#MyJALtrip: Let’s go on a trip! Spring & summer edition
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Each moment of the year has its own beauty." One of the reasons why Japan is a popular travel destination throughout the year is because Japan is always bustling with activities that change according to the seasons. From hanami (花見 flower viewing) in spring, to hanabi (花火 fireworks) festivals in summer, to fall foliage appreciation in autumn, and snow festivals in winter, each season brings about a completely different experience.
Shibazakura-no-Oka, or Shibazakura Hill, filled with thousands of shibazakura flowers in varying shades of pink, purple and white. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
When talking about spring, Japan is a mecca for nature enthusiasts. The first thing that probably comes to mind is the sakura (桜), or cherry blossoms. Parks and gardens that are filled pinkish-white during the season are always teeming with people enjoying the hanami.
Serving as a cabin attendant onboard Japan Airlines (JAL) during spring, it would not be uncommon to hear passengers excitedly discussing their itinerary and debating the best spots to view hanami. There were instances where passengers asked if we had discovered any secret hanami viewing spots during our layovers, which we were more than happy to divulge.
Over the years, we were given opportunities to discover new experiences and came across stunning photos of the shibazakura hill at the Tokyo German Village (東京ドイツ村 Tōkyō Doitsumura), and knew we had to go see it for ourselves!
Shibazakura fields are separated by boardwalks, where people can stop to take photos with this stunning backdrop, or have a closer look at the shibazakura flowers. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
Shibazakura (芝桜), otherwise known as moss phlox, is the lesser known, yet equally beautiful cousin of sakura. Directly translated to grass-sakura in English, shibazakura is a flower that looks exactly like sakura, but grows on the ground, just like grass. Every April, around the same time period as the sakura season, Tokyo German Village hosts a shibazakura festival, where around 250,000 shibazakura flowers of various shades of pink, white, and purple are planted on a sprawling 50,000m² plot of land.
Apart from appreciating the flowers on the Shibazakura Hill, families can engage in other activities like picnicking, or enjoying a leisurely game of golf. (Image credit: JAL / Sarah)
Located in Sodegaura City (袖ヶ浦市) in Chiba Prefecture (千葉県), Tokyo German Village is a 45-minute bus ride from JR Chiba Station (千葉駅 Chiba-eki). Upon entering the park premises, we were welcomed by a neat row of tulips lining the path. As we walked further in, we caught a glimpse of the Shibazakura Hill—the highlight of the entire shibazakura festival. From afar, the Shibazakura Hill looked like it was covered by blankets of pink, white, and purple. As we walked closer, we were floored by the expanse of the shibazakura fields. Each field was separated by wooden boardwalks, and arranged in a way where the fields in front of and behind each boardwalk were of a contrasting shade, providing the best backdrop for an Instagram-worthy shot.
A few mandarin ducks are allowed to roam around the park freely, so do keep a lookout for them in the park. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
While the shibazakura festival is one of the biggest highlights of the Tokyo German Village, it is not the only attraction in this vast plot of land. There are swings neatly spaced in an open field, and picnic areas for families to have lunch under the sun. There is also a zoo, a golf course and a huge Ferris wheel within the village premises, catering to the needs of families with diverse interests—we made a mental note to come back with our families next time.
There are so many fun activities to do at the shibazakura festival, and we would highly recommend checking bus timings prior to the trip, as buses to and from JR Chiba station are quite infrequent.
Tokyo German Village (東京ドイツ村)
Address: 419 Nagayoshi, Sodegaura, Chiba 299-0204
Nearest station: Higashi-Yokota Station (東横田駅)
Opening hours: 9:30am–5pm daily, hours may differ according to seasons
Admission fee: ¥800 (Adults), fees may vary according to attraction
Stopping for a view on Mount Fuji. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
Moving on, summer in Japan can be crazy at its peak, with temperatures going up to 37°C. If you’ve flown with us during the summer, you might find yourself with a cold oshibori (おしぼり wet hand towel) instead of a hot one.
Besides the usual visiting of summer festivals in pretty yukatas (summer kimonos), watching grand fireworks displays, and eating tasty street food, we decided to try a cooler and healthier activity—taking a hike up to the peak of Mount Fuji (富士山 Fujisan)!
Being the symbol of Japan, Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in the country, standing at 3,776m high, and is sometimes visible from the skies. On days with clear weather, Mount Fuji is something to look forward to while flying onboard Japan Airlines—we usually make an announcement to highlight if it is visible on the left or right side of the plane. It makes for a stunning Instagrammable moment.
Though known for its beautiful snow cap during winter, visitors can also hike up the mountain during summer. Hiking up Mount Fuji is a summer-exclusive activity—the official climbing season only starts in July and ends in early September.
The 2.5 hours bus ride to Fuji-Subaru Line 5th Station (a.k.a. Mount Fuji 5th Station) costs ¥2,950 (one-way). Do remember to dispose of trash if any before boarding the bus as there are no bins once you alight! (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
Transportation is fairly straightforward during the climbing season. There were highway buses available from Shinjuku Station (新宿駅 Shinjuku-eki) that could take us directly to Mount Fuji 5th Station, where most would choose to start the climb from.
All ready for the climb! (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
There were several trails for us to choose from for our hike, and we decided to go with the Yoshida Trail (吉田ルート), the most popular and manageable one amongst all the hiking trails. We read that the estimated time required to reach the summit was 5–7 hours, but most hikers suggested taking a break in between.
Trail gets rockier and steeper as it gets higher. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
Sunset at the 8th Station, almost there! (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
As such, we planned to start our hike around noon, reach the 8th Station by sunset, have a proper meal and nap at one of the several resting huts at the 8th Station, before advancing to the summit in the wee hours of the morning. Do note that space in the resting huts are limited, thus we would highly recommend making an advanced reservation to secure your spot!
Bento dinner in the resting hut. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
Bunk beds in the hut. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
Each climber gets a tiny spot next to one another. Bags and equipment are to be hung right above where they sleep. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
It took us roughly 5 hours to hike to the 8th Station. After a quick meal and a short nap, we proceeded with the ascent at around 2am that night.
The snaking line of climbers trying to get to the summit at 2am. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
The final climb up was quite congested. Thankfully, we decided to start early!
Climbers who secured their spots waiting for sunrise at 5am. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
Sunrise. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
We reached the summit at around 4:30 am, and managed to secure a good spot for the best view of the rising sun.
Climbing stick branded with stamps. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
There were a few souvenir stands and a shrine up at the summit, as well as food stalls. We read that climbers with wooden climbing sticks could get their sticks branded with Mount Fuji stamps from each station along their way up. We brought ours along and managed to get the exclusive summit stamps heading back down.
At the summit, ready to descend. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
The descent took us around 3 to 5 hours, and, contrary to popular belief, it actually felt more taxing as compared to the ascent. The loose soil on the descending trail made it slightly more slippery, a stark contrast from the rocky ascending trail, hence we had to be more cautious on our way down. Our newly-stamped wooden climbing sticks came in very handy here!
On the way down. (Image credit: JAL / Sandy)
Hiking up Mount Fuji is definitely one of the best experiences one can have when in Japan. It is not as daunting as it sounds, and does not require much training and is suitable for inexperienced hikers who like to see a different side of Japan, from 3,776m high.
Fuji-Subaru Line 5th Station (富士スバルライン五合目)
Address: 8545-1 Fujisan, Narusawa, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi 401-0320
Nearest station: Fujisan Station / Kawaguchiko Station (富士山駅・河口湖駅)
Opening hours: Hours may differ according to seasons
Tel: +81 555-22-1111
Japan has so much to offer, regardless of the season. It is one of the best travel destinations where one can truly revel in the wonders of nature.
Header image credit: JAL / Sarah
Japan Airlines' Cabin Attendant Sarah
Sarah is a free spirit who loves traipsing around the world in search for a brand new adventure.
Japan Airlines' Cabin Attendant Sandy
Sandy loves spontaneous travels and all food savory. She will shoyu the world, one sushi at a time.