After sakura: other spring flowers to enjoy near Tokyo!
After a long and cold winter, the wondrous sight of flowers blooming is a sign of the beginning of spring, when the weather starts to warm up and colours return to the land. Although Japan is most famous for its sakura (桜 cherry blossoms) in spring, with millions of visitors flocking from all over the world to catch these short-lived blooms, other than these pale pink flowers, there are plenty more colourful spring blossoms to catch!
From soothing baby blue nemophila to sweet purple wisteria and striking pink shibazakura, here are my top three recommendations for spectacular spring blooms that are sure to appeal to flower-lovers. All of these places are located nearby Tokyo, and are perfect as day trips from the capital.
NEMOPHILA and NANOHANA
Nemophila fields. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
After seeing photos of the nemophila fields at Hitachi Seaside Park, I knew that I had to see if for myself someday. To be honest, I had never heard of nemophila prior to visiting a travel fair in my university days. Nemophila have small, translucent blue petals, and are also known as "baby blue eyes". During April to May, Hitachi Seaside Park's Miharashi-no-oka Hill (みはらしの丘) is covered with 4.5 million of these beautiful blue flowers.
With a colour similar to the sky, the sight of the pretty blue flowers together with the azure skies is fantasy-like and calming. I first visited in mid-May 2016, but it was too late. In late April 2019, I visited again and was so lucky to be just in time for the peak blooming period!
Nemophila ice cream (left) and photo corner (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Trips to Japan aren't complete without ice cream, more specifically "special" flavoured ice cream. I think this is common amongst Singaporean tourists, we love to buy flavoured soft serve ice cream at tourist attractions in Japan, and can have many a day, reasoning with a “But they’re different flavours!”. At Hitachi Seaside Park, I definitely had to try the light blue nemophila soft serve. I thought it that would be flavoured with the flowers, but instead it was bubblegum-flavoured with an accompanying butter cookie in the shape of a flower. Another activity you can look forward to is the commemorative photo corner where you can pose with baby blue floral wreath headbands and bouquets. The staff will take and print a small photo for you – for free.
Nanohana and nemophila. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
When I visited last year, I was surprised to see fields of bright yellow nanohana (菜の花 rapeseed/canola) in bloom as well. The combination of two fields of baby blue and bright yellow together was amazing. As Miharashi-no-oka is the highest hill in the city, I highly recommend climbing to the top to get a better view of the fields all around you.
Red poppies (left), orange poppies (centre), bus + admission ticket (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Hitachi Seaside Park is a very large park, and there are a plethora of other flowers to admire during this season as well, such as warm-toned poppies and tulips. Here is their English information on the various flowers that you can enjoy in the different months.
Admission during special seasons like nemophila and kochia is ¥700, while standard admission is ¥450. During the nemophila season, there is a special ticket for visitors coming by bus from JR Katsuta Station – ¥1,080 for a round-trip bus ticket and admission ticket.
Best season: late April to early May (varies each year)
Getting to Hitachi Seaside Park:
- Take a 25-minute bus ride from JR Katsuta Station (勝田駅). It costs ¥1,080 for a round-trip ticket including admission to the park.
- Tokyo Station → (Ltd Exp Tokiwa/Hitachi on the JR Jōban Line, 80 minutes) → Katsuta Station → (bus, 25 minutes) → Hitachi Seaside Park.
- The JR TOYKO Wide PASS covers the train ride between Tokyo Station and Katsuta Station.
Hitachi Seaside Park (ひたち海浜公園)
Address: 605-4 Onuma-aza, Mawatari, Hitachinaka, Ibaraki 312-0012
Access: 25-minute bus ride from JR Katsuta Station (勝田駅)
Opening hours: Check website here
Wisteria tunnel at Kawachi Fujien. (Image credit: K, Fukunga / JNTO)
I first found out about wisteria after seeing a photo of this fairy tale-like tunnel at Kawachi Fujien in Kitakyushu. Imagine my delight when I discovered that these stunning blossoms could be enjoyed near Tokyo too! In the nearby Tochigi Prefecture, these beautiful flowers can be found at Ashikaga Flower Park.
When I first visited in 2016, I had to walk 20 minutes from the nearest train station, but in 2018, a new train station was opened right across the park, making access even more convenient. During the peak blooming period, there is even a baggage storage service (¥500 per piece) at the station to cater to foreign visitors travelling with luggage.
Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
At Ashikaga Flower Park, the star during the wisteria season is inarguably the giant old wisteria tree. Estimated to be 150 years old, it is prided by the park as the “Most beautiful great wisteria in the world”, and creates a massive umbrella of purple flowers when in bloom. Growing on vines, older wisteria need to be supported in a way that lets the vines hang downwards, creating a beautiful curtain of flowers. When in full bloom, you will be looking at a whole ceiling of purple, with tens of thousands of flowers in front of your eyes.
Wisteria at ice cream (left) and night illuminations (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
One thing I noticed was the scent of the wisteria. It is very sweet and light, similar to jasmine, and just envelops you. Taking a leisurely stroll through park as the scent of wisteria wafts through the air is very relaxing. If you like the scent, then don’t miss the chance to try the wisteria ice cream.
At night, the flowers are illuminated and perfectly reflected in the still waters of the pond, creating another way to enjoy the flowers. Ashikaga Flower Park is pretty spacious, so you can easily spend 2–3 hours here taking photos, especially when the flowers are the peak blooming period. If you can, I recommend coming about an hour before sunset, and staying on until the illuminations come on.
Yellow wisteria (left) and pale purple wisteria (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Deep purple might be the colour that draws the most crowds, but there are also pale purple, white, and yellow wisteria which bloom later. As it is a flower park, there are also many other seasonal flowers on display during other times of the year, which you can check out here. Although the park is open throughout the year, the admission fee varies from ¥300 to ¥1,900, depending on the blooming condition of the flowers. Expect to pay top dollar to see wisteria in full bloom.
- Pale purple wisteria: mid to late April (varies each year)
- Deep purple wisteria: late April to early May (varies each year)
- White wisteria: early to mid-May (varies each year)
- Yellow wisteria: mid to late May (varies each year)
Getting to Ashikaga Flower Park:
- Cross the street from JR Ashikaga Flower Park Station (あしかがフラワーパーク駅).
- Tokyo Station → (Tohoku Shinkansen Line, 45 minutes) → Oyama Station → (JR Ryōmo Line, 40 minutes) → Ashikaga Flower Park Station.
- The JR TOKYO Wide PASS covers the train ride between Tokyo Station and Ashikaga Flower Park Station, including the shinkansen.
Ashikaga Flower Park (あしかがフラワーパーク)
Address: 607 Hasama-cho, Ashikaga-shi, Tochigi 329-4216
Access: Cross the street from JR Ashikaga Flower Park Station (あしかがフラワーパーク駅)
Opening hours: 07:00–21:00 (special hours during wisteria season)
Fuji Shibazakura Festival. (Image credit: Akira Okada / JNTO)
As a revered symbol of Japan, just having Mount Fuji in view makes any scenery better. Held annually from mid-April to the end of May at Lake Motosu, the Fuji Shibazakura Festival draws huge crowds as the view of Mount Fuji in the background contrasting with the vast fields of vivid pink flowers is simply breath-taking!
Despite its name, shibazakura (芝桜) is not a type of sakura. It is so named because it looks like sakura growing from the ground. Known as "pink moss phlox" in English, shibazakura is a type of groundcover with small flowers that carpet the ground when in bloom. At the Fuji Shibazakura Festival, 800,000 of these little flowers cover the grounds in vibrant shades of pink, creating amazing vistas that rival the splendour of sakura.
Fuji Shibazakura Festival grounds. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
The most striking shibazakura is the vivid magenta pink, but there are also lighter pink and white flowers. Other than the pretty flowers, part of the allure and popularity of this festival is its proximity to Mount Fuji. As a tribute, different coloured shibazakura are used to decorate a little mound resembling the shape of Mount Fuji. It goes without saying that this is a wildly popular spot for domestic visitors coming from the surrounding prefectures. Morning is the best time to avoid the crowds, but photo opportunities a best in the afternoon due to the lighting.
Seeing Mount Fuji at the Shibazakura Festival (left) and trying sakura flavoured ice cream (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
When I first visited in late May 2014, it was near the end of the season and the flowers were patchy, but I was able to see Mount Fuji for a short while before it went back to hiding behind the clouds. Needless to say, it was a highlight of my visit. If you want to catch a snow-capped Mount Fuji, I recommend coming earlier in the season. Towards May, the snow-cap melts and disappears.
Shibazakura may not be “real” sakura, but there were still a lot of sakura-themed snacks being sold in the festival area, like the sakura soft serve ice cream and sakura mochi. Admission is a flat ¥800 yen for all days, but if you are coming from Kawaguchiko Station by the Shibazakura Liner, there is a special discount ticket: ¥2,200 for a round-trip bus ticket and admission to the festival grounds.
Best season: late April to early May (varies each year)
Getting to Fuji Shibazakura Festival:
- Take a 40-minute bus ride from Kawaguchiko Station (河口湖駅). It costs ¥2,200 for a round-trip ticket, which includes admission to the festival grounds.
- Shinjuku Station → (JR Chūō Line, 60 minutes) → Otsuki Station → (Fujikyūkō Line, 60 minutes) → Kawaguchiko Station.
- The JR TOKYO Wide PASS covers the train ride between Shinjuku Station and Kawaguchiko Station.
Fuji Shibazakura Festival (あしかがフラワーパーク)
Address: 212 Motosu, Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi 401-0337
Access: Take a 40-minute bus ride from Kawaguchiko Station (河口湖駅).
Opening hours: 08:00–17:00
JR TOKYO Wide Pass
All of these can also be enjoyed around the same time, so if you have space in your itinerary, why not visit them all? With the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, you can save a lot on the transportation costs. Without this pass, the train fare to visit all these places would be ~¥26,000. But with the pass, it is only ¥10,180!
JR TOKYO Wide Pass. (Image credit: JR East)
The JR TOKYO Wide Pass is an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days. At only ¥10,180, it is cheaper than a round-trip between Narita Airport and Ashikaga Flower Park (~¥16,000), and even covers the Fujikyūkō Line to Kawaguchiko. Other than the flower spots mentioned in this article, you can also use the pass to get to Nikko, GALA Yuzawa, Karuizawa and more. You can also make seat reservations online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.
If you will be visiting the eastern Japan region for a longer period of time, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) ! They are flexible 5 day passes, and can also be used to visit some of these flower parks, in addition to venturing up to other prefectures.
Header image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh