Landing Among Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto
Arriving in Kyoto long after nightfall, I have no idea what is afoot. My deadened senses offer no help: 36 hours of subways, airplanes, and buses to get me to the Kyoto train station have left me able only to climb into a taxi and present the name of my hotel in the Hiyagashima district. Luckily for me, my gracious driver—who wears wonderful long white gloves (the norm, as I will discover) and speaks excellent English (a rarity)—chooses the route carefully to give me a taste. “They’ve just come out,” he explains, “and everyone is here to see them.” He means the cherry blossoms, my foggy brain registers, and a flash of excitement breaks through my exhaustion. He slows our progress along one of the city’s narrow lanes so I can catch my first splash of pink, glowing in the warmth of the street lamps, a crowd hazily silhouetted below. “You timed your trip just right,” he adds. I smile, still not grasping what is in store.
Over the next four days I get to know a Kyoto transfixed by the blossoming trees, and I too fall under their spell. It is as if the city has been holding its breath for months, and now, the moment has come for it to release the stale winter air and joyously fill its lungs with spring. Kyoto is vibrating with new life, and every resident and visitor is swept up in the energy. As we stroll down tree-lined Kiyamachi Dori, along the Shirakawa Canal past ancient teahouses, through the Kenninji Temple grounds in the Gion district, and out along the Philosopher’s Path, we revel in the explosions of white and pink that reach up to the sun or drape to the ground. We gaze at the cherries in amazement, letting them envelop us as we photograph their flowers and pose under their enchanted branches. Marking the occasion, red lanterns line the streets throughout town, festivals erupt, women don stunning kimonos and flawless hair and make-up, and friends and family gather for picnics in Maruyama Park under the blooming sakura trees, an age-old practice called hanami. It feels like Christmas in April.
What touches me most of all, I realize, is the fact that this modern culture, driven as much by commerce and technology as any on the planet today, is still moved by the natural world and continues to make time each year to acknowledge and celebrate it—according to Mother Nature’s schedule. For the Japanese, cherry blossoms also represent the ephemeral nature of life—an important reminder for all of us in our fast-paced, device-driven world. Seeing Kyoto in springtime, I am not surprised to learn that the Japanese honor the arrival of all seasons with a rich set of traditions, and though it’s hard for me to imagine them comparing with those of the cherry blossoms, I resolve to come back to find out.
To find out more about this journey, visit Journey Through Ancient Japan or call 888-570-7108.