Cherry Blossom

May 1st, 2019 15:52 by Ian Littlewood

Takenaka inari

Back in Kyoto last month for the cherry blossom. Somehow the crowds in April bother me less than during the autumn-leaf season, perhaps because celebrating the blossom has a communal feel whereas enjoying the autumn leaves seems a more solitary indulgence. That said, some of the loveliest blossom I saw this year was on the almost deserted road that runs up beside the river from the east side of Kitayama bridge towards Kamigamo jinja. As usual,Takenaka Inari (pictured above) at the top of Yoshidayama was another quiet spot, in spite of the glorious blossom that overhangs its line of torii. By contrast, Haradani-en was packed with people, almost all Japanese, even before the blossom reached its peak. Not that this mattered. The layout of the garden encourages you to wander at will among the stunning variety of cherry trees and azaleas. There are so many pleasant bays and banks where tables and benches are scattered for resting and picnicking that crowds tend to melt into the landscape. It's perfectly walkable from Kinkakuji - just head north-west and follow the stream of taxis - but the hill is long and steep.

I caught up with Monty Don’s two BBC programmes about Japanese gardens just after I got back. Ravishing pictures, but his claim that it’s a mistake to think of the cherry blossom as a symbol of transience and fragility has several centuries of Japanese culture weighing against it. The seasonal festivities may be infused with a robust sense of fresh life and new beginnings, but the ephemeral blossom has long been a poignant image of impermanence.

A reader from Frankfurt has very kindly passed on one or two observations. He points out that if you’re heading for the north-east of Kyoto, it’s an easy and well-signposted walk from Ichijoji station (Eizan line from Demachiyanagi) to Shisendo and Kompukuji. He also urged the advantage of getting to Shisendo at opening time to enjoy the pristine sand beside the entrance path. (If you can haul yourself into action early enough in the day, this is advice that pays dividends at many of the temples.) One note of caution he raised concerns Rengeji, where his visit was marred by noise from traffic on the road outside. I shall only be in Kyoto for a few days next month, but if I have time I’ll try to get back to Rengeji and check whether he just hit a bad day or whether traffic to Ohara has now become part of the temple’s soundtrack.