Mount Yoshino is located in Nara Prefecture since ancient times. And Mount Yoshino is known as one of the best places in Japan to see cherry blossoms (sakura). The name refers to the ridge of the Omine mountain range which stretches about 8 km from north to south. Mount Yoshino is a sacred site, boasts several , and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Why Are There So Many Cherry Trees in Mount Yoshino?
Mount Yoshino is covered with more than 30,000 cherry trees and is considered one of the most beautiful sites to visit during the sakura blooming season. Why are there so many cherry trees in Mount Yoshino?
This story goes back to the 7th century when the founder of the Shugendo religion. Shugendo (修験道) is a unique religion in Japan in which ancient Japanese beliefs about mountains were integrated with Buddhism. The aim is to attain enlightenment through severe ascetic practices in the mountains. It has been banned since the Meiji era and now considered a Buddhist school Enno-Ozuno (役小角). They founded the Kimpu-senji temple at Mount Yoshino and worship the statue of Zao-Gongen (蔵王権現) which was sculpted from a cherry tree there.
Since then, the cherry tree became a sacred tree at Mount Yoshino. And when devotees went there, they brought cherry trees as offerings.
The Cherry Trees of Mount Yoshino
In spring, when cherry trees are in bloom, it is easy to be surprised by the beauty of Mount Yoshino covered with cherry blossoms. You can see about 200 different varieties of sakura: the most common one on the mountain is Shiroyama-zakura (wild variety). The peculiarity of Shiroyama-zakura is that at the time of flowering, the leaves grow at the same time. With the white color of the flowers, the mixture of green and red creates a splendid gradation.
The cherry trees bloom during the whole spring (end of March – end of April) depending on the altitude, from the base to the top. The cherry trees are grouped by zone (altitude) from the lowest to the highest: Shimo-senbon (下千本, literally a thousand cherry trees at the bottom), Naka-senbon (中千本, literally a thousand cherry trees in the middle), Kami-senbon (上千本, literally a thousand cherry trees at the top) and Oku-senbon (奥千本, literally a thousand cherry trees at the bottom). The mountain is gradually colored in shifts.
You can appreciate the beauty of Mount Yoshino from observatories as well. Japanese people call the amazing view Hitome-senbon (一目千本, literally a glance thousand cherry trees).
Mount Yoshino in Japanese History and Culture
Since Mount Yoshino is remote from the ancient capital, the place was often chosen as a refuge by Emperors and samurai. But at the same time, this place was already famous for cherry trees since the Heian period (8th century).
Mount Yoshino and its sakura are also famous in Japanese literature and poetry. Heian poet Saigyo wrote more than 230 poems about cherry trees and spent many years at Oku-senbon.
Our Trip to Mount Yoshino
We visited Mount Yoshino on March 30, 2021, because this year the cherry blossoms were unusually early all over Japan. And it was also the case for Mount Yoshino. Usually, the Shimo-senbon (the lowest area) reaches its full bloom at the beginning of April and little by little the bloom goes up the mountain, taking 1 month to reach the Oku-senbon. But this year, the Naka-senbon (the middle zone) already reached its full bloom at the end of March. It was a record.
We took the express train of the Kintetsu line from Kyoto at 8.45 am and we arrived in Yoshino at 10.26 am with a change at Kashihara-Jingu-mae. Advance booking of trains is advised because the seats are all reserved and there are not many express trains to Yoshino.
After getting a map of Yoshino at the station, we took a local bus to Naka-senbon. While contemplating whether to go to Kami-senbon, we found a small restaurant that offered an extraordinary view of the cherry trees of Naka-senbon by chance. It was a bit early, but we decided to have lunch at Ikkyu-an (一休庵). It’s actually an inn, but for lunch, the restaurant is open to the public. We tried Yoshino’s specialty, Kakinoha-zushi (柿の葉寿司, literally persimmon leaf sushi). Sushi with pickled fish is wrapped with persimmon leaves. As sushi is wrapped with persimmon leaves, it was food for travelers who could eat it without dirtying their hands in the past.
And here is the view from the restaurant. We were speechless by the beauty of the landscape…
Many people advised us to go all the way to Kami-senbon, but it is a 50-minute climb. Luckily, a cab passed by us (it’s really rare!) and we arrived at Hanayagura Observatory (花矢倉展望台) without getting tired. From this observatory, we had a view of Naka-senbon and Shimo-senbon. We could see the Kipusen-ji temple in the distance.
While admiring the cherry blossoms, we went down the mountain little by little (I don’t know how many pictures I took!). Anyway, it’s so beautiful… It’s not easy to transmit this beauty through just pictures, but here are some pictures from the mountain.
Mount Yoshino is considered a sacred mountain on which several temples and sanctuaries are built. We did not forget to visit some of them.
We had a good walk but we didn’t feel tired because of the beauty of the landscape. But on the train back to Kyoto, we slept well (we took the express train from Yoshino at 5.04 pm).
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From Kyoto, take the Kintetsu Kyoto line to Kashihara-Jingu-mae station and then the Yoshino line to Yoshino (about 2 hours by express train)
From Nara, take the Kintetsu Nara line to Yamato-Saidaiji, then the Kashihara line to Kashihara-Jingu-mae. Then take the Yoshino line to Yoshino. It takes about 1 hour.
When you arrive at Yoshino station, you can go on foot and/or by local bus.