It is a fact known to many fans of Japanese culture: the Japanese admire “hana” flowers and worship them as evidenced each year by the frenzy that surrounds the flowering of Sakura. A love that finds its roots in Shintoism which inculcates respect for Nature and its admiration. Flowers are unsurprisingly a recurring motif on kimonos, with appropriate varieties for each season. And the one for the month of June happens to be the hydrangea, a flower native to Japan itself. It is therefore possible to go and admire the plantations patiently maintained by devoted gardeners. For this purpose Poulpy recommends five places to go.

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Hydrangea “Ajisai” – ” gather indigo blue “- is undoubtedly the flower of the month of June, symbol of the rainy season which strikes Japan for many days. It is also only in June that the maikos of Kyoto and Nara decorate their hair with silk ornaments representing hydrangeas (or willow branches). Historically, it is a flower much appreciated since the Edo era (1603-1868) where competitions were already organized to reward the most beautiful. On the other hand, the samurai who worshiped the ephemeral cherry blossom, did not appreciate it because of the changing color of its petals (which is a function of the acidity of the soil which gardeners play). In their eyes, this symbolized a lack of loyalty.

The hydrangea has of course inspired artists. Here the print “Summer hydrangeas” by Hayashi Waichi. Source: ukiyo-e.org

Hydrangea is also the official flower of Nagasaki city since 1968. It is also in this city, the only one open to international trade in the Edo era, that foreign traders discovered it and brought it back to Europe. Carefully cultivated hydrangea gardens can be found all over the world today. In Japan, too, it can be seen on private properties, streets, parks and temples. Competitions and matsuri are organized in his honor like the Bunkyo Ajisai Matsuri held at Tokyo’s Hakusan Shinto Shrine, famous for its garden of 3,000 hydrangeas. If this flower appeals to you, here is a small selection of five places to go to admire the different varieties and colors:

1. The Takahata-Fudoson Kongoji temple

Nestled at the foot of a mountain, this Shingon Buddhist temple was originally built in the 8th century and the current building dates from 1342. Its seniority has earned it protection as an Important Cultural Property (a notch below the National Treasures). The crowds flock there on New Year’s Eve, for Setsubun (the old lunar new year in February) and of course at the beginning of June for admire its hydrangea beds scattered in the adjoining forest.

City: Hino (west of Tokyo)
Access: 5 minutes walk from Takahatafudo station on the Keio line
Free entrance

2. The Meigetsuin temple

This temple is so famous for its staircase lined with blue and purple hydrangeas that it has been nicknamed “the temple of the hydrangea”. It is only open to the public twice a year and its growing popularity attracts more and more crowds each year. It is therefore better to go there early in the day to avoid being run over by the curious.

Source: flickr

City: Kamakura
Access: 10mn walk from Kita-Kamakura station on the Yokosuka line
500 yen entry in June

3. The Hase-dera temple

The Big Buddha “Daibutsu” de bronze is the city’s must-see monument. Luckily this temple is located on his route which has helped to make Hase-dera one of the most famous temples in the city. Therefore, it is not impossible to have to wait 3 hours to enter it the influx of visitors is so important. The hillside garden behind the temple counts 2,500 hydrangeas of different colors and varieties.

Source: instagram

City: Kamakura
Access: 5mn walk from Hase station on the Enoden line
300 yen entry

4. The Hattori farm

A farm set in the middle of an expanse of agricultural fields including a hydrangea garden is of incomparable beauty. The owners of this private residence open the doors every year in June to the delight of flower lovers who can see more than 300 varieties of blue, purple, red, pink and white hydrangeas! A maze of paths and steep stairs allow you to discover 10,000 shrubs covering an entire hill up to a wood in a breathtaking floral wall. In addition to appreciating the beauty of the place, you can buy locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as hydrangea products like candies. Luckily the place is still preserved from mass tourism.

Source: flickr

City: Mobara
Access: 10 minutes by taxi from Mobara station on the JR Wakashio line
500 yen entry

5. The Ohirasan shrine

Seeing the hydrangeas in this sanctuary is worth it! Indeed to admire the 2,500 hydrangeas it will be necessary to climb a staircase of 1000 steps in the heart of the mountain. The staircase carved in the very stone of the mountain is lined with flowers, which has earned it the nickname “slope of the hydrangeas”. They were planted in 1974 by a local club and they bloom later than normal at the end of the month. A tea house allows visitors to rest during the climb. The walk is also an opportunity to discover giant cypress trees.

Hydrangea Festival at Ohirasan Shrine. Source: flickr

City: Tochigi
Access: 15 minutes by bus from Tochigi station on the JR Ryomo & Tobu Nikko lines
Free entrance

6. The “magic” hydrangea train

Small detour by the cliffs of the city of Hakone, 2 hours from Tokyo! The place, already magnificent for its temples, its landscapes (breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji), its sulfur craters, its hot baths, offers in June a hydrangea route in the heart of the mountain.

City: Tochigi
Access: 15 minutes by bus from Tochigi station on the JR Ryomo & Tobu Nikko lines
Free entrance

On your walks and especially do not forget to share your “Japanese” discoveries with other octopus fans of Japan 😉

S. Barret


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Sources: tokyoweekender.com / lejapon.org / monpetitjapon.blogspot.com

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