In no other country in the world have we seen such dedication to appreciating the beauty of the changing of the seasons. Acknowledging the arrival of new flowering blooms in Japan is not just a fleeting nod to Mother Nature as we pass by random bursts of colour en route to work or school; but a cause for real celebration.
Appreciating flowers is a genuine pastime in Japan. So much so, that the Japanese even have a term for it: hanasanpo, which literally means ‘flower walk,’ to describe the activity of admiring and walking in amongst seasonal blooms.
These ‘flower walks’ usually take place at set locations that have been primped and primed for months prior to provide the ultimate setting for taking in seasonal beauty. The concept is quite simple really, but, boy, does it have impact. You see, the Japanese take one flower variety and then literally plant thousands and thousands of them in the one place to create huge carpets of flowering colour. Suddenly flowers that one would describe as pretty, yes, but are otherwise average garden plants in that random pot you have in the backyard, become jaw-dropping displays worth paying for.
Special festivals are often put on in celebration where you can buy food and drinks, as well as ice cream served in the same “flavour” as the flower on show. The bigger ones will even have a range of specialised souvenirs to commemorate your visit.
So what we’re trying is say is that flower festivals in Japan are big! Why not join in on one on your next visit?
Here are five flowers you shouldn’t miss:
1. Nemophila (Baby Blue Eyes)
This lovely pale blue and white flower almost has a whimsical feel to it when blanketing the rolling hills at Hitachi Seaside Park, Ibaraki. With the near constant tolling of the bell upon the hilltop, one will have to try to contain any Julie Andrews’ type tendencies. With the sea to one side and the expanses of the large park on the other, it’s quite the sight to behold.
Flowering period: April-May
2. Shibazakura (Moss phlox)
I know, who wants to catch moss phlox, right? But trust me, the only thing contagious at shibazakura festivals is the smile you’ll be wearing from ear to ear. Another pretty little thing, it comes in a variety of colours including white, blue/purple and various shades of pink. It’s usually planted in bold colour coordinated patterns providing striking picture-taking opportunities. The most famous shibazakura festival takes place in Yamanashi Prefecture with glorious views of Mt. Fuji in the background, while the shibazakura festival in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture (pictured below) is also a top-viewing spot! More details on shibazakura festivals here.
Flowering period: March-June
3. Fuji (Wisteria)
The hanging wisteria flower provides a whole different hanasanpo experience. With packed trellises of low-hanging blooms, making your way through this ethereal display is nothing short of magical. Throw in some well-placed lighting and background music at evening festivals and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a whole new world.
Popular places to enjoy wisteria are Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi and Kawachi Fujien in Fukuoka.
Flowering period: April-May
4. Manjushage (Spider lilies)
These scarlet blooms go minimal on the bottom so they can go all-out on the top. A large flower with intricate details, the spider lily is often found near river environments, where their poisonous bulb is used as natural pest control for surrounding rice fields. Manjushage’s bold hue provides the ultimate splash of colour to the forest floor and the shady canopy of the treetops a whole different feel to your flower walk. Despite looking lovely in a bunch, the red spider lily actually has an association with death in Japanese culture and is often used at funerals, so be sure never to give a bouquet of them as a gift!
One of the most popular spots to enjoy manjushage is in Koma, Saitama Prefecture.
Flowering period: September-October
5. Sakura (Cherry blossoms)
Of course, no list of flowers not to be missed in Japan would be complete without the country’s most celebrated bloom. With its extremely short flowering period (usually around a week, sometimes longer if the weather gods play nice) and its peak lasting just a couple of days, the cherry blossoms are not only an indicator that spring is on its way, but are representative of the fleeting nature of life itself. Cherry trees are planted in parks and gardens throughout the country and the most popular way to enjoy the cherry blossoms is by having a hanami (cherry blossom viewing) party beneath the branches. Usually accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol, hanami is a time to let down one’s hair and embrace the festive atmosphere that the first sunny days of the year bring.
Flowering period: March-May
Blooming times in this post are intended as a rough guide only. Flowering periods differ depending on location and the weather from year to year, and peak periods can come and go quickly. We encourage you to research the location and time you plan to visit for current peak bloom predictions.