Japan

Japan travel: A guide to the country’s favourite flowers and where to find them

Japan travel: A guide to the country’s favourite flowers and where to find them


Our BBQ Japanese meat skewers are inspired by Japanese yakitori (yakitori literally means grilled chicken). We just love the strong marinade flavor.

It may be best known for its cherry blossoms, but there are many other flowers to admire in Japan, writes Dennis Stephens.

For the past three seasons, Japanese have favored popular cherry blossom viewing spots without crowds as closed borders mean no international tourists. That could change as Japan gradually opens up to tourists and international travel is delayed for a long time, making next year’s cherry blossom season even busier.

If you’re planning to visit Japan, it’s worth considering a few months outside of cherry blossom time. Cherry blossoms bloom from mid-March to early May, but Japan has a flower every month of the year—including chrysanthemums, plums, and irises. No matter what time of year you visit, you can see spectacular flower displays in gardens, temples and castles. There is also often a festival with food or events to celebrate the season.

Here are some seasonal flowers to look for on your trip to Japan, and some of the best places to see them.

chrysanthemum

The chrysanthemum is Japan’s national flower, associated with the royal family, and appears on the 50-yen coin. As the days get colder and shorter, chrysanthemums bring a welcome color to gardens across Japan. Varieties range from small bushy plants smothered by blooms to large single-petal blooms with layers of fluffy petals that are top-heavy and supported on a frame.
when: From September to November.
Where: The Chrysanthemum Exhibition at Hibiya Park in central Tokyo features more than 2,000 chrysanthemums of various colors and varieties.

As the national flower, the chrysanthemum adds a pop of color across Japan.Photo/Dennis Stephens
As the national flower, the chrysanthemum adds a pop of color across Japan.Photo/Dennis Stephens

universe

Cosmos is sometimes referred to as the “Autumn Cherry Blossom” because of the abundant pink blooms reminiscent of spring cherry blossoms. There are other colors, including white, lilac and red, which are often presented in striking designs or mixed in color.
when: From September to November.
Where: In Tokyo’s Showa Memorial Park, the cosmos fields on the hillside are also a good place to enjoy autumn leaves in November. At Lake Yamanaka, a few hours’ drive from Tokyo, visitors to Hanamiya Park can see Mount Fuji with a million cosmos plants in the foreground.

winter peony

Even in the coldest and darkest months of the year, flowers bloom thanks to Japan’s unique intensive farming techniques. Winter peonies are hidden in straw tents that protect them from wind and snow and have an opening so their beauty is visible.
when: From late December to mid-February
Where: Winter peonies are not common, but Tokyo has two famous peony gardens. In the Hamarikung Garden, the former royal retreat is now a public park with a teahouse heating bowl. The peony garden at the historic Toshogu Shrine in Ueno Park opens during the winter peony season, followed by blooming in the spring.

plum bossom

The first pinks in parks and gardens are plum blossoms, heralding the arrival of spring. The shades range from white to deep pink, and the flowers are fragrant, not like cherry blossoms. Plum festivals are held in many places, with events such as plum bonsai exhibitions or food stalls selling seasonal snacks and local plum wine.
when: From February to mid-March
Where: Kaiyuan is one of the three major gardens in Japan, with 3,000 plum trees. It’s in Mito, about an hour by limited express train from Tokyo. The plum garden at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto is open to the public during the plum season, and on February 25 there is a festival where local maikos (apprentice geisha) serve tea.

Unlike the popular cherry version, plum blossoms are fragrant.Photo/Dennis Stephens
Unlike the popular cherry version, plum blossoms are fragrant.Photo/Dennis Stephens

Rhododendron

Rhododendrons come in vibrant pinks, purples and reds as the cherry trees turn green in bloom. Rhododendrons can be found everywhere, from expansive carved circular bushes in parks and temples to small potted plants on city gates. Azaleas are native to Japan and are popular as bonsai, and you may encounter bonsai exhibitions during the flowering season.
when: From mid-April to early June
Where: Nezu Shrine in Tokyo is famous for its azalea gardens on the slopes overlooking the shrine. Its Rhododendron Festival runs from mid-April to early May. The gardens of Nijo Castle in Kyoto are worth a visit all year round, and the azaleas offer a riot of color in their seasons.

iris

Another plant native to Japan, the iris comes in a variety of colors. The blue iris is most common and traditionally grows in ponds or streams in Japanese gardens, and its reflection in the water is a great photo opportunity.
when: Mid-May to end of June
Where: Irises are found in major Tokyo gardens such as Hamarikyu, Niigoku Gyoen, and Koishikawa Korakuen, but the smaller Horikiri Iris Garden in the north of Tokyo specializes in irises, with some unusual varieties and colors. The Iris Festival takes place in June when it blooms. Kenrokuen in Kanazawa is one of Japan’s three largest gardens, with traditional blue irises planted along streams and lakes.

Blue irises are common in Japanese gardens.Photo/Dennis Stephens
Blue irises are common in Japanese gardens.Photo/Dennis Stephens

Hydrangea

The rainy season begins in June, and the hot, humid weather is perfect for hydrangea. Intense blue, pink and lilac flowers sparkle in the raindrops, their colors brightening up dull grey days. Hydrangeas are native to Japan and have been recorded in writing as early as the 8th century. They are a popular flower today, with many varieties found in parks and temples.
when: June and July
Where: Kamakura is a seaside town south of Tokyo known for its temples and hydrangeas. Meigetsu-in is known as the Temple of Hydrangea because its garden is filled with rich blue hydrangea flowers. Hasedera has flowers all year round, including hydrangeas. While walking uphill on a hot summer day can make you sweat, the coastal views from the hydrangea gardens are worth the effort.

Native to Japan, hydrangeas are part of the country's history and are still popular today.Photo/Dennis Stephens
Native to Japan, hydrangeas are part of the country’s history and are still popular today.Photo/Dennis Stephens

For more information on visiting Japan, see japan.travel/en/



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