Secret Flower Seasons of Japan

So, everybody knows about the cherry blossoms, and I bet you flower mavens even know about the glories of the plums, wisteria, azaleas and iris. But recently a bunch of parks & gardens have figured out that the best way to attract crowds of wallet-carrying camera-toters in the off-season is to plant lots and lots and lots of some kind of flowering plant, then sit back and wait for the cash to roll in. In fact – thanks to their wily scheming on what makes a killer selfie background – they’ve managed to turn some flowers you’ve never even heard of into celebs. I know, totally blatant commercialism, but still…TAKE MY MONEY.

Herewith, the secret flower seasons of Japan:

TULIPS

April

This astounding tulip garden at Showa Kinen Park bursts into bloom in early April while the cherry blossoms are in full swing…

…and doesn’t quit until summer is just around the bend

Amsterdam move over…

…because when a Japanese park decides to plant tulips, they don’t mess around

The tulip garden at Showa Kinen Park blooms from the beginning of April until early May.

Hours: 9:30-17:00

Admission: ¥410

Map

SHIBAZAKURA

April-May

This humble ground phlox has been elevated to cult status by two parks in Japan that plant big fields of it in fun patterns and call it “shibazakura” (borrowing some fame from ye olde cherry blossoms, which are known as “sakura,” even though they are utterly unrelated). These were taken at Hitsuji-yama, a park in Chichibu that’s an easy day trip by train from Tokyo

How do they manage to make it bloom so perfectly, with no holes in the patterns?

And here’s an overview of the park, so you can get an idea of how big it is. I was there during the very tail end of the season (May 14th), and it was still amazing. You can imagine how great it was when ALL those fields were in bloom

The shibazakura bloom from late April to mid-May.

Open: Every day, 8:00 – 17:00

Admission: ¥300

To get there, plug your nearest station into the Train Finder with Chichibu Station as the destination. The train takes a little over an hour and a half from Ikebukuro to Chichibu Station, then there’s a 15 minute walk to the park from the station. Here’s a map.

More shibazakura photos & info here.

POPPIES

May

They may not be the least bit traditional, but nobody seems to mind a bit

Especially when there are LOTS of them

…and they come in all shapes and colors

…and they’re even more gorgeous close up

The poppy fields bloom from mid-May to the beginning of June, at Showa Kinen Park.

Open: Every day, 9:30 – 17:00

Admission: ¥410

Note: The poppy fields are a bit of a hike from the main entrance, and not well-marked. Find the entrance to the Japanese garden, then follow the paved path outside it to the right, skirting around the walled area until you come to a wide path branching off to the left. Follow that around the copse of trees to the same fields where the purple cosmos bloom in the fall.

Map

BABY BLUE EYES (NEMOPHILA)

May

Nobody had even heard of this flower in Japan until a few years ago, but now if you’re anywhere near social media in the month of May, every single one of your Japanese friends will post at least one selfie with THIS in the background

It’s good to go early in the season if you want to see fields of that killer cerulean – these flowers start out dark blue and fade to white as they get older

Whether you’re just in it for the new profile pic or you could spend half a day getting fancy with your settings, the fields of nemophila do not disappoint

The nemophila bloom from early to late May at Hitachi Seaside Park.

Open: 9:30 – 17:00, closed Mondays

Admission: ¥410

Hitachi Seaside Park is about three hours northeast of Tokyo, near Mito. To get there, plug your nearest station into the Train Finder with Ajigaura Station as the destination. There’s a free shuttle bus that runs every nine minutes between Ajigaura Station and the park.

More nemophlia photos & info here

HIGANBANA

September

These red amaryllis actually ARE a traditional Japanese flower, but not in a good way. They’ve always been associated with graveyards (where they tend to grow in profusion) so until recently, nobody thought of the idea of planting a whole bunch of them together like this. I think we can all agree, BEST IDEA EVER

Rare white ones often pop up amongst the red ones

Take the train to Koma Station and follow the signs (and crowd!) to the Kinchakuda site. Note: these flowers reach their peak on the few days right around the equinox (Sept 21), so you have to act fast (and be a little lucky in your choice of day) to see them looking this amazing. It’s better to go too early than too late, though, because they still look beautiful when they’re not all in full bloom yet, but not so much when some of them are past it and withering.

Admission: ¥300

More higanbana photos & info here

COSMOS

Late September – Early October

Gotta admit I never loved cosmos up close, but giant fields of them are definitely trip-worthy. The purple ones start blooming at the end of September…

…and from early to mid-October, the pale yellow and white field comes into bloom

The cosmos fields bloom from late September to mid-October at Showa Kinen Park.

Open: Every day, 9:30 – 17:00

Admission: ¥410

Directions & Map

If you’re out near Mt. Fuji, you can ogle vast fields of orange ones in early October

These bloom alongside the road, outside the Yamanaka-ko Hana no Miyako Park near Lake Yamanaka

More cosmos photos & info here

BUSH CLOVER

Late September – Early October

This super-traditional autumn plant was pretty boring until someone thought of growing tunnels of it, then voila! Instant camera magnet!

This famous tunnel of bush clover is at the Mukojima Hyakka-en botanical garden.

Open: Every day, 9:00 – 17:00

Admission: ¥150

Map

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