As mentioned previously in my “Plum Blossoms in Kyoto” post, I’ve promised to write down a list of recommended plum blossom spots here in Kyoto. Since there aren’t exactly a lot of plum blossom spots as compared to the mighty cherry blossoms, I could only list down 3 locations. Unlike my “5 Favourite Photography Spots in Kyoto” post, the rankings here will be in order, with #1 being my top recommendation. So here it goes…
1. Jonangu Shrine
Hands down, this is the best location for me when it comes to plum blossoms. Most of you might not know anything about this place or have never even heard about it before. Well, I don’t blame you. It’s rather underrated and mostly overlooked due to its location and its less-than-famous name in travel guides and travel websites.
Jonangu Shrine is located south of Kyoto station, probably around 30 mins subway ride (approx. 10 mins) and on foot (approx. 20 mins). You can also opt to take a bus from the shrine to Takeda station but hey, it’s nice to take long walks once in a while, right?
Anyway, the site of Jonangu was once said to be the part of a huge imperial palace of retired Emperor Shirakawa, with his mausoleum actually located nearby. Amazing, isn’t it?
Jonangu Shrine now of course, is more popular for its wonderful plum blossom garden that has about 150 weeping plum trees and numerous varieties of camellias. The man-made hill on which these trees are planted create a beautiful and interesting landscape, making it a paradise for nature photographers. It is best to visit around late February or early March to see the plum blossoms.
Take note that it might get slightly crowded, especially during weekends, so it’s always best to go early in the morning.
From JR Kyoto Station’s Shinkansen Hachijo Gate
– 10 minutes by taxi (about ¥1200)
– 15 minutes by R’EX (Kyoto Rakunan Express) bus
(Departs every 20 minutes; Fare: adults ¥300, children ¥100)
From Takeda Station on the Kyoto City Subway Karasuma Line
– 3 minutes by taxi or 15 minutes on foot
From Takeda Station on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line
– 3 minutes by taxi or 15 minutes on foot
Plum Blossom Garden
February 18th – March 22nd
9 am – 4.30 pm (Last entry is at 4pm)
Adult – ¥600
Elementary/Middle School Students – ¥400
2. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Much more popular than Jonangu Shrine, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is said by many visitors to be the best location to look for plum blossoms. This historic shrine boasts a huge plum grove of about 2000 plum tree blossoms. Yes, that’s right. That’s more than 10 times the number of trees in Jonangu Shrine. The garden is quite huge in size too, but so too is the number of visitors. So please be prepared for the huge crowd!
If you’re planning to visit Kitano Tenmangu Shrine for its plum blossoms, I would recommend you to come on the 25th of February. Every year, the shrine holds an event called the ume matsuri, which means “plum festival”. You will be surprised to know that on this day too, there is a Tenjin-san flea market going on. It is an outdoor street market within the shrine’s grounds and outside of it. A number of goods are sold such as handcrafts, kimono fabrics, jewelry, wooden crafts, Buddha statues, traditional Japanese dolls, lucky charms, home décor accessories, and so on.
Anyway, on this day, one of the main events along with viewing the plum blossoms is the special outdoor tea ceremony, called baikasai. In this ceremony, you will be served hot matcha tea and traditional Japanese sweets by several Geiko and Maiko. As you probably have known, Geiko and Maiko are traditional Kyoto idols known worldwide for their grace and beauty. This is therefore a very rare opportunity for visitors to see them up close and maybe exchange a few words!
As with any other locations that I have recommended in my blog, it is always best to go early in the morning, or you can also go late in the afternoon, right before it closes its gates to visitors.
From JR Kyoto Station
– 30 minutes by Kyoto City bus 50 or 101 (¥230)
Early February – late March
10 am – 4 pm
Adult – ¥700 (includes traditional sweet & matcha tea)
Elementary/Middle School Students – ¥350 (includes traditional sweet & matcha tea)
Every 25th of February
10 am – 3 pm
¥1500 (includes traditional sweet & matcha tea)
25th of every month
6 am – 9 pm
¥1500 (includes traditional sweet & matcha tea)
3. Kyoto Imperial Park
This location is for those who prioritises peace and serenity, while at the same also getting to enjoy the plum blossoms.
The 1300 meter long and 700 meter wide park also serves as recreational space for both tourists and residents, featuring attractive, broad gravel paths and lawns. The park is even bigger in size as compared to the other locations in this list, and has a huge area set aside just for tree groves, which include cherry trees, plum trees and even maple trees too! Though each tree in the park had its admirers, there was really only a small scattering of people around, and so you can enjoy the blooms in a more relaxed and pleasant manner.
Admission is free and the palace grounds are open to the public all year round, so you can actually take morning or afternoon strolls here while admiring the blossoms!
From JR Kyoto Station on the Kyoto City Subway Karasuma Line
– 7 minutes by subway (alight at Marutamachi station)
– 10 minutes by subway (alight at Imadegawa station)
Kyoto Imperial Park
No closing hours
Kyoto – The Heart of Japan
When one is asked about Kyoto, the first thing that comes to mind is Geisha, shrines and temples. Yes, Kyoto is a historically rich city. It is the heart of Japanese culture and tradition, where you are able to see thousand year old shrines right beside newly built, state-of-the-art buildings. Basically, Kyoto is a city where history meets the future.
Although Kyoto prefecture is rather huge, Kyoto city itself is quite small and it is possible to travel and explore the entire city in a matter of a few days. However, there are cases where visitors come to visit Kyoto only on a day trip. To make things difficult, most of these visitors are on a low budget. It is, in fact, very common to see visitors coming to explore Kyoto on a day trip, from neighbouring cities such as Osaka. However, most of them left the ancient city wanting to extend their stay because they felt that they have yet to explore it all.
So here, I have made a short trip itinerary for a day trip in Kyoto, with only ¥5,000 in cash. This itinerary can be used at any season, so there are no seasonal events being placed here.
Kyoto Station [8.30am – 9am]
Since you are visiting Kyoto on a day trip, you are most likely going to arrive in Kyoto Station since it is the main transportation hub in Kyoto. Once you are there, purchase the 1-Day Bus Pass, which costs only ¥500.
This is like a gem to those who want to squeeze in as many sightseeing spots on a one-day itinerary in Kyoto by bus. It acts as a concession pass, which can be bought by anyone, no matter if you are local or foreigner. You can take the bus as many times as you want on that day itself. You can also purchase the pass and choose to use it in the future, whenever needed.
Current Expenditure: ¥500
Total Expenditure: ¥500
Arashiyama [9am – 10am]
First thing’s first. Take bus 28 from Kyoto Station and try to get to Arashiyama before visitors start pouring in. There are neither admission fees nor opening hours for most parts of Arashiyama, except for a few limited places of interest of course. Good news is that the famous bamboo grove is open to the public throughout the day and does not need any kind of admission fee to enter. Bad news is that, Arashiyama is usually packed with tourists all year round, especially during the cherry blossom season as well as the autumn colours season. So if you want to avoid the crowd, it is highly recommended to visit Arashiyama early in the morning, at least before 9am.
Iwatayama Monkey Park [10am – 11am]
After visiting the bamboo grove, you may want to hike up the nearby Iwatayama to get to the monkey park. It is a nice, refreshing 15-minute hike up the hill which you will then be rewarded with picturesque scenery of Kyoto city. Plus, of course, you will find an open area with monkeys roaming freely. It is also possible to feed the monkeys through cross-grilled windows in the small hut. To hike this hill though, you will have to pay an admission fee of ¥550.
Current Expenditure: ¥550
Total Expenditure: ¥500 + ¥550 = ¥1050
Kinkakuji [11am – 1pm]
From Arashiyama, get on bus 11 and head north towards Kinkakuji. Along the way, you will have to make a transfer at Yamagoe Nakamachi (山越中町行) bus stop, where you will have to take bus 59 which will get you all the way to the temple. This golden pavilion Zen temple is undoubtedly one of Kyoto’s must-see temples. In addition to the fact that it is plated in gold, each floor also represents a different style of architecture. This UNESCO world heritage site opens at 9am and it typically gets crowded throughout the day. However, there are slightly fewer people when it is close to the opening and closing hours, as well as during lunch time.
Current Expenditure: ¥400 [Kinkakuji]
Total Expenditure: ¥1050 + ¥400 = ¥1450
Lunch [1pm – 2pm]
From Kinkakuji, you can take bus 12, 101 or 15 and head south towards Nijo Castle. Alight there but no, it is not yet time for you to enter the castle. It’s time for lunch first! For that, you can look for a nearby ramen restaurant called Menbakaichidai. This ramen restaurant is famous in Kyoto for its “Fire Ramen”. It is voted as one of the “Best Restaurants by Foreign Travellers” on Trip Advisor. Take note that there is usually a long queue during lunch hours. When you finally get to enter the restaurant, you should sit at the counter and embrace yourself for the fire ramen experience!
Current Expenditure: ¥1250 [Menbakaichidai]
Total Expenditure: ¥1450 + ¥1250 = ¥2700
Nijo Castle [2pm – 3pm]
After a hearty meal, take a stroll to the nearby Nijo Castle. This particular castle has a 400 year old history to it. It used to house the first Shogun of the Edo Period, before it was used as an imperial palace for a relatively short period of time. Being one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO world heritage sites, Nijo Castle boasts the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture during the feudal era in Japan. It is also really unique in the way that the entire palace corridors have nightingale floors, due to the fact that it squeaks whenever anyone walks on it. This is for security measure against intruders. Walking around the castle will not take more than an hour as the perimeters of the castle is relatively small in size.
Current Expenditure: ¥600 [Nijo Castle]
Total Expenditure: ¥2700 + ¥600 = ¥3300
Gion / Hanamikoji / Nene no Michi / Ninenzaka / Sannenzaka [3pm – 5pm]
Hanamikoji, Nenenomichi, Ninenzaka, Sannenzaka – They all have one thing in common. These are preserved traditional streets, uniquely found in Kyoto! Still retaining the appearance of the previous eras in Kyoto, walking along these pedestrian-only streets will make you feel as if you have been brought back to the past. To get here, you will need to take bus 12 or 15. This is also the perfect opportunity for you to spend on souvenirs as there are many shops in the area, with some even selling local specialties such as pottery, sweets and pickles. These streets are linked to each other, and at the end of Sannenzaka, you will find yourself at the next popular tourist attraction, which brings us to the next point…
Current Expenditure: ¥0
Total Expenditure: ¥3300 + ¥0 = ¥3300
Kiyomizudera [5pm – 6pm]
Another UNESCO world heritage site, this popular Buddhist temple is really amazing as its main hall is said to be built without using any nails. It is famous for its special evening illuminations during autumn as well as during the cherry blossom season. The best time to visit this temple is right before it closes at 6pm, when you are able to see the sun setting behind the mountain range with Kiyomizudera’s main hall in the foreground. This is really the perfect way to end the day, isn’t it?
Dinner [6pm – 7pm]
After that, it’s dinner time! Take the bus and alight at Gion. Look for Gion Tsujiri. Usually, there is a long queue outside this restaurant. The first storey is mainly a shop while the second storey is for dining in. The Miso matcha udon here is really impressive. It makes use of Kyoto’s very own Uji Matcha. End your day trip in Kyoto on a cool evening with this hot and refreshing udon noodles. It will be sure to leave a good impression when you leave Kyoto!
Current Expenditure: ¥400 [Kiyomizudera] + ¥1100 [Gion Tsujiri] = ¥1500
Total Expenditure: ¥3300 + ¥1500 = ¥4800
End of Day Trip
And there you go! The estimated total expenditure for this itinerary is within the budget of ¥5000. This is just a simple, budget itinerary for a day trip to Kyoto from neighbouring cities such as Osaka. If you are short of time and money, then this itinerary is good for you!
The main point that I want to emphasise is definitely the 1-day bus pass. This pass will be a lifesaver for you if your main concern is money. I realised that not many tourists are aware about this pass, as I usually see them using coins to pay the bus fare. So when you come and travel around Kyoto, please get one of these 1-day bus passes. It only costs you ¥500 for unlimited bus rides for a day.
So if you’re planning to use this itinerary for your own travel plans, do let me know how it goes. Or if you want to share your own day trip plan with a budget of ¥5000 (or anything will do), please leave a comment below!
Happy travelling! (:
The Mushajinji Ritual Dispels Bad Luck & Brings Good Fortune
This is a ritual which not many people have heard of, even the locals. It is called the Mushajinji ritual, which is a military archery ritual held at Kyoto’s Kamigamo Shrine. It is said that the origin of this event started in the imperial court during the Heian period as means to dispel bad luck.
It is a special event where people dressed in traditional attire shoot arrows at a target 1.8 meters wide. By shooting arrows at the target, they are praying for good fortune as well as to repel evil away for the coming year.
Symbols of the Targets & Arrows
The targets are not just any targets that you have seen before. They have the word oni written on the back, which means “demon” or “ogre”. So, as you might have already guessed by now, the targets symbolise misfortune, whereas the arrows act as purifying agents.
The ritual usually takes place in mid-January at 11am in the morning. If you want to be in the front row however, I strongly recommend that you arrive early, probably about an hour earlier. If not, you would have to keep on tip-toeing or go all the way to the back, nearer to the entrance of the shrine where you can’t see what’s happening.
Anyway, at 11am, you can see a host of men and women in old style court attire assemble in the open grounds on the shrine precincts. Two priests will then officially begin the ceremony by firing special whistling arrows at the targets before the other archers line up to fire off volley after volley.
I have seen it myself and honestly speaking, when my friend first invited me to observe this ritual, I wasn’t quite interested. I thought it’s just a typical archery event, where all I’m going to see is a man with a bow let fly a quiver of arrows.
Everything Was Done to Perfection
But I was wrong. The entire ritual was done to perfection. The archers were very detailed in everything that they did, starting from the beginning when they were preparing to shoot until the act of firing the arrow. It was definitely a sight to see. The elegance, perfection, respect and emotions being put into this ritual was very impressive. I’ve got to say that I was indeed very lucky to have captured all of these elements in my photos. I couldn’t thank my friend enough.
When Will It Be Held This Year?
This year, the Mushajinji ritual will take place on the 16th of January and it starts at 11am. Admission is free. So if you are interested, I recommend you go check it out, and maybe let me know what you think about the event!
Do You Know What Plum Blossoms Are?
Say what? Plum blossoms?
Yes, those are exactly the reactions that I usually get when I show them photos of plum blossoms. The fact is that, many people don’t even know what plum blossoms are. Most of them only know about cherry blossoms, also known as “sakura”, but when asked about plum blossoms, they shrugged their shoulders and gave me that “What did you say?” look on their faces.
Plum Blossoms Are Japanese Apricots
Plum blossoms, or also known as “ume”, are actually Japanese apricots. They are sometimes regarded as late winter or early spring flowers. Foreigners outside of Japan will probably think that plum blossoms are not popular in Japan as cherry blossoms. However, that’s definitely not true!
Plum blossoms are just as popular as cherry blossoms, but there aren’t just as many plum blossom viewing spots as there are for cherry blossoms. The successful marketing campaign to attract tourists to visit Japan during the cherry blossom season had also somewhat caused all the plum blossom viewing culture to be overshadowed by their much successful counterpart.
See the Plum Blossoms in February or March
Hence, there aren’t as many visitors at plum blossom viewing spots as compared to the overcrowded (and sometimes overrated) cherry blossom viewing spots. So I strongly recommend you to visit at least one of the plum blossom viewing site in Kyoto if you are here in February or March. This is definitely a plus point for nature photographers or those who just love to look at flowers without being interrupted by other visitors rushing and taking such a long time to take photos.
You’ll be delighted to know that you can actually find many different varieties of plum blossoms in the whole of Kyoto prefecture. As you walk around the grounds of temples & shrines including public parks, you will be able to see the plum blossoms scattered around. If you are a nature fanatic, I would highly recommend you to come visit during the plum blossom season!
If you are hoping that I come up with a recommended list of places to visit for plum blossom viewing in Kyoto, don’t worry! I will do that very soon!