Seeing geisha seems like getting a glimpse of a long-gone past. They have become such a rarity today that even most Japanese never get in contact with them.
The largest remaining population is present in Kyoto’s premier geisha district Gion. You are most likely to spot geisha on the street in the early evenings, when they are on their way to dinner appointments with clients. Failing that, you can see them first-hand at public shows like Gion’s Miyako Odori (dances of the capital). These performances present an arrangement of traditional music and dances, painstakingly choreographed and carried out by more than two dozen geisha and maiko (geisha in training).
During the day, you may see a number of young women who look like geisha but are not. Dressing up as a maiko has become a popular activity in recent years. Telling the wannabees apart is easy. True geisha neither take selfies, nor do they pose for tourists on the street.
Seeing cherry blossom is no less tricky: Full bloom only lasts for about a week. The short-lived nature of the blooming makes it a perfect embodiment of mono no aware, a concept in Japanese philosophy that refers to the impermanence of life. It seems there is some deeper meaning behind the appreciation of cherry blossom in Japan, beyond its sheer visual sensation.
When to Go
Assuming that you plan visiting the main tourist areas around Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Tokyo, I suggest that you start your journey in Tokyo. Arrange for an arrival at the end of March, then continue with your route westwards. This itinerary worked out perfectly well for me on two trips and is backed by meterological records. In addition, I recommend that you check out japan-guide.com’s daily reports and other blooming forecasts when finetuning your itinerary.