Mount Yoshino: The Spot to Go for Cherry Blossom Overload

Travel

Yoshimizu Shrine on Mount Yoshino affords views of thousands of cherry trees at a glance.

The Most Picturesque Sakura Site in Japan

Mount Yoshino in central Nara Prefecture is an area rich in natural wonder, and is known as sacred ground for shugendō (mountaineering asceticism) practitioners, as well as a district for growing select types of wood. In 2004, the area was designated home to a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” The area also has a long history as a place for viewing cherry blossoms; numerous poems singing the praises of the blossoms of Yoshino in traditional Japanese waka style are included in the Kokin wakashū, a celebrated imperial poetry anthology compiled in the early tenth century.

Some 30,000 cherry trees in some 200 varieties bloom here, chief among these being shiro-yamazakura, a variety of wild cherry tree.
Some 30,000 cherry trees in some 200 varieties bloom here, chief among these being shiro-yamazakura, a variety of wild cherry tree.

The cherry blossoms of Mount Yoshino are collectively known as hitome-senbon. Originally derived from the view of the cherry blossoms on the mountainside as seen from the Yoshimizu Shrine, itself a World Heritage site, the expression means that, so grand is the vista of the profusion of trees in this area, it is possible to “see a thousand at a single glance.” The heights, ranging from the lowlands near Yoshino Station on the Kintetsu Railway Yoshino Line to the reaches near the mountaintop, are accordingly referred to as shimo-senbon (the lower thousand), naka-senbon (the middle thousand), kami-senbon (the upper thousand), and oku-senbon (the far thousand). Another attraction of Mount Yoshino in this regard is the prolonged blossom-viewing period, owing to the fact that the cherry trees begin to bloom starting at the base of the mountain, with pale pinks moving gradually from there up to the summit.

The hitome-senbon view from Yoshimizu Shrine gives photographers memorable vistas to capture.
The hitome-senbon view from Yoshimizu Shrine gives photographers memorable vistas to capture.

The Onodachi-ato Observation Deck

An observation deck known as Onodachi-ato is located near the sightseers’ parking area in the shimo-senbon stretch of the mountains. As suggested by its full name, the Shōken Kōtaigō Onodachi-ato, the Dowager Empress Shōken, wife of Emperor Meiji, once viewed the cherry blossoms from this very spot. With benches provided for sitting, this deck is also an ideal place to catch one’s breath.

Rest and take in the views from the observation deck.
Rest and take in the views from the observation deck.

A view of the shimo-senbon cherry blossoms.
A view of the shimo-senbon cherry blossoms.

This shimo-senbon rest area may be used free of charge.
This shimo-senbon rest area may be used free of charge.

Naka-senbon is where Yoshimizu Shrine is located. A registered World Heritage site, this is where visitors can see the spectacle that gave rise to the “thousand trees at a glance” expression. The shrine vicinity also provides views of the naka-senbon and kami-senbon cherry blossoms, making it possible to savor the sight of the whole mountain in its spring coat.

The brilliant view from the lookout at Yoshimizu Shrine, a World Heritage site.
The brilliant view from the lookout at Yoshimizu Shrine, a World Heritage site.

On the Border

There are particularly good spots near Hanayagura Observation Deck, in the kami-senbon area, for observing the cherry blossoms while on Mount Yoshino itself. From this vantage, visitors have a view clear to Kongōzan, on the border of Nara and Osaka Prefectures. It requires a climb up the steep Shishiozaka slope to see the cherry blossoms spreading below, but the view is worth the effort. Oku-senbon, site of Kinpu Shrine and Saigyō-an, the latter being where the famous poet Saigyō Hōshi (1118–90) is said to have resided, is considered a “power spot” by some. Dozens of mountain cherries grow in the vicinity.

The view from the vicinity of Hanayagura Observation Deck, 600 meters above sea level.
The view from the vicinity of Hanayagura Observation Deck, 600 meters above sea level.

A recommended souvenir of Mount Yoshino is Yamazakura Yōkan, a three-layered sweet with cherry blossom-flavored gelatin on top, high-quality Yoshino kuzu starch packed in the middle, and a combination of azuki beans, matcha (ground green tea), and flavors of cherry blossom and fresh green leaves on the bottom. Each yōkan treat is individually hand-made, and the taste is exquisite.

Yamazakura Yōkan is a sweet slice of spring for your dessert plate.
Yamazakura Yōkan is a sweet slice of spring for your dessert plate.

Mount Yoshino

  • Location: Yoshino-chō, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture
  • Access: Approx. 1 hr. 40 min. from Kyoto Station to Yoshino Station, or approx. 1 hr. 15 min. from Osaka Abenobashi Station to Yoshino Station, on Kintetsu Limited Express
  • Website: Mount Yoshino Tourist Association http://www.yoshinoyama-sakura.jp/index.php (available in English, Korean, simplified and traditional Chinese, and Thai; see language links at top of page)

(Originally published in Japanese. Text by Kuroiwa Masakazu, 96Box. Banner photo: The view from Yoshimizu Shrine.)

Nara tourism World Heritage Kansai cherry blossoms