Mention springtime in Japan, we bet the first image that comes to your mind would be the sakura (cherry blossom)! This flower is taken very seriously in Japan, and we were quite amused when we noticed that news reports on where the sakura blooms are treated as importantly as the weather forecast.
Spring time in Japan peaks in April till May – for those who want to travel to Japan during that time should be mindful of the Golden Week, which is a series of public holidays when the locals take opportunity to visit the most popular spots due to the week-long break. It could get very crowded that time, therefore it is best to find out the dates when planning your trip because the dates differ slightly from year to year. Japan, as we had wonderfully discovered, is home to many flower parks that could even rival the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands. Our trip to Japan lasted 10 days in April, and we managed to visit four parks, each with its own unique attractions. Unlike our usual travelling style, we decided to make Tokyo as our base and we travelled to the outskirts via the shinkansen (bullet train) and buses to reach our destination.
Tenshochi Park, Kitakami – Sakura (Cherry Blossom)
This park has more than 10,000 cherry trees planted alongside the Kitakami River. The trees are usually in bloom for one to two weeks around late April and form a beautiful tunnel of cherry blossoms, earning the park a spot among the Tohoku Region’s three best sakura spots alongside Hirosaki Castle and Kakunodate.
At the park, there are also food vendors selling Japanese goodies like grilled scallops and takoyaki. Buy some of them, then find a spot under a sakura tree and have a picnic!
Entrance to the park is free.
Kitakami and Tokyo are connected by hourly trains along the Tohoku Shinkansen. The one way trip takes three hours, costs around 13,000 yen and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass and JR East Pass. From Kitakami Station, it is a 20-minute walk to Tenshochi Park. Grab a beautiful handrawn map at the station to find your way to the park.
Ashikaga Flower Park – Fuji (Wisteria)
If you’re a fan of the movie Avatar, this park may interest you. The Tree of Life in the movie was said to be inspired by the 100 year old Wisteria Tree located in this park! We were slightly early for the Wisteria season, but it was still beautiful nonetheless, only less dramatic. There are other beautiful flowers in the park as well, so all was not lost. Remember to taste the Wisteria soft serve ice cream!
Entrance to the park costs between 300 to 1,700 yen, depending on the season.
Take the JR Utsunomiya Line, JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line or JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Oyama, and transfer to the JR Ryomo Line. Get off at Tomita Station, one station before Ashikaga Station; from there it is a 15-minute walk to the park. The one way ride takes at least 70 minutes and 4,000 yen on shinkansen or about two hours and 2,000 yen using regular trains.
Alternatively, take the Tobu Isesaki Line from Tobu Asakusa Station to Ashikagashi Station. The one way ride on direct “Ryomo Limited Express” train takes about 70 minutes and costs 2,000 yen; the ride on regular trains with transfers along the way takes nearly two hours but costs only 970 yen. From the Ashikagashi Station, there are shuttle buses to the park (300 yen one way); however, the shuttle buses do not run on many weekdays and during winter.
Hitachi Seaside Park – Tulips and Nemophila
This is the most impressive and the largest of all of the parks that we visited, so travellers should be prepared to spend a whole day here. The main attraction of this park is the hill situated at the back of the park. The hill changes colour, according to the month. When we visited the park, the hill’s colour was soft blue, due to the Nemophilias planted. Check the park’s website (en. hitachikaihin.jp) to find out the “flower timetable”. We could almost guarantee that the hill is bound to amaze you. If the hill did not interest you, perhaps the tulips will! Prior to this visit, we have not even heard of tulips being planted in Japan. There are various species of tulips to be found in this park, and seeing them carpeting the park was indeed a sight to behold.
Entrance to the park costs 410 yen.
Take the JR Joban Line from Tokyo (Ueno Station) to Katsuta Station. The ride takes 70 minutes. Board the Hitachinaka Railway, Minato Line at the station for another 30 minutes. Then continue with a 15-minute bus ride (Ibaraki Kotsu).
Fuji Shibazakura Festival – 16 April 2016 to 29 May 2016
Unlike the other parks, this one is temporary. The Shibazakura (Pink Moss or Phlox Moss) garden is such a happy site to see; the ground is bright pink, with Mount Fuji on the background on a clear day!
It takes about 2 hours from Tokyo (Shinjuku Station) to Kawaguchiko Station by train. At the Kawaguchiko station, board the shuttle bus Shibazakura Liner for another 35-minutes ride (with hourly departures) to reach the festival venue. The price for a roundtrip ride and admission to the festival is 1,900 yen. On weekends and national holidays, there is also a shuttle bus connecting the venue with Shin-Fuji Station (80 minutes, departures from Shin-Fuji at 10:45, departures to Shin-Fuji at 13:30 and 15:30) for 2,320 yen, including the round trip and the admission fee.