We'd read that the best times to visit Japan were either in the Spring or Autumn. DD, reluctant to miss porcini season in the Bay Area, made the decision easier and we selected springtime for hanami, or flower-viewing - when most of the country goes crazy for the beautiful pale pink cherry blossoms that are spread so widely across the entire nation. We arrived in Osaka to find it a bit chilly and indeed, a bit too early for sakura; buds were still green and tight among the trees we saw...
After a few days in Osaka, we traveled by shinkansen to Takayama, a mountain town in Central Japan known for their well-preserved old town of machiya, or merchant's houses.
We were spoiled to find very few other foreign tourists, or tourists of any other nationality for that matter. We went on the Higashiyama Walking Course which included around 12 temples and shrines, wandering by ourselves for the most part. The weather was a weird mixture of peekaboo sun, insterspersed with periods of showers and even snow! No sakura, but we did see some beautiful crocuses starting to bloom.
After Takayama, we headed out to Shirakawa-go, another mountain town said to be a place of refuge for samurai who had fallen out of favour. The town is currently renown for being a UNESCO-World Heritage-designated site and for their centuries-old Gassho-Zukuri farmhouses, quite distinctive for their steep roofs that resemble praying hands. We saw a lot of snow in Shirakawa-go; indeed, their live cam that we had been checking constantly prior to our departure had shown us a town blanketed in white every time we took a peek. And, despite the fact that when we disembarked and trekked to our farmhouse lodgings, the ambient temperature felt as if it had been in the low 70s, there were no signs of sakura either.
We then journeyed to Kanazawa, on the coast of the sea of Japan, sought out Kenrokuen (designated as one of the 3 best landscape gardens in Japan), and found a beautiful plum grove with gorgeous ume no hana blooming (see very first photo above), but alas, still no Sakura, even from the special Hanami-viewing bridge.
We found success and warmer temperatures and more tourists -- foreign and local -- in Kyoto as we traipsed down the Philosopher's Walk today. And, as we had to bide our time and jockey for space to take photos of Ginkakuji, the gorgeous silver temple and its surrounding grounds, we realized how spoiled and lucky we had been in our earlier destinations, wandering around some beautiful old spots nearly alone for several days.