Part of the magic of this experience is the arrival: a lazy, 20-minute chug in a hinoki (Japanese cedar) boat brings you to a retreat on the banks of a forested gorge in Arashiyama, west of Kyoto, which has been a sanctuary for writers and poets since the 9th century. The river journey, past ranks of cherry blossom in spring, eases you into the whole Zen concept of the meditative slow life.
Hoshinoya is a full-on immersion into the traditional Japanese way of life, where you can leave the modern world behind. On the quay, a line-up of bowing staff greets you, and stone lanterns light up mossy trails of stepping stones that take you to your private pavilion. Inside the minimalistic, two-storey Tsukihashi house, traditional futons (the house sleeps four), and beautiful hand-blocked wallpaper and shoji (sliding paper windows and screen doors) furnish the bedroom on the upper floor.
Activities here are designed to heighten a sense of mindfulness: tea ceremonies and incense-lighting rituals popularized by the samurai warlords to create a sense of calm before battle. But simply sitting in quiet contemplation of the shadows cast by the maple leaves over your bedroom washi screens, while a kimonoed musician plucks the strings of her samisen on a floating island against the tinkling backdrop of a small waterfall, is the essence of tranquility.
Head to Nishiki Market in the afternoon for roasted chestnuts and sugared kumquats, then scour the side streets for fans – the district is famed for them.
For the most Instagrammable shots of the cherry blossom, the two kilometers-long Philosopher’s Path is one of the prettiest routes in Kyoto, taking you between the spectacular temples of Gingkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji. However, for the best immersion into the landscape, escape the crowds at the Konkai-Komyo-ji temple or Daitoku-ji temple complex, which is made up of over 20 sub-temples.
Need to know
The cherry blossoms or sakura usually bloom in the last week of March and the first two weeks of April in Kyoto (roughly March 20 to April 14), with the blooms reaching their peak around April 1.
Travel insider tip
Plan a trip with travel experts Remote Lands, who can access guides like Misao Toyoshima to help with the best experiences and routes to follow the cherry blossom season as it sweeps across Japan from south to north. Don’t miss the picturesque riverside neighborhood of Nakameguro in Tokyo, the Hirosaki castle in Aomori and Hakodate’s Goryokaku fort in Hokkaido.