Chasing the Sakura
Although we are Landscape and Nature Photographers, if you browse through our website and galleries, you can appreciate we have a paucity of floral imagery and macro photography. So when my better half suggested we visit Japan for the Cherry Blossom season this year, I must admit I was initially underwhelmed with the idea. However, she had a very personal project in mind, and with our Wedding Anniversary falling into the peak bloom period, I soon refocused my priorities. There was also the opportunity for other Landscape and Travel images in this very unique country, in addition to the vision my wife had for a series of large blossom prints.
We decided to base ourselves in Osaka, with Japan’s excellent railways including the Shinkansen allowing easy reach of Kyoto, Kobe, Himeji, Shingu and Fukuchiyama. An excellent site for Chasing the Sakura with regular reports of which locations are approaching peak blooming is Japan-Guide.com:
Japan-Guide.com Cherry Blossom Sites
The site gives regular updates and importantly lists and describes some of the later blooming sites. Generally the blossoms peak in the South earlier than in the North, but differing species also bloom at different times. The Osaka Mint Bureau blossoms for example reach peak bloom a week or two after other blossom locations in the same area.
As can be expected, the Blossom season is immensely popular amongst both local and overseas visitors, and large crowds are present at most sites.
The best viewing times we found were early in the morning, and we visited a number of sites at dawn when there was beautiful side and back lighting on the petals. However, this is not possible with many sites, which are only open to the public at specific times. The Osaka Mint Bureau for example opens to the public for one week every year, but viewing times are from 10:00 to 21:00. On the first day of the opening this year (April 13) the crowd was easily 30 deep at the gates. Ninnaji Temple is open 09:00 to 17:00. Crowds are thus unavoidable sometimes, but a combination of patience and thoughtful composition can still result in some very worthwhile images.
The following 4 images were all taken at the Osaka Mint Bureau. The Mint Bureau is renowned for its mostly later blooming yae-zakura trees (with more than five petals per blossom).
Another excellent blossom location in Osaka opened to the public at all hours are the grounds around Osaka Castle. Dawn is quiet with the occasional jogger, but it is in the evening that the parties start. The area is lit at night, and even after midnight, there are groups of people in obvious festive spirit picnicking under the blossom trees enjoying fine food, wine and voice.
In Kyoto, our favoured sites were firstly Kyoto Botanical Gardens, where there is a beautiful small forest of weeping cherry trees and somei yoshino that is popular for picnics.
We also enjoyed Ninnaji Temple in Kyoto. The temple is s well known for its locally cultivated variety of late blooming cherry trees known as Omuro Cherry. The Omuro cherry trees tend to bloom about a week after the mainstream Somei Yoshino. There are several hundred trees of them located on the temple grounds.
We visited a number of other sites in the wider Kansai area, and travelled on a JR Kansai wide railway pass. This can be obtained in Australia prior to travelling and is exclusive to visitors. Although this can be purchased in Japan, there are significant cost savings to be had by purchasing prior to travel.
Japan-Guide.com Kansai Wide Area JR Railway Pass
Travel Japan JR Railway Passes available from Australia
We took the Shinkansen to Kobe, a mere 14 min trip. The highlight was a hike to Nunobiki-No-Taki falls and beyond to Nunobiki Dam. Access to the hiking trail is via Shin-Kobe station, or via a cable car ropeway that also gives access to a scenic lookout over Kobe and onwards to Mt. Maya. From Shin-Kobe station the hike is uphill towards the falls and the dam. From the top Ropeway station it is all downhill. Your choice. Nunobiki-No-Taki falls is actually a series of 4 falls, the most impressive being Ontaki. A hiking map is available here.
Finally it’s not only the Cherry Blossoms in bloom during spring in Japan. Tulips were also spectacular at Kyoto Botanical Gardens.
For architectural photographers, Japan is also a haven. I was impressed with the lines used in both traditional and modern architecture. Two examples which caught my eye were Kyoto Rail Station, and the Floating Garden Observatory, Umeda Sky Building Osaka. Coincidentally the same architect Hiroshi Hara was responsible for both.