One of the best books you can read about Kyoto is a novel by Yasunari Kawabata: The Old Capital. It is both a great story, and a wonderful guide to the city and its seasonal traditions. One of the most famous scenes in that book is in the gardens of Heian Jingu when the characters Chieko and Shin’ichi go to see the cherry blossoms. I visited Heian Jingu yesterday to see these famous blossoms for myself. Here are my pictures with text by Kawabata.
The groups of red weeping cherry trees that dressed the garden were one of the splendid sights of Kyoto. “Surely there is nothing that represents the old capital better than these flowers.”
As Chieko entered the shrine garden, the color of the weeping cherries blossomed deep in her heart. “Again this year, I’ve greeted the spring in the capital.”
Chieko and Shin’ichi went on to the Bridge Hall. Correctly, it was the Soheikaku, but it was actually a bridge that looked like a hall…
…the blossoms of the red weeping cherry trees suddenly made one feel spring had indeed come. The scarlet double flowers were blooming all the way to the tips of the slenderest weeping branches. It would be more fitting to say that the flowers were borne upon the twigs than to say they were simply blossoming there.
Shin’ichi walked on ahead and crossed the stepping-stones in the pond, which were known as the “marsh-crossing” stones. They were round like the columns of a Shinto gate that had been sliced and lined up across the pond. In spots, Chieko had to lift her kimono to cross.
Beyond the pond, above the groves of trees on the east bank, the mountains with their new young leaves were visible through the blossoms of the double cherry… …Chieko joined Shin’ichi under the blossoming tree.
They were reluctant to leave.
Entrance to the garden is 600 yen. For more information about viewing hours and an access map please visit the Heian Jingu website here. Be warned that these gardens are popular and can be quite busy during the sakura season. Weekdays may be preferable to weekends!
The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata is available from amazon.co.jp, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.