice there are upward of 30,000 sakura trees covering the slopes of the 800 meter high mountain.
Mt. Yoshino’s sakura bloom at different times depending on their elevation, allowing one to see the flowers in various stages of bloom in one visit. Being a mountain covered in flowers, and with sacred and beautiful historic sites dotted along its slopes, Mt. Yoshino is the greatest location for hanami in Japan and perhaps the world.
Mt. Yoshino is best accessed via the Kintetsu Line. Express trains and limited express trains from Osaka Abenobashi Station run directly to Yoshino station in 92 minutes and 76 minutes respectively. Limited express and express trains from Kyoto complete the run in between 2 hours 16 minutes and 1 hour 41 minutes, at a cost of ￥2,550 and ￥1,230 respectively, and require a train change at Kashihara Jingumae Station.
If you want to add a little extra style to the journey from Osaka to Yoshino, we suggest you take a look at the Blue Symphony Sightseeing Express Train.
Read about it here
Author: NARA Visitor Center and Inn