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Summer symphony: 7 Beautiful blossoms to enjoy in summer

Summer symphony: 7 Beautiful blossoms to enjoy in summer

Japan is well-known for its beautiful nature, especially its flowers. Most foreign visitors head to Japan in spring to catch the blossoming flowers, but did you know that there are also vibrant blooms to enjoy in summer? Aside from being synonymous with festivals and fireworks, summer is also the season to be bright and colourful, and this applies to flowers as well!

 

Calendar of summer flowers. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

When you think of summer, what flowers come to mind? From vibrant purple irises to cheery sunflowers, delicate white soba flowers, elegant lotuses, and heavenly blue morning glory flowers, here are my top seven summer flower recommendations (in order of blooming period) for the Eastern Japan area:

 

① Irises (あやめ)

Irises in varying shades of purple. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

First, we have one of the earliest blooming summer flowers, the iris (あやめ ayame), which is named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Around the world, irises come in almost every colour of the rainbow, but in Japan you’ll mainly see them in varying shades of vibrant purples, growing on bright green stems.

 

Nagai Iris Festival (長井あやめまつり)

Viewing period: mid-June to early July (varies each year)

Nagai Iris Park. (Image credit: 東北観光推進機構)

 

If you are a fan of the elegant iris, you cannot miss Nagai Iris Park (長井あやめ公園 Nagai Ayame Kо̄en) in Yamagata Prefecture (山形県). Located in the northern part of Yamagata Prefecture, the city of Nagai is famed for its irises, having cultivated them for centuries. Something special about Nagai is that it has 34 rare and ancient types of local irises (長井古種 Nagai koshu) that are protected, and cultivated only in Nagai.

 

Nagai Iris Park itself is one of the leading iris gardens in Japan, and welcomes visitors with over 1 million irises in 500 varieties from mid-June to early July, when it holds the annual Nagai Iris Festival (長井あやめまつり Nagai Ayame Matsuri).

 

Nagai Iris Park (長井あやめ公園)
Address: 5 Yokomachi, Nagai, Yamagata 993-0087
Access: From Yamagata Railway Ayame Kouen Station (あやめ公園駅), walk 3 minutes to reach Nagai Iris Park.
Opening hours: 09:00–18:00 (until 20:30 when night illuminations are held)
Admission fee: ¥500/adult, ¥200/child

 

Tagajo Castle Site Iris Festival (多賀城跡あやめまつり)

Viewing period: mid-June to late June (varies each year)

Tagako Castle Site Iris Festival. (Image credit: 東北観光推進機構)

 

Over in the neighbouring Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県) is the Tagajo Castle Ruins, where the former Taga Castle once stood. Covering 21,000sqm of the castle ruins is the Tagajo Castle Ruins Iris Garden (多賀城跡あやめ園Taga-jо̄seki ayame-en), another place to enjoy lovely irises. From mid to late June, the garden hosts the annual Tagajo Castle Site Iris Festival (多賀城跡あやめまつり Taga-jо̄seki Ayame Matsuri), the largest iris festival in Tohoku. Here you can admire over 3 million vivid iris flowers in 800 varieties, including Japanese iris, Siberian iris, and rabbit-ear iris.

 

Combining the Iris Festival with the history of Taga Castle, on weekends you can enjoy watching stage events and try out activities such as tea ceremonies and dressing up like nobles from the Heian Period (794–1185)! For just one weekend, the garden is lit up at night with artistic light installations, and live performances of traditional Japanese dance and music are held.

 

Tagajo Castle Ruins Iris Garden (多賀城跡あやめ園)
Address: Tateishi Ichikawa, Tagajo, Miyagi 985-0864
Access: From JR Kokufu-Tagajо̄ Station (国府多賀城駅), walk 5 minutes to reach Tagajo Castle Ruins.
Admission fee: Free

 

② Nikko day lilies (ニッコウキスゲ)

Nikko day lilies. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Next up, we have Nikko day lilies (ニッコウキスゲ nikkо̄kisuge), also known as broad dwarf day lilies. Unlike the other flowers mentioned in this article, Nikko day lilies are wild flowers, growing on mountains and highland areas, covering the fields in a beautiful yellow.

 

Did you know? The day lily’s name alludes to its short life: the flowers open in the morning, last for just a day, and wither by nightfall. But don’t be too sad, Nikko day lilies do not all bloom at once; a single stalk has about 3–5 flowers, which bloom on different days. Here are three places to check out the short-lived but beautiful Nikko day lilies:

 

Kisuge-daira Park (キスゲ平園地)

Viewing period: mid-June to mid-July (varies each year)

Nikko day lilies at Kisuge-daira. (Image credit: 日光市観光協会)

 

The first place, Kisuge-daira Park (キスゲ平園地 Kisuge-daira enchi), is located in Nikko, where the flower got its name from. A highland plateau located 1,300–1,600m above sea level, at Kisuge-daira you can enjoy strolling up the 1,445-step walkway known as the “Corridor in the sky” (天空回廊). At the end of the walkway is Komaruyama Lookout, from where you can command a panoramic view, and see Nikko day lilies between mid-June to mid-July.

 

At Kisuge-daira, wild deer have been eating up and destroying the Nikko day lilies, creating a huge problem. Hence in recent years, volunteers have had to plant more flowers and build fences to keep out the deer, and the flowers have been steadily growing back.

 

Kisuge-daira Park (キスゲ平園地)
Address: 1531 Tokorono, Nikko, Tochigi 321-1421
Access: From JR Nikko Station (日光駅), take a 25-minute bus ride to the Kirifuri Kogen (霧降高原) bus stop. The entrance to the park is right by the bus stop.
Admission fee: Free

 

Kirigamine Highlands (霧ヶ峰高原)

Viewing period: early July to early August (varies each year)

Nikko day lilies at Kirigamine Highlands. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Over in the mountainous Nagano Prefecture (長野県), you can find fields of Nikko day lilies around the Kirigamine Highlands (霧ヶ峰高原), especially at Mount Kurumayama (車山). Kirigamine is a plateau with gentle slopes and vast, grassy plains, and its highest point is Mount Kurumayama, with an elevation of 1,925m. Don’t worry about getting up there, a series of ski lifts bring you all the way up to the top of Mount Kurumayama!

 

Being at a high elevation, Kirigamine’s temperatures are cool even in summer, when it averages at around 20ºC. The area around Kirigamine provides magnificent views that spread out in all directions, with a wide, unobstructed view of the blue sky, and is great for hiking and biking!

 

Kirigamine Highlands (霧ヶ峰高原)
Address: 3413 Kitayama, Chino, Nagano 391-0301
Access: From JR Kami-Suwa Station (上諏訪駅) or JR Chino Station (茅野駅), take a 1-hour bus ride to the Kurumayama Kogen (車山高原) bus stop.
Ski lifts (Skyliner and Sky Panorama, round trip): ¥2,400/adult, ¥1,600/child

 

Oguninuma Marshland (雄国沼湿原)

Viewing period: late June to early July (varies each year)

Nikko day lilies at Oguninuma Marshland. (Image credit: 福島県観光復興推進委員会)

 

Finally, saving the best for last, we have Oguninuma Marshland (雄国沼湿原 Oguninuma Shitsugen) in Fukushima Prefecture (福島県). Compared to the other two places, Oguninuma requires more time and effort to reach, but that effort will be paid off with the amazing view and abundance of Nikko day lilies.

 

Located at an elevation of 1,089m, Oguninuma has the highest density of Nikko day lilies in Japan, and is extremely picturesque with the lake and mountains in the background! Here you can enjoy viewing Nikko day lilies from an elevated wooden boardwalk.

 

Oguninuma Marshland (雄国沼湿原)
Address: Hibara, Kitashiobara, Yama, Fukushima 966-0501
Access: From JR Kitakata Station (喜多方駅), take a 45-minute bus ride to the Oguninuma Tozando Iriguchi (雄国沼登山道入口) bus stop, then hike 2 hours to reach the marshland. Alternatively, on weekends, there is one direct bus per day from JR Kitakata Station to Kanazawa Pass (金沢峠), from where it's just a 10-minute walk to Oguninuma Marshland. (Due to COVID-19, this bus service might be disrupted.)
Admission fee: Free

 

③ Lavender (ラベンダー)

Next, we have a flower beloved for its soothing scent­—lavender. Many Singaporeans dream of seeing the purple lavender fields in Hokkaido, but did you know that you can also see lavender closer to Tokyo? Let’s check out two of these places:

 

Tambara Lavender Park (たんばらラベンダーパーク)

Viewing period: mid-July to mid-August (varies each year)

Lavender at Tambara Lavender Park. (Image credit: ググっとぐんま写真館 )

 

Located in Gunma Prefecture (群馬県), we have Tambara Lavender Park (たんばらラベンダーパーク). This park usually operates as a ski resort in winter, but 50,000 lavender plants were planted along the ski slopes so that the area could also be enjoyed in summer. Something unique to try here is taking a ride on the ski lift, the Woody Line Lift, and enjoying the view of the lavender below!

 

At an elevation of 1,300m, you can enjoy the fragrance of the lavender in cool weather. Tambara Lavender Park features three types of lavender which bloom at different times, so you can enjoy viewing the flowers from mid-July to mid-August.

 

Tambara Lavender Park (たんばらラベンダーパーク)
Address: Tambara Highlands, Numata, Gunma 378-0071
Access: From JR Numata Station (沼田駅) or JR Jomokogen Station (上毛高原駅), take a direct bus to Tambara Lavender Park. (Bus only operates seasonally, usually from late July to mid-August)
Opening hours: 8:30–16:30
Admission fee: ¥800–¥1,000/adult (price varies according to condition of flowers)
Woody Line Lift (round trip): ¥900/adult, ¥600/child

 

Kawaguchiko Herb Festival (河口湖ハーブフェスティバル)

Viewing period: mid-June to mid-July (varies each year)

Lavender with Mount Fuji in the background. (Image credit: photoAC and JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Due to its accessibility, Lake Kawaguchiko in Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県) is a crowd-favourite spot for viewing Mount Fuji. As a revered symbol of Japan, and with an almost symmetrical peak, just having Mount Fuji in view makes any scenery better, doesn’t it?

 

At the Kawaguchiko Herb Festival (河口湖ハーブフェスティバル), held annually from mid-June to mid-July at Oishi Park (大石公園 О̄ishi kо̄en) at the northern shore of Lake Kawaguchiko, you can enjoy the delightful sight of lavender blooming with Mount Fuji as the backdrop. And yes, lavender ice cream is sold there too!

 

Oishi Park (大石公園)
Address: 2585 Oishi, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru, Yamanashi 401-0305
Access: From Fujikyuko Kawaguchiko Station (河口湖駅), take a 30-minute bus ride to the Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center (河口湖自然生活館) bus stop. Oishi Park is right next to the Center.
Opening hours: 9:00­­–17:00
Admission fee: Free

 

④ Soba flowers (そばの花)

Soba flowers. (Image credit: Omachi City Tourism Association)

 

In the past, Nagano’s mountainous terrain made it difficult to grow rice, so it instead relied on soba (そば buckwheat) as a staple food. Now, soba is one of Nagano’s leading agricultural products, and you can enjoy their pretty white flowers in summer!

 

Togakushi (戸隠)

Viewing period: early July to late July, and late August to early September (varies each year)

Soba flowers at Togakushi. (Image credit: Nagano Convention and Visitors Bureau)

 

When speaking of soba in Nagano, you can’t miss out Togakushi (戸隠). Togakushi soba has a very fragrant and unique scent, and coupled with the historical and traditional soba-making techniques used, the soba it produces is delicious and high-quality.

 

In the Togakushi area, there are many soba fields, so you can see soba flowers blooming twice—once in the beginning of summer from early July to late July, and again at the end of summer from late August to early September!

 

One of the best places to get a good view of the soba flower fields is from Togakushi Tenbo-en (戸隠展望苑). This observatory lets you get a wide view of the soba fields, with the mountains of Togakushi in the background. Note: the soba fields here belong to Togakushi Matsumoto Seimen, and they put in a lot of hard work to grow the soba. You can take photos, but do not enter the soba fields.

 

Togakushi Tenbo-en (戸隠展望苑)
Address: Togakushi Toyooka, Nagano, Nagano 381-4102
Access: From JR Nagano Station (長野駅), take a 60-minute bus ride to Togakushi.
Admission fee: Free

 

Nakayama Highlands (中山高原)

Viewing period: late August to late September (varies each year)

Soba flowers at Nakayama Highlands. (Image credit: Omachi City Tourism Association)

 

Also in Nagano is Nakayama Highlands (中山高原 Nakayama Kо̄gen), which sees the white soba flowers coming into bloom from late August to late September. This spot became popular after scenes from the NHK drama “Ohisama” were filmed here. The contrast between the majestic mountains of the Northern Alps in the background, the blue sky above, and the white carpet of soba flowers make a fantastic view!

 

Nakayama Highlands (中山高原)
Address: 14890-1 Shingyo, Miasa, Omachi, Nagano, 399-9101
Access: From JR Shinano-Omachi Station (信濃大町駅) or JR Nagano Station (長野駅), take a bus to the Shingyo (新行) bus stop, then walk 20 minutes to reach Nakayama Highlands.  (View map of bus stops here)
Admission fee: Free

 

⑤ Sunflowers (ひまわり)

Sunflowers are the quintessential summer flower. (Image credit: やまなし観光推進機構)

 

When you think of summer, which flower comes to mind first? For many people, it is the bright and cheery sunflower (ひまわり himawari), isn’t it? Characterised by their large size and bright yellow colour, sunflowers get their name from the fact that they tilt to face the sun during the day, a phenomenon known as heliotropism. As a quintessential summer flower, many places all over Japan hold sunflower festivals in summer. Let’s check out two of them:

 

Akeno Sunflower Festival (明野サンフラワーフェス)

Viewing period: late July to late August (varies each year)

Akeno Sunflower Festival. (Image credit: やまなし観光推進機構)

 

The first place is the Akeno Sunflower Festival (明野サンフラワーフェス Akeno Sanfurawā Fesu) in Hokuto City in Yamanashi Prefecture. Did you know? Receiving over 2,500 hours of sunlight a year, Akeno is said to be "the sunniest place in Japan”. Isn’t it fitting that it holds a sunflower festival?

 

Surrounded by Mount Fuji, the Yatsugatake Mountains, and the Southern Alps in the background, the Akeno Sunflower Festival welcomes visitors with 600,000 blooming sunflowers from late July to late August. At the festival, you can enjoy walking through a sunflower maze, and even try sunflower ice cream topped with sunflower seeds!

 

Akeno Sunflower Festival (明野サンフラワーフェス)
Address: 5259-950, Akenocho Asao, Hokuto, Yamanashi, 408-0201
Access: From JR Nirasaki Station (韮崎駅), take a 20-minute bus ride to the Nomura-koen-mae (農村公園前) bus stop.
Admission fee: Free

 

Yamamoto Sunflower Festival (やまもとひまわり祭り)

Viewing period: early August to late August (varies each year)

Sunflowers at Yamamoto. (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)

 

Over in Yamamoto Town in Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県), we have a newer sunflower festival, the Yamamoto Sunflower Festival (やまもとひまわり祭り Yamamoto Himawari Matsuri), which celebrates its fourth edition this year. This area used to be farmland, but the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011 damaged it, rendering it unsuitable for growing crops.

 

The people of Yamamoto Town worked hard and started the sunflower field to improve the soil fertility of the damaged land. Now, the sunflower field comes alive in summer, welcoming visitors with around 2 million bright and cheerful sunflowers that create a seemingly endless yellow carpet stretching into the horizon!

 

Yamamoto Sunflower Festival (やまもとひまわり祭り)
Address: Nakahama, Sakamoto, Yamamoto, Watari, Miyagi
Access: From JR Sakamoto Station (坂元駅), take a 5-minute taxi ride to the festival site.
Admission fee: Free

 

⑥ Lotus flowers (蓮)

Lotus flowers. (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)

 

Continuing on, we have the beautiful and fragrant lotus flower (蓮 hasu). In many Eastern cultures, the lotus flower is often associated with rebirth and enlightenment. This perhaps comes from the lotus flowers’ unique characteristics: despite lotus plants growing in muddy waters, their flowers still emerge delicate and beautiful. Lotus flowers are considered sacred in Buddhism and Hinduism, and in Japan you can often find them near temples and shrines. Let’s check out lotus flowers in two different places: a lake and a city.

 

Lake Izunuma-Uchinuma Lotus Festival (伊豆沼・内沼はすまつり)

Viewing period: late July to late August (varies each year)

Lotus flowers at Lake Izunuma. (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)

 

Fancy getting up close to some lotus flowers? From late July to late August, Lake Izunuma and Lake Uchinuma in Miyagi Prefecture are covered with thousands of lotus flowers, and hold the Lake Izunuma-Uchinuma Lotus Festival (伊豆沼・内沼はすまつり IzunumaUchinuma Hasu Matsuri), where you can enjoy the lovely sight in a unique way—on a 25-minute scenic boat ride.

 

Here you can take a traditional boat into the lake, and boatmen—who are local fishermen—will navigate through the lotus flowers, for you to experience a special vantage point. Being right in the middle of so many lotus flowers, it’s like being in a painting!

 

Tip: We recommend visiting during the morning to best enjoy the blooming flowers. The lotus flowers open in the morning, but the petals start to close in the afternoon.

 

Lake Izunuma Wakayanagi Venue (伊豆沼 若柳会場)
Address: near 17-2 Kamihataoka Shikimi, Wakayanagi, Kurihara, Miyagi 987-2200 (near the Izunuma-Uchinuma Sanctuary Center)
Access: From JR Kurikoma-kogen Station (くりこま高原駅), take a 10-minute taxi ride to reach the boat riding venue.
Boat ride operation hours: 7:30–15:00
Fee for boat ride: ¥700/adult, ¥400/child

 

Senshu Park (千秋公園)

Viewing period: late July to early September (varies each year)

Lotus flowers in Akita City. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Want to enjoy lotus flowers in an urban setting? You can in Akita City, the prefectural capital of Akita Prefecture (秋田県). In summer, from late July to early September, people walking down the street can enjoy the beautiful lotus flowers that bloom in the moat of Otemon at Senshu Park (千秋公園 Senshu Kо̄en).

 

During the blooming period, the local community and local businesses organise events such as nature appreciation walks, tasting of lotus tea made with leaves from the lotuses at Senshu Park, and “elephant nose cup” (象鼻杯 zо̄bihai) experiences, where you drink a beverage through the leaves and stems of a lotus plant, using it like a straw! (The lotus plant is cleaned and pre-treated prior to the event.)

 

Senshu Park (千秋公園)
Address: 1 Senshukoen, Akita-shi, Akita 010-0876
Access: From JR Akita Station (秋田駅), walk 5 minutes to reach Senshu Park.
Admission fee: Free

 

⑦ Morning glory flowers (アサガオ )

Brilliant blue "Heavenly Blue" morning glory flowers. (Image credit: 箕輪町観光協会 Minowa Tourism Association)

 

Finally, we end this list with the vibrant and deeply-coloured morning glory (アサガオ asagao). As its name suggests, most morning glory flowers bloom and unleash their glory in the morning. If you are familiar with flowers, you would know that blue flowers are considered rare in nature, but one blue flower you can look forward to is the brilliant blue “Heavenly Blue” variety of morning glory. These trumpet-shaped flowers are a vibrant azure on the edges, with yellow and white throats. When paired with a bright blue sky above, the vision of blue is truly heavenly!

 

Heavenly Blue Fields (ヘブンリーブルーの畑)

Viewing period: late August to late September (varies each year)

Heavenly Blue Fields in Minowa. (Image credit: 箕輪町観光協会 Minowa Tourism Association)

 

Over in the Kamifuruta District of Minowa Town in Nagano Prefecture, you can catch the divine sight of Heavenly Blue morning glory flowers at the Heavenly Blue Fields (ヘブンリーブルー の畑 hebunrī burū no batake), where they bloom from late August to late September. The morning glory flowers here are planted every year by volunteers such as local schoolchildren and other local residents. Minowa Town is surrounded by the Central Alps and Southern Alps, so on clear days, you can see the mountains in the distance, which create a beautiful backdrop!

 

Heavenly Blue Fields (ヘブンリーブルー の畑)
Address: 6344-4 Nakaminowa, Minowa, Kamiina, Nagano
Access: From JR Inamatsushima Station (伊那松島駅), take a 10-minute taxi ride to the flower fields.
Admission fee: Free

 

Getting around

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these flower festivals might be cancelled, so be sure to check the official websites for the latest updates of the events.

 

No matter the season, JR East Rail Passes offer substantial discounts for travelling around Eastern Japan. Here are some of the rail passes you can use to visit places mentioned in this article:

 

JR EAST PASS

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area). (Image credit: JR East)

 

There are two types of JR EAST PASS, with both offering unlimited rides on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in their designated areas for 5 consecutive days. Pass holders can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.

 

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is only ¥20,000, costing less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Akita (~¥36,000), while the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) is only ¥18,000, costing less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Niigata (~¥21,000). These passes can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use them.

 

JR TOKYO Wide Pass

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are mostly travelling around the Kanto region, consider getting the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, 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 Tokyo and Nikko (~¥11,360), and even covers the Fujikyūkō Line to Kawaguchiko.

 

Header image credit: photoAC,箕輪町観光協会 Minowa Tourism Association, ググっとぐんま写真館, 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室, やまなし観光推進機構

 

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