Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi

MY FAVES: Flower Sites

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

Though cherry blossoms are synonymous with Japan and the country boasts many viewing sites and festivals dedicated to the blooming season of the famed buds, there are other flowers worth a second look.

Cherry blossom season lasts only a few weeks, but Japan is blessed with continuous blooming of different types of colorful flowers throughout the year.

In January, Narcissus and plum blossoms begin to bloom, followed by cherry and peach in late March, heralding the onset of spring. Tulips, azaleas, poppies and wisterias decorate the nation, one after another during springtime. This leading up to the dark and steamy rainy season featuring decent violet, blue and white flowers of hydrangeas and irises – often the only solace to such soggy weather.

The scorching summer in Japan is always associated with sunflowers and morning glories. Chrysanthemums and cosmos ring in the arrival of autumn along with changing colors of leaves. Then, cyclamens and camellias in the dazzling brilliant winter illuminations promote cheerful holiday spirit, wrapping up the year.

Gardens, parks or district filled with these flowers scatter the nation, making whichever bloom is in season easily accessible.

Below, I break down some of my favorite sites to catch some buds. I like them not only because of the beauty of the flowers each host, but the locations themselves are attractive to visit as well.

Check out one or more to enjoy what Japan’s four seasons have to offer. Some flower parks on the list even offer evening hours and illuminations for a lovely stroll amongst the blossoms.

Peach blossoms – Fuefuki City (Kanto Plain)


Photo courtesy of Fuefuki City

In April, thousands of peach trees reach full bloom around the Kanto Plain. There is perhaps no better – or famous – place to view peach blossoms, however, than in Fuefuki City in  Yamanashi Prefecture. It is really marvelous to see the city fully carpeted with the pink and reddish blossoms of 300,000 peach trees. The city is only an hour and half drive from Tokyo, and the scenery is well worth the drive. In the peak season (end of March – beginning of April), the city hosts a flower festival with various activities for the entire family to enjoy.

As peach blossoms gradually bloom from south to north, day after day, you can always see blossoms in full bloom depending on where in Japan you are throughout the season.

Peach trees have large, brilliant blossoms and give off a sweet aroma. The blossom is believed to ward off evil and a sprig from a peach tree is always an important component on a set of “hina” dolls used to celebrate traditional Hina-Matsuri (Doll Festival) on March 3 every year. The aroma of peach blossoms is much stronger and more impressive than that of cherry blossoms, and sweeter than that of plum.  Since the trees are shorter than cherry blossom trees, you can see and enjoy the blossoms more closely.

Flower Period: Late March – middle of April
Location: Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Pref. (1.5-hour drive from Yokota AB)
URL: fuefuki-kanko.jp/
Tel: 055-261-2829

Azalea – Otawa Azalea Hill (Yokosuka)

A 20-minute drive from Yokosuka Naval Base, Otawa Azalea Hill is covered by a gorgeous flower carpet with 50,000 azalea trees fully blooming in late April every year. Strolling on the well-arranged flower gardens made up of red, pink, white, orange and yellow blossoms always make us feel like we’re in a dream.

For optimal pics, head to the bottom of the hill where you can get the best photo with a backdrop of seemingly-endless azalea blooms.

On the top of hill, get a panoramic vista of the majestic Miura Mountains. Visitors often enjoy lunch bentos at the top with a full view of the grounds and surrounding landscape.

Admission and parking (available for 30 cars) are free. 

Flower Period: middle of April – middle of May
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Location: 5-2638 Ootawa, Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Pref. (20-minute drive from Yokosuka Naval Base)
URL: ootawa.y-parks.jp/
Tel: 046-851-1660

Nemophila (baby blue eyes) – Hitachi Seaside Park  (Kanto Plain)

Around the Golden Week holidays, starting around the end of April and the beginning of May, the hills of Hitachi Seaside Park take on a beautiful blue-purple hue. The dreamy color comes from the nearly 4.5 million tiny, cute nemophila blooms. Also known as “baby blue eyes,” the blooms sway in the cool breeze and draw in hundreds of strolling visitors along a narrow path.

Beside the hills of nemophila, the huge park is host to many gardens featuring tulips, roses and poppies, along with an athletic field, amusement facilities and traditional village houses. The large spread Hitachi Seaside Park offers makes spending a whole day in the park with your friends and family members.

Flower Period: Middle of April – middle of May
Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Location: Hitachi Seaside Park, 605-4 Onuma, Mawatari, Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Pref. (two-hour drive from most of U.S. military installations in Kanto Plain)
Admission: 450 yen ($4), ages 65 and older 210 yen
URL: hitachikaihin.jp/en.html
Tel: 029-265-9001

Hydrangea – Hakone Tozan Railway (near Zama/Atsugi)

Hakone may be known for its hot springs, but its hydrangeas are also a sight to see.

Hop on the Hakone Tozan Line in late June or early July for a 40-minute train ride from Hakone-Yumoto Station to Gora Station of. front-row hydrangea viewing. The flowers blooming along the railway will give you the illusion of sailing on a colorful river.

Hydrangea are interesting as they color shift from white, pink, violet and blue. Some change from pink to purple and others from blue to violet or fade in intensity throughout the course of the four- to six-week season. You can enjoy these variations of flower colors on this train ride in Hakone.

The altitude difference of 1,460-feet between the Hakone-Yumoto and Gora stations, results in a 6-10-degree difference in temperature. The mountain is so steep, the train needs to switchback three times to get to Gora Station. One of the switchback points, Ohiradai Station is the most popular hydrangea viewing spot in Hakone with a narrow track and thousands of hydrangeas running along both sides. Ohiradai and other five hydrangea spots are lit up in the evening between mid-June and beginning of July, offering a fantastic vista to all visitors.

Flower Period: late June – mid-July
Route: Hakone Yumoto Station – Gora Station (40-minute train ride)
Location: (Hakone Yumoto Station) 707 Yumoto, Hakonemachi, Kanagawa Pref. (one-hour drive from Camp Zama or NAF Atsugi)
URL: www.hakone-tozan.co.jp/
Tel: 0465-32-6823

Iris – Sawara Ayame Park (Chiba)

Although the rainy season in Japan brings us constant gray skies and showers for nearly two months, various beautiful flowers, such as iris and hydrangea, begin to bloom and put a positive spin on the season.

Iris Park in Katori City is full of 400 different types and over 1.5 million iris flowers blooming in June. During this time, the park is home to white, pink, violet and blue irises but other year-round features make it a great spot to stroll through. Ponds and bridges dot the grounds and you can even hop on a traditional boat to enjoy the flowers on water, as well. There are several souvenir shops within the garden where you can purchase flowers, local foods and sweets. The park is fairly accessible from any of the bases in Kanto Plain via the Daiei IC of Higashi Kanto Expressway. Once you get your fill of the flowers, there are also many must-see attractions located nearby the park. Be sure to drop by the old town of Sawara, which is filled with old traditional townhouses along the river. You can also visit Katori Shrine, known as one of the most majestic Shinto shrines in the area.

Flower Period: Jun
Location: Suigo Sawara Ayame Park 1837-2, Ogishima, Katori City, Chiba Pref. 
Hours: 8 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Admission: 800 yen ($7), middle and elementary schoolers 400 yen
URL: www.city.katori.lg.jp/
Tel: 0478-56-0411

Sunflower – Zama City

The city, home to Camp Zama, is actually known as “town of sunflower,” because of its extensive sunflower fields. With annual sunflower festivals held in various districts within the city, you can enjoy 550,000 sunflowers, along with various stage performances, games and food from the end of July to mid-August. It was end of August last year when my wife and I visited Zama to view the large yellow flowers. Although the festivals were over and most of flowers were gone, we found a few farms along the Sagami River that still had still a lot of flowers in bloom. To our pleasant surprise, they let us go into the farm with pair of scissors and pick the flowers for 200 yen ($1.40) each. We enjoyed picking the large and beautiful flowers while taking photos against hundreds of vivid yellow flowers that were much larger than my face.

Flower Period: late July – mid-August
Location: Zama and Kuwahara Districts of Zama City, Kanagawa Pref.
URL: www.city.zama.kanagawa.jp/www/contents/1194229588316/index.html
Tel: 046-205-6515

takiguchi.takahiro@stripes.com

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