Photo/IllutrationA scene from an illumination event in Kyoto’s Gion-Shinbashi district (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KYOTO--Due to popular demand, a night-time cherry blossom viewing event will return along the Shirakawa river in the city’s Gion-Shinbashi district in Higashiyama Ward for the first time in three years.

The event to light up cherry blossoms was canceled after spring 2016 due to safety concerns following a rapid increase in the number of visitors.

However, mounting calls from local residents and other parties prompted organizers to resume the event by securing more guards and introducing other measures.

The city government originally started the event in 1990 when it took over from local volunteers who had illuminated cherry blossoms at Tatsumi-Daimyojin shrine as a nighttime attraction.

After the onset of the 2000s, the city government decided to discontinue the event, citing financial difficulties. But the executive committee, mainly comprising local residents and store operators, continued the event with the help of the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Kyoto Buddhist Organization.

The number of tourists and other viewers kept increasing each year, with about 300,000 people visiting the neighborhood over 10 days in 2016, according to the executive committee.

In recent years, the narrow Shirakawa Minami-dori street had been inundated with visitors during peak hours. Cases of dangerous behavior had also become prominent, with some visitors seen sitting on the damaged railings of the picturesque Tatsumibashi bridge.

When the executive committee decided to cancel the 2017 event, it said it had no other choice as it would be too late if accidents occurred.

Since then, the stone paving of the Shirakawa Minami-dori has been renovated, while the railings of the Tatsumibashi bridge will be replaced by the end of March. The city government has decided to use part of the lodging tax revenue to provide subsidies for the organizers to hire additional guards.

In view of those safety measures, the executive committee decided to resume the event.

The illumination event will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for 10 days between March 29 and April 7.

The entire area is designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings by the central government. During the event, 43 cherry trees mainly along the Shirakawa river, as well as the Shinbashi-dori street with a row of traditional “machiya” townhouses, will be illuminated with about 300 street lamps.

“We wanted to cater to calls for the resumption. We want to pass it on to the next generation as an event everyone can appreciate cherry blossoms in peace,” said Toshio Akiyama, 72, head of the executive committee who also serves as vice president of a local conference founded to improve scenic views in the Gion-Shinbashi district.