Hanami – 花見- in Japanese literally means “Flowers Viewing”, but we usually understand it as Cherry Blossom. But the cherry is not the only type of flowers we can enjoy.
The Hanami season doesn’t start in late March or early April, but it actually starts much earlier, in February, with the blossoming of the plum (梅) and the peaches (桃). Yes, the real beginning of spring in Kyoto precedes the cherry blossoms by a few weeks. This year, we enjoyed our first flowers before the end of February at the magnificent grounds of the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. In addition, the garden of this shrine, with its famous 1,500 trees, is an exceptional place to start the season. On a clear day, these pink, white and almost red blossoms and their bubble-gum-like fragrance are a great way to mark the coming of spring in Kyoto.
In addition, the nearby Hirano shrine also has a few 十月桜 (October Cherry) that are blooming. Sure, these do not have huge spectacular flowers, but they are the first cherries one can see.
And we’re lucky to have a Hachisuka Zakura (蜂須賀桜) tree next to us, at the Toyokuni Shrine. This variety of cherry blooms early in February or March when it is still quite cold. Its color is pinker than the popular Somei Yoshino (ソメイヨシノ) variety of cherry that is quite common all around Japan.
Below are a few samples of plum and peach flowers…