Phuong Nguyen

One of Japan’s most prominent achievements is its national rail system. The country’s trains not only embrace modernity, but also represent a unique and elevated facet of a nation rich in traditions with a strong East Asian cultural identity. What could be better than traveling by train across the Land of the Rising Sun during the cherry blossom season?

Funaoka Park (Miyagi)

A forest of blossoms
We chose to visit during the first week of April – the peak of the cherry blossom season, when the flowers were at their most beautiful all over Japan. The cherry blossom season changes annually depending on the weather, so it’s important to check the Japan Meteorological Agency’s flower blooming forecast and tourist sites before planning your itinerary. The first “hot” destinations we visited were the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara. Both of these former royal capitals lie in the Kansai region, making them convenient to visit in succession.

A monorail runs through cherry trees in Funaoka Castle Park in Shibata-cho

Kyoto boasts a rich cultural history and ancient beauty, with magnificent scenery, citadels, and temples. We visited when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, showing off their beauty in every park and corner of the old town. Tourists flock to the Philosopher’s Walk, a 2km-long stone-paved pedestrian path set beside a canal lined with numerous ancient cherry trees. These elegant trees lean toward the canal, forming a long arch of flowers. These cherry trees are hundreds of years old, dating back to the Edo period or earlier. They have lived through many ups and downs in the nation’s long history. Groups of tourists strolled along this tranquil path as temple bells pealed in the distance. It seemed as if time had slowed down…

However, Kyoto is not the best place to see cherry blossoms. We took a local tram from Kyoto’s central station to Nara prefecture. Our goal was Yoshino National Park, home to a vast forest of cherry trees. Here, the cherry trees weren’t planted in rows but as a whole forest. The flowers span a series of large and small hills and tumble over the mountainsides. Thousands of hectares were painted in pink and white. Looking down from a peak, I was awestruck to see valleys full of cherry blossoms. Of all the exotic places I’ve visited, none rivaled Yoshino in terms of cherry blossoms.

A deer in Nara Park

Watching cherry blossoms from the train
We chose our travel route so as to see the best cherry blossoms, starting in warm areas and moving gradually toward colder regions. Corresponding to Japan’s geography, our trip began in the south and headed north.

An obvious choice to travel across Japan is via high-speed Shinkansen trains. One of the greatest achievements of Japanese science and technology, it’s one of the earliest high-speed train systems in the world, dating back to the 1960s. It is both very safe and convenient. In more than half a century of operation, this system has had no accidents and is rarely delayed. Even terrible earthquakes have not harmed the train system. The Shinkansen is truly one of Japan’s most miraculous wonders!

From Kyoto we traveled north via high-speed train lines. Along the way, we stopped at many places, such as Shizuoka, with distant views of sacred Mount Fuji, and metropolitan Tokyo, the heart of Japan. We were most surprised by the parks full of cherry blossoms along the banks of the Shiroishi River in Miyagi prefecture, located near Sendai, the largest metropolis in the Tohoku region. Ancient cherry trees are planted in rows on both sides of the river for tens of kilometers, forming a landscape too beautiful to describe. This flower-filled place belonged in a surreal movie. The breeze off the Shiroishi River caused the petals to flutter. Falling petals dyed the river pink. What’s more, between the rows of trees lie train tracks. The trains travel back and forth beneath low-hanging branches, like a scene in a romantic film.

Yoshino Park (Nara) in April

We left Miyagi and said goodbye to Tohoku on a honey-colored sunny afternoon. Branches of cherry blossoms leaned toward the train tracks. As the train sped along, everything outside the window became blurry like a flower-filled dream.

Over the span of a week, we strolled on foot and rode on trains, marveling at the beauty of the Land of the Rising Sun. We have yet to travel all over Japan, but when it comes to the unique experience of viewing cherry blossoms, we have seen more than enough for one lifetime.