Japan · Travel Tales

Visiting Mt. Yoshino and its endless cherry trees

In Yoshino
By the mountains, the flowering
Cherry blossoms:
Simply for snow
I did mistake them!

Ki no Tomonori, from the Kokin Wakashū (c. 905)

Of course I use “endless” in hyperbole, but looking at Mt. Yoshino from certain viewpoints would give you the impression that the crowds of cherry trees go on and on, down the other side of the mountain and beyond.

The truth is that Yoshino-yama is home to some 30,000 cherry trees of different varieties. Most of them are yamazakura, the most common wild cherry tree variety, distinctive because of its rust-colored leaves. Aside from the blooms, Yoshino-yama is also a famous pilgrimage route for its several religious destinations.

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Yamazakura flowers and leaves in full bloom

Mt. Yoshino is divided into four parts: Shimo Senbon (lower area),  Naka Senbon (middle area), Kami Senbon (upper area), and Oku Senbon (inner area). You’d want to go up to Kami Senbon to get the best views of the mountain. Since they are on different elevations, each area reaches peak blooming season at different times in the spring, with Shimo Sembon reaching peak first.

Planning our trip to Yoshino involved checking the sakura forecasts and the weather every day. I found a window on a cloudy but otherwise dry day, when Kami Sembon was supposedly in full bloom.

Our day started with a train ride more than 1.5 hours long from Osaka Abenobashi Station. It was the first express train to Yoshino for the day. We arrived at the Yoshino Station a little after 8 AM and immediately fell in line for the shuttle bus to take us to Naka Senbon. Most of those in the bus with us were older Japanese and some foreigners — and there were people older than us who opted to climb up on foot. I was pregnant by 14 weeks then, by the way — but preggers or not, we were lazy ass travelers, and we were going to take that bus either way.

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Naka Sembon’s cherry trees are already beyond peak season.

From where the bus dropped us off, we mostly stuck to the main road as we set off on foot. Now, there are rather steep climbs, and since we were going verrry slowly (with several very fit obāsans overtaking us), it took us about 45 minutes to get to (what seemed to us was) Kami Senbon, where the flowers were still at their peak.

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Views of Mt. Yoshino — clumps of evergreens and cherry trees
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The cherry trees on various stages of bloom — they really seem endless from various viewpoints!
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Petals on a wet, black bough

We hadn’t expected the long, steep climb, and I also didn’t expect the even longer descent back to the train station. It was an enjoyable walk, though. We snapped lots of photos and had sakura ice cream (more like vanilla-flavored ice cream with light pink food coloring) from one of the houses along the road.

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People picnicking under cherry trees
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It was a perfect day for hanami!
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Sakura petals on dark, damp roofs are a fascinating sight

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One of the best parts was going through Yoshino town, which was crowded with local tourists. Most of them were walking uphill, so we were relieved that we’d avoided the worst of the crowd.

Stores in the town sold everything sakura, from trinkets to cakes.

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They look yummy, but we were almost out of cash 😦

Also on the way down, we got to visit a couple of temples. One of them is Kinpusen-ji, a World Heritage Site. The main hall of the temple is supposedly the second largest wooden structure in Japan.

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The main hall of Kinpusen-ji
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There was a flurry of activity when we arrived, including a musical performance.

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We also got to visit Sakuramotobō, apparently built by Emperor Tenmu on the spot where he dreamt of a beautiful cherry tree blooming in the middle of winter. It’s supposedly an auspicious sign of his ascension to the throne.

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Shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree) at Sakuramotobō Temple

Finally, we visited Tonan-in.

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Tonan-in. The weeping cherry has lost all of its petals.
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Visitors looking up at Yoshino from a viewpoint on Shimo Sembon

The winding road down through Shimo Sembon after passing the town was rather confusing, so we simply followed the small groups of people to get back to Yoshino Station — always good advice when you’re traveling. The trees here had lost most of their petals due to the rains in the previous days, and the ground was littered with them.

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Descending further through Shimo Sembon. Everyone was admiring the bright pink cherry tree to the right.
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Close up of the flowers

It seemed like a long walk, but it was only lunchtime when we got back to the station. We got to eat some yummy takoyaki and more sakura ice creams until our train arrived.

The easiest and cheapest way to get to Mt. Yoshino from Osaka is to take the Kintetsu Minami-Osaka/Yoshino Line Exp. from Osaka Abenobashi Station to Yoshino Station. Fare is ¥970. Take the earliest train, for they can be crowded during peak sakura season.

The Yoshino shuttle bus to Kami Senbon leaves every 15 minutes. Fare is ¥360.

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