Flower Power: Annual spring festivals always produce a crowd in Japan

by Nano Betts
www.visitnanob.com

If you think cherry blossom season is the only exciting event this spring, you are in for a huge surprise. Acknowledging the arrival of new flowering blooms is not just a fleeting nod to Mother Nature, but a cause for real celebration and a genuine pastime in Japan. Japanese even have a special word – Hanasanpo (literally translated as ‘flower walk’) – to describe the activity of admiring and walking in amongst seasonal blooms. Love, respect and appreciation of the beauty of the changing seasons transpires into various public events dedicated to showcasing every flower that comes to bloom. A significant advance preparation goes into arranging these festivities to create ultimate ambiance and relaxing setting for taking in the seasonal beauty – background music, themed performances, souvenir stalls, food and, of course, soft serve in the same flavor as the featured flower. While cherry blossom festival is the most well-known and highly anticipated event in spring, it certainly is not the only one. Here is the list of my favorite upcoming flower festivals in and around Tokyo.

Kawazu-zakura

Here’s the biggest myth debunked: you can see cherry blossoms exclusively during end of March and/or beginning of April. The truth is, there are at least dozen species of cherry trees in Japan and some start blooming as early as January! A one-hour rapid express train ride on Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station will get you to Matsuda. This little, unassuming town comes to life every February when local tourists flock here to admire the early blooming sakura, called Kawazu-zakura. On clear days, you get an unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji as well.

Ume (Plum)

While cherry blossoms get all the glory when it comes to heralding the arrival of spring, modest blooming buds of ume are also held in high regard here. Celebratory ume matsuri (plum blossom festivals) are held all around the country, filled with performances, and plum-themed food stalls. Early February to mid-March is when the city starts filling up with bursts of white, blush and hot pink. You can spot the blooming trees everywhere, although there are a few parks which boast of a nice choice of trees for plum-watching. Hanegi Park in Setagaya, Koishikawa Koraguen in Suidobashi and Koganei Park in Koganei are one of the best spots to marvel at the blooming plums in Tokyo. However, if you are willing to get out of the city, Odawara boasts with spectacular plum tree groves and Mt. Fuji views – all quite easily accessible on Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station.

Cherry Blossom Festival

This list wouldn’t be complete without featuring one of the main spring events in Japan – blooming of Somei Yoshino cherry trees, the most widespread type of cherry blossom in the country. Depending on the weather, end of March or beginning of April marks the time when Tokyo is transformed into a floral fantasia. The fluffy clouds of sakura cover the cityscape, forming tunnels of blooms while filling the city with incredible delicate fragrance. Japan Meteorological Agency released its national 2019 cherry blossom forecast. According to the report, the first blossoms began to open in Tokyo on March 21, with peak season falling on March 27. So where do you see cherry blossoms in Tokyo? One of the most picturesque spots for viewing cherry blossoms, as well as immersing into hanami tradition are, Shinjuku Gyoen Garden, Meguro River near Nakameguro, Yoyogi and Inokashira Parks, Chidorigafuchi moat and the neighboring Yasukuni Shrine. For less crowded spots, head to Canal Café in Kagurazaka neighborhood by the Iidabashi Station.

Yaezakura Cherry Blossom

Arriving in Tokyo mid to late April? Don’t worry, you will still haveT a chance to get your dose of sakura blossoms, as Yaezakura cherry trees start blooming just around that time, covering the city with stunning soft pink hues. Unlike Somei Yoshino, which only has five petals, these blooms are fuller and havea hundred-petal flowers. Enjoy a peaceful afternoon while picnicking under these beautiful trees at Shinjuku Gyoen Garden. As crowded as it gets during this time, the park is expansive enough to provide you with a secluded serene corner of your own.

Azalea and Wisteria Blossoms

April is a lovely month not only because of the iconic cherry trees, but also because so many equally beautiful flowers come to life and fill the city with color. Remarkable views of vibrant azalea bushes and wisteria tunnels should not be missed. Head to the quaint neighborhood of Tokyo Yanaka Ginza to marvel at azaleas contrasting against the tunnel of vermillion torii gates in Nezu Shrine. Kameido Tenjin Shrine in Tokyo and Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi, on the other hand, feature ornamental trellises of draping wisteria blooms creating an ethereal display.

Nemophila (Baby Blue Eyes) and Tulips

In late April/early May, the rolling hills of Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki is blanketed with these whimsical pale blue and white flowers. With the sea to one side and the expanses of the large park on the other, the sight is nothing short of magical. The same park is also home to the brilliantly colored world of tulips that come to bloom. Showa Kinen Koen, or Showa Memorial Park, located in Tachikawa, is another place where you can enjoy your walk among the vibrant tulips during the annual flower festival in the months of March, April and May.

Shibazakura (Moss phlox)

Why would I want to see a moss, you ask? Well, the moment you see the fields carpeted with color-coordinated patterns paired with glorious views of Mt. Fuji in the background, you will know exactly why. The most famous Fuji shibazakura festival takes place in Yamanashi Prefecture (early May usually being the most optimal time), while the shibazakura festival in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture is also equally popular.

Blooming dates are given as a rough guide only. Flowering periods differ depending on location and the weather Gods from year to year, and peak periods can come and go quickly. To ensure accurate peak bloom predictions, I recommend you to research the location and time you plan to visit. Typically, I look up the hashtag of the location on Instagram and see the latest photos of the place, which usually gives me an idea how it looks. Reaching out to people who just visited and asking them how it looked is also helpful.

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