There are of course a whole lot of cherry blossoms spots across Japan. Those generally visited by foreigners remain largely urban and allow to enjoy a relatively codified vision : friends or colleagues enjoying beer on blue tarps in parks under the sakura. But Ohanami means above all "contemplation of cherry blossoms" and this concept sometimes seems almost forgotten by these appointments.
The Japanese have other spots that Western dedicated tour guides list much less often. Among them, Kii Mountains' Yoshino is probably the most famous and, with its thirty thousand sakura, some like to say that this is the best place in Japan to contemplate them. It won't surprise anyone, then, that the visit is extremely crowded with Japanese people and that, at the same time, it also welcomes very few outsiders, even Asians. In March / April, the crowd is very dense, much more than during the momiji season in fall.
Yoshino-yama is located in the Kansai area, at the heart of Nara Prefecture. It's particularly accessible from Kyoto or Osaka (Abenobashi, in the Tennoji neighborhood) via the Kintetsu railway company, in one hour to 1:30h. During bloom, it's strongly suggested to reserve a seat as the trains which go there, especially express ones, are overflowed in the morning. Moreover Kintetsu operates with former style: only five cars including a smoking-allowed one.
Thousands and thousands of sakura in sight
Once at Yoshino station, it's possible to get on the cable car to save the first part of the hike. I didn't choose this word randomly because, if the first few hundred meters are pedestrian routes filled with countless shops and restaurants, the end of the ride will certainly not give any rest with its endless and much more uneven coils.
Involved, a mapping the least risky that distills signposts too rarely, sometimes almost hidden, and seems to take pleasure not to use the same terminology of places on the map given at the station. If you don't speak Japanese, I advise you print your own map before you go, otherwise you are in for a long ride and will probably miss the most interesting spots in lack of time or courage.
Because Mount Yoshino is divided into three levels on several sides (called Shimo, Naka and Kami-senbon) up to its "inside" (Oku-senbon). It's theoretically impossible to enjoy all levels at full bloom at the same time. The resulting advantage is that the visiting period is relatively extended, with a bloom that lasts several weeks, usually in April. The hike is filled with shrines and incredible views. I can particularly recommend Yoshimizu, quite low, and Hanayagura much higher. In the end, you can catch a bus to go back down to the station.
If you are planning a trip to Japan during sakura period, Yoshino is an absolutely choice in your planning. Part of Unesco World Heritage, it proves to be a perfect visit on a single day. If you prepare your visit and wish to go a little further than the walk between stores, the mountain will offer extremely rewarding landscapes.
How to get to Yoshinoyama
By train -- From OsakaAbenobashi station via Kintetsu railway company, 76 minutes by Limited Express train (¥1,480 / ~US$ 13.40) or 92 minutes by Express train (¥970 / ~US$ 8.80) to Yoshino station
By car -- Address: 2430 Yoshinoyama Yoshino-cho Yoshino-gun Nara Prefecture 639-3115 (Tel: 0746-32-1007)
Location unreachable with the JR Pass
Get there with a rental car
Cable car: ¥360 (~US$ 3.30) / ¥610 (~US$ 5.50) roundtrip
Bus : from ¥170 (~US$ 1.50) to ¥1,000 (~US$ 9.10) depending on the route
Get your Japanese Yens free of charge
Light-up from 6 to 10pm during peak seasons
Cable car from 9:20 a.m. to 5:40 p.m.
Buses from 9:40 a.m. to 4:57 p.m.
How long / when to visit
Length of visit: plan the whole day
Strong seasons in spring and fall