Heian Jingu in May

I think that perhaps May must be the most underrated month in the Kyoto tourism calendar. The days are sunny with the temperatures oscillating between cool and warm ( very rarely hot or cold) and there is a lovely early-summer atmosphere. The air is clean and fresh with just a hint of sunscreen mingling with the natural floral essence and as you walk by the Kamogawa there is a  noticeable increase of river aromatics as the lower levels of water start to warm up along the banks.

It may well be the ‘calm before the storm’  before the rainy season begins in June and by all accounts it is the time to get out and about and see everything you can before the hot summer kills off most forms of delicate plant life – and makes heading out into the day a sweaty, smelly, draining chore.

In Spring Kyoto is renowned for its Plum and Cherry blossoms and in autumn for the Momiji or maple and other gloriously red, rust and gold hued leafery. But listen up because May boasts stunning water lilies, lotus, iris, azalea and many other flower species and wildly skyrocketing bamboo and at the beginning of June the Hydrangea’s are at their peak.  What a glorious time to be wandering around the streets and gardens of Kyoto town. There are a lot less tourists here at this time of year and therefore a much more relaxed atmosphere.  All very good reasons for making your next visit to Kyoto in May.  (That’s if you don’t come with me in winter of course – my favourite time of the year.) You might want to avoid Golden Week too  – a cluster of national holidays in early May – when every Japanese and his frocked dog are travelling.

Here are a few shots from a recent visit to the garden at Kyoto’s Heian Jingu ( shrine)

Water Lily above and lotus below

Not a colour I ever expected to see on a maple tree in May but I’m told that there is a species that starts off red then turns green – the opposite to the  majority of maple trees in Japan – to see the odd one among the green variety is quite magical.  Yet another reason to visit in May  – just a note for those garden enthusiasts who usually prefer to hold out for the Autumn viewing – which you need to fight your way through the crowds for.

I love watching school groups on excursions in Japan – it must be the one country where teenagers are actually interested in what plants bloom where and when and are ecstatic to have their photos taken in front of some lush shrubbery, or crossing over the stepping stones of a large pond or in front of a temple or shrine….

This woman  is not a beekeeper but dressed in festival garb  for Aoi Matsuri  – one of the 3 big festivals in Kyoto but not necessarily the most exciting.

Oh the Iris… apparently they have a second blooming during their season so if you miss them one week you are more than likely to see them the next – unlike the cherry blossoms – once they are gone they are gone until the following year… a mere week of pink bliss – if we are lucky enough for the rain and wind to hold off.

Lotus delight

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