Although the weather may still be chilly in March, you can count on cherry blossom fever to be running hot all over Japan. If you want to be in the middle of sakura paradise, you’d better be ready to leave the urban jungle of Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka. That’s right, the best spots are far from the big cities! That includes Mount Yoshino in Nara Prefecture.
What is this cherry blossom paradise called Yoshinoyama?
Mount Yoshino, called Yoshinoyama in Japanese, is one of those places you probably didn’t know you had to visit in your lifetime. Not only is it a mountain suitable for easy hiking, it’s covered with more than 200 kinds of sakura trees and over 30,000 individual trees along an 8 km path. In the spring, those sakura trees make it a floral paradise on earth.
Like all mountains, there are elevation and temperature differences, so the cherry blossoms bloom at different times. Historically, records state that there are 4 groves each with 1,000 sakura trees at each level. Obviously there are many more these days. The lower level blooms first and you can follow nature’s progress up the mountain to the pinnacle. That can be helpful for people coming late in the season, who still want a glimpse of mother nature’s floral magic kingdom.
The Mount Yoshino hike has several temples to wander though. In particular, Yoshimizu Shrine provides beautiful views of the white and pink cherry blossom-covered mountainside ahead.
The four historical levels at Mount Yoshino are:
- Shimo Senbon (lower 1000 trees) at the base of the mountain
- Naka Senbon (middle 1000 trees)
- Kami Senbon (upper 1000 trees)
- Oku Senbon (inner 1000 trees) located at the top
If you like official lists (and who doesn’t?), Yoshinoyama doesn’t disappoint. Not only is it the number one spot in Japan to be during sakura season, the whole mountain area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That is usually code for “it’s going to be overrun with camera-wielding tourists and bus tours”, but that isn’t always the case. There are times when you can have the place all to yourself.
Try the early morning hours before 10:30 am, before all the tours arrive—it can be amazingly quiet! Also, get off the beaten path and take the low road. It may have fewer sakura trees, but you get new angles to see the peak.
What to do at Mount Yoshino
People go to just walk among the blossoms and take in the fresh air. Many bring blankets or small blue sheets, coolers full of beer and food and hang out all day under a tree doing hanami or cherry blossom watching. (If you’re wondering, hanami is more drinking and eating than actual watching, but it helps to take a few peeks up and around every now and then.) The best and most popular place to do hanami is at the Hanayagura Observatory in the Kami Senbon area. It offers fantastic views, but you can set yourself down anywhere along the 8 km path.
There are loads of little shops and cafes in the Shimo Senbon lower area, 20–40 minutes walk from the station. Many cafes actually seem to be built on the cliffside and offer views of the valley where pink and white blossoms on the other side stare prettily back at you. It’s hard to ignore all that flirting, especially if you have a camera in hand. A coffee and a small Japanese snack is usually around ¥700. I think part of the price is for the view, but it’s worth every yen!
Try some of the traditional foods made in the area. Youkan are a traditional sweet made with red bean paste and mochi rice. My favorite youkan has actual sakura blossoms inside a gelatin layer. Pink cherry blossom ice cream and the green tea flavor are also everywhere. If you want to really connect with nature, try the sushi wrapped in sakura and sakura tree leaves. Shopping is also very good in the lower area. You can pick up a bottle of sakura liquor with cherry blossoms floating in it for around ¥1,200. Local stores also sell lovely handmade trinkets and gifts.
When to go
The middle of March to the middle of April is the high season. The peak time is generally around the very end of March, although it changes every year depending on the advance of the cherry blossom front. The local temples usually have festivals at the beginning of April to celebrate.
Again, early morning is the best time to visit the temples as they are slightly quieter—the earlier the better. Be warned that it’s a zoo between 11am and 5pm!
Note: Celebrations may be reduced in size or canceled for 2021 due to anti-COVID measures
How to get to Mount Yoshino
By train from Tokyo
- 2 hours and 15 minutes by Nozomi Shinkansen to Kyoto Station
- 1 hour and 15 minutes from Kyoto to Yoshino Station via the Kintetsu Line
By train from Osaka
From Yoshino Station, you can take the oldest cable car in Japan. It costs ¥450 one way or ¥800 round trip for adults and about half that for kids. There is also a shuttle bus for a couple hundred yen (fare depends on where you get off/on). You can also walk to the top. It takes about 15 minutes to walk up to the cable car terminus on the other side and there are loads of trees to see on the way.
Where to stay near Mount Yoshino
There are a fair amount of Airbnbs in the Yoshinoyama area that can accommodate 1 to 2 people or even larger groups of visitors.
If you want to stay in the heart of Yoshinoyama, the Kam Inn is perfectly situated about midway up the mountain, near the cafes, shops and shrines.
Video guide to Mount Yoshino
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Post first published in March 2015. Last updated in February 2021.