Mount Yoshino (吉野山, Yoshinoyama), in Nara Prefecture, is covered with 30,000 cherry trees of different varieties, and is considered to be Japan's most famous cherry blossom viewing spot. However, after visiting there, I can truthfully say that it is also the most overrated.
I visited Yoshino towards the end of the cherry blossom season. I had fixed up with a tour guide in Kyoto for a day trip to Yoshino from Kyoto to see the cherry trees. We left Kyoto with the 6 a.m. train and arrived at the Yoshino-guchi station around 8:30 a.m. We had to change trains once, and the second train going to Yoshino was completely filled with tourists! At the Yoshino-guchi train station, there were buses leaving regularly for Mount Yoshino, and we had to run hard to get ahead of the crowd to catch the first bus going to the mountain!
Mount Yoshino is actually divided into three parts. The lower area consists of shops, restaurants and homes, and is also the drop-off point for buses. This is where people start their hike up the mountain to see the cherry trees. It is also a departure point for cable cars that go up the mountain regularly. If your goal is not to see the cherry trees but to explore Japan, it can be an interesting little town to visit. The Kinpusen-ji Temple and Yoshimizu Shrine located here are famous shrines in Japan and offer nice views of the mountains.
I hiked to the top of the mountain with my tour guide. It took us almost two hours to reach the top, and even though some varieties of cherry trees were still blooming, it was not worth the effort waking up at 4 a.m., and taking the 6 o’clock train from Kyoto to Yoshino.
Firstly, even though we got there so early in the morning, the mountain was already beginning to get crowded, so instead of a leisurely hike in nature, it ended up being a really touristy walk with crowds of people walking up with their cameras and picnic baskets!
Secondly, as soon as we started our hike up the mountain, the weather turned bad, and it started snowing. I was not prepared for snow in spring, and was only wearing a trench coat when I really needed a down jacket! My hands and ears became totally frozen and the hike was not fun anymore!
Thirdly, the pathways were very narrow and slippery especially towards the end of the hike, and the view of cherry trees from the top of the mountain was really next to nothing.
On our way back, the little town of Yoshino was so filled with tourists that we had to wait for a very long time before we could get a bus back to the Yoshino-guchi station. As we rode the bus back, I was stunned to see how the mountain was jam-packed with overcrowded tourist buses still coming up the mountain to see the cherry trees!
After reading this, if you still plan to go to Yoshino, here are a few tips for you:
Make sure you have a tourist guide who speaks English (nobody spoke English in Yoshino, and the tourists were mostly Japanese, Chinese or Koreans). Or atleast have an offline English translating app or something!
Arrive very early in the morning to beat the crowds. Then run for the bus!
Wear good hiking shoes.
Take a small backpack with your essentials like a water bottle and a sandwich.
The weather is very unpredictable, so keep a travel down jacket, incase it starts snowing and you get very cold.
Have cash on you as you won’t find any card swipe machines in Yoshino.