As mentioned in another post, while most people think “Cherry Blossom” when considering the Hanami season, it actually starts with the plum blossoms around the end of February. This is, a few weeks before the cherry blossoms, the actual beginning of spring in Kyoto. Sure, it is still quite cold, but all around the city, the mood is about the upcoming spring and shops are displaying plum motifs and similar decorations.
One of the best place to enjoy and appreciate the reddish, pink and white blossoms is the famous plum garden of the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (one of my favorite places in Kyoto) where there are nearly 2,000 trees that bloom from February to March. This shrine, dedicated to the patron of learning, Michizane Sugawara, is a very popular one, mainly among students (who visit it to pray for success in their studies).
I highly recommend a visit to this garden (admission yen 600, open between 10:00 and 16:00) to enjoy the view of all these flowers, as well as a cup of tea and a sweet. And while you’re there, have a look at another one of my favorites, the nearby Hirano Shrine, one of the best place in town to enjoy the view of cherry blossoms (at the minimum, if you go there in February or early March, you’ll get to see a few of the “Ju Gatsu Zakura”, the October Cherry). There are some sixty (yes 60) varieties of cherry trees in this shrine, where the small garden features over 400 trees.