The stretch of cherry trees lining the canal along Reisen Street and running all the way out to Nanzenji Temple and beyond has to be one of the longest and most fulsome displays of blossoms anywhere. The only thing that may impair your viewing pleasure is the hum of passing traffic – something that fades into the background when you take the Okazaki canal cruise.
The best time to take the tour is during hanami season, when the route is also illuminated in the evening, but the cruise continues through until early May, allowing you to enjoy the fresh green of the new leaves from the water. The boats are built in a traditional style but surprisingly have hydraulic roofs that the guides lower to fit under a couple of bridges. (Keep calm and carry on.)
On a sunny Spring day with a light breeze blowing, the cruise is a pleasant and unique way to spend around 25 minutes (3 km). It is thus very popular and while boats leave every 15 minutes, there are no reservations, so you may need to queue. There doesn’t seem to be any English information available, but it is basically just a matter of turning up at the pier.
Assuming you have seen enough of the canal, continue walking after coming up off the pier and you should almost immediately spot the entrance to a picturesque section of old railway. The tracks are also lined with cherry trees and link to Nanzenji Temple and other scenic areas. Or if you have an appetite building, you could head to Kick Up cafe and bar.
We first tried Kick Up last year after a solid afternoon of blossom viewing and not being able to decide between the homemade pizza, hot sandwiches, potato wedges, etc. – a rare find in Kyoto – went crazy and basically ordered everything. Usually with Japanese servings, that isn’t a problem but the portions at Kick Up are substantial (American owner) and we ended up munching ourselves into a carb coma. Happy daze.
Luckily Kick Up is a warm and ambient place to spend time with its wooden interior and slow burning oil lamps. In fact, the lighting is so mellow you may want to pause when entering to give your eyes time to adjust and save your knees on the heavy wooden furniture (eye-watering fun). Also note that vegetarians
are not exactly spoiled for choice here.
Resources and other details
Access: Boats leave from the pier opposite the Kyoto zoo on Niomon Street. Walk back downhill from exit 1 of Keage Station on the Tozai Line and you should spot it just after the International Community House (five minutes). Kick Up is right beside the exit, with the Westin Miyako hotel on the opposite side of the intersection.
Schedule (for 2013): Standard hours are 9:30 to 4:30 from March 30 to May 6. Evening illumination cruises also run until 8:30 pm from March 30 to April 21.
Cost: Adults are 1,000 yen and children 500. The charge includes lifebelt rental (the unidentified black thing you are handed).