Mount Yoshino is very well known – even outside of Kansai – as one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots. You’ll literally find hills full of cherry blossoms there – and they bloom later than in central Kyoto / Osaka / Nara.
Mount Yoshino, also known as Yoshinoyama (吉野山), is located in Nara Prefecture (map) just a day trip away from Kyoto or Osaka.
It has been a very popular cherry blossom viewing spot for ages and if you look at the photo above you can probably understand why.
Access to Mount Yoshino in Nara
Mount Yoshino can easily be reached by public transportation. Just get off at Yoshino Station (~ 2h from Osaka / Kyoto ) using the Kintetsu Express or Ltd. Express.
From there it’s just a very short walk as you can see in the photo above. The mountain full of cherry blossom trees is right ahead. There’s also a ropeway and a shuttle bus for those who don’t want to walk, but I highly recommend walking as you can enjoy sakura right from the start.
What Makes Mount Yoshino So Special?
It is said that over 1300 years ago the first few cherry blossom trees were planted there.
Now, you’ll find over 30.000 cherry trees of different types (mainly yamazakura) at Mt. Yoshino.
Mt. Yoshino is divided into 4 areas:
- Shimo Senbon (下千本, lower 1000 trees)
- Naka Senbon (中千本, middle 1000 trees)
- Kami Senbon (上千本, upper 1000 trees)
- Oku Senbon (奥千本, inner 1000 trees)
On your way from one area to another you can enjoy various World Heritage listed temples and shrines.
Kinpusenji Temple (蔵王権現) is a centre of Shugendo, a religion of mountain worship. It incorporates beliefs of Buddhism and Taoism.
It’s located in the Shimo Senbon area, so still rather close to the foot of the mountain and a 10 mins walk from the upper ropeway station. So, it’s easy to pay this temple a visit even if you’re short on time.
Admission fee is 500 yen and it’s open from 8:30 to 16:30 (last admission: 16:00).
The temple’s main hall, Zao-do, is 34 m tall. After Nara’s Todaiji Temple, this is said to be the second biggest wooden structure in all of Japan.
Inside you’ll find a rare sight of 3 Zao-gongen statues. They’re blue. Maybe you’ve seen them on posters before. Photos inside were unfortunately not allowed.
The cherry blossoms in the “Shimo Senbon” area start blooming around late March / early April – so similar to most trees in Western Japan.
However, the higher you go, the later the trees will bloom. Usually towards mid-April is the best time to visit, but this varies from year to year, so make sure to check before you go.
Finally you can still enjoy the cherry blossoms towards the end of April at the very top of the mountain as they bloom last.
There’s a ropeway that will bring you from the train station up to the “Shimo Senbon” area, but during peak time waiting time is so long, that you’ll be faster on foot. I also walked and you can enjoy so many beautiful cherry blossom trees along the way, that it’s totally worth walking – if you can.
After ascending for a while you’ll reach the “Naka Senbon” area where most of the restaurants, hotels, temples and shrines are located.
The town is mainly centered around Shimo and Naka Senbon.
Yoshimizu Shrine (吉水神社) is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Go-Daigo. It is said that in the 14th century he fled there from Kyoto during a period of political conflict.
It’s a 35 mins walk from the upper ropeway station. Opened from 9:00 to 17:00 with an admission fee of 400 yen.
There are some nice exhibitions inside the building.
Especially the sliding doors’ decorations are impressive.
Mt. Yoshino is a World Heritage Site
You have probably noticed by now that Yoshino doesn’t only serve as great cherry blossom viewing spot, but also has a rich history and serves as the center of Shugendo mountain worship (as mentioned before).
As the base of the pilgrimage trail to sacred Mount Omine, Mount Yoshino was designated a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site named the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” together with Mt. Koya and Kumano.
The ema display what Yoshino is famous for, hills full of sakura.
Mt. Yoshino Spring Festival
There’s also the “Hanakueshiki Festival” from April 10th to 12th every year, where flowers are offered to the main object of worship Zao-Gongen at Kinpusenji Temple. A parade is held on the 11th, so you might want to time your visit accordingly.
In the Naka Senbon area you should definitely check out Chikurin-in Temple (竹林院). It features a lovely garden called Gumpoen which was sculpted by the master of the tea ceremony, Sennorikyuu.
It’s about 20 mins on foot from the upper ropeway station. Opening hours are from 8:00 to 17:00 with an admission fee of 300 yen.
Approximately 60 minutes on foot from the ropeway station is the Hanayagura View Point offering a panoramic view of Mount Yoshinoyama.
It’s part of the Kami Senbon area which is usually a bit less crowded. You’ll find some nice places for hanami up there.
For those of you who don’t want to walk there’s a shuttle bus (only during cherry blossom season, usually from late March to early May) going from Yoshino Station up to Naka Senbon. From there you can take a mini bus to go up to Oku Senbon. I took the mini bus from Naka Senbon up to Oku Senbon, but walked all the way down. I also walked the entire day, only took the mini bus up from Naka to Oku. My feet hurt at the end of the day, but it’s totally doable!
The buses are not free of charge (shuttle bus 360 yen, mini bus 400 yen).
A rental car is not recommended as some areas are off limits during the daytime for cars.
If you ascend even further you’ll eventually reach “Oku Senbon“. There aren’t that many trees, but if you missed the regular cherry blossom season, you can still enjoy some up there as they usually bloom about a week later than elsewhere. :)
As you can see in the picture above there were only buds at the upper part of the mountain. Cherry blossoms had yet to bloom there.
The Takagiyama Observation Deck which is about 90 mins on foot away from the ropeway station offers the best view in the Oku Senbon area.
You’ll also find the Saigyo-an hermitage up there, where the poet Saigyo used to live. In a poem he wrote the following:
“I love the cherry blossoms so much that I want to die beneath the flowers in full bloom”.
Kinpu Shrine (金峯神社) is the highest shrine on Mt. Yoshino. It’s about 2h on foot away from the upper ropeway station.
The shrine’s main hall is constructed in the nagare-zukuri style.
It used to be a place for ascetic training up to the Edo Period.
The actual pilgrimage route of Shugendo called “Okugake” begins at Kinpu Shrine. It passes over the major peaks of the Omine Mountain Range – Mt. Sanjogatake, Mt. Misen and Mt. Shakagatake and leads to Kumano.
Yoshino Mikumari Shrine
Once descending from Oku Senbon to Kami Senbon you’ll run into Yoshino Mikumari Shrine (吉野水分神社).
It’s located approximately 1.5h on foot from the upper ropeway station. There’s no admission fee.
It’s a Shinto shrine dedicated to mikumari, a Shinto goddess associated with water, fertility and safe birth.
The main hall (in this photo on the left) is an Important Cultural Property.
The current buildings were rebuilt by the son of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The latter once came to pray for a male successor there.
Descending Mt. Yoshino while the sun is about to set
Like mentioned before I was slowly descending from Oku Senbon (the top of the mountain) all of the way back down to the station.
You can easily do the same if you have a whole day to spend there. And the colors were particularly beautiful when the sun was about to set.
The more I descended, the more people were there, strolling around in the town, heading towards the train station.
And in the town there are plenty of option to buy food and snacks. Needless to say that most of them are sakura themed. ;)
Personally I really enjoyed my stay at Mt. Yoshino. It is different from all the other cherry blossom viewing spots I’ve seen thus far and with all the temples and shrines and its rich history, Yoshinoyama is totally worth a visit!