Azalea Pilgrimage 2019

I know you’re exhausted after elbowing your way through the crazy crowds instagramming the cherry blossoms, which is why you should take a deep breath and go see the azaleas. Like cherry blossoms, the all-flowers-all-the-time spectacle will knock your socks off, but unlike the famous fluffy things, you can enjoy them in blissful near-solitude. Here are my favorite places to bask in the floral glow, with tips for how to ensure you’re enjoying them ALL BY YOURSELF.

This is the most restorative of the azalea gardens. An easy stroll from Komagome Station, the 88 views from famous poems deliver an excellent dose of serenity along with shots of azalea goodness.

RIKUGI-EN GARDEN

Rikugi-en is one of the most serene gardens in Tokyo, but from mid-April to mid-May, blazing spots of color pop up amid the greenery

“Azalea Mountain” is across the pond, beyond my favorite bridge

You can climb up through the crazy colors…

…and from the peak, you can pretend that all your base are belong to us

As you can see, even while the “mountain” is in full bloom, the shadier parts of the garden still have colorful surprises in store. If you’re too late for the hill display, you’ll still find pockets of delight amid the green

As April wends its way toward May, the riot of color on the hillside gives way to the manicured bushes around the pond

Which, as you can see, are spectacular in a whole different way

You might even luck into some local butterflies enjoying the pinkness

Open: Every day, 9:00-17:00

Admission: ¥300

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This next one is also an easy walk (from Hibiya, Nijubashi-mae or Otemachi Stations) and if you’re there in the morning when it opens, you’ll be shocked and amazed that for the first half hour, you’ll be so alone with the splendor, you’ll be tempted to grab the arms of complete strangers to say, “Can you believe this?”

NI NO MARU, Imperial Palace East Garden

Most inviting place to sit in all of Tokyo

Wherever you are, you’re surrounded by color

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This little garden is filled with hedges that look like abstract paintings made with flowers. Most of the year, the Imperial Palace gardens are totally missable, but during azalea season, you have to GO.

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For sheer “paved with color” perfection, you can’t miss at this small but lovely spot that’s in the “downstairs” part of the Imperial Palace East Gardens

The banks of bushes snake around green lawns…

…and little islands of not-blooming, so the colors look even more vivid in contrast

No matter what season I go, Ni-no-maru Garden is one of the most uncrowded I’ve seen in Tokyo. If you wait patiently, you can easily get pix with no people in them

Even the parts that aren’t solid color are just beautiful

The first azaleas to bloom are the red ones, the last are white. At any one time, several colors are in full riot, and the mix changes every day.The first azaleas to bloom are the red ones, the last are white. At any one time, several colors are in full riot, but the mix changes every day.

Open: 9:00-17:00, closed Mondays & Fridays

Admission: Free

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This next one takes a little more effort to get to, but as you can see, you can lose yourself in the shoulder-high maze of azaleas, and it’s never crowded, even at peak bloom. As a bonus, the non-blooming parts of this spacious park deliver hours of relaxing strolling, with snap-worthy views around every corner.

JINDAI BOTANICAL PARK

The azaleas at Jindai are surrounded by equally beautiful trees, which makes for nice pictures

They’re next to a lake too

So inviting!

My favorite thing about the Jindai azaleas is that they’re huge. You can walk around among them and be totally surrounded by wildly blooming hills of flowers

Open: 9:30-17:00

Admission: ¥500

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SHIOFUNE KANNON-JI TEMPLE

This one is a day trip (it’s out in Ome, about an hour and a half train ride from Shinjuku), but as you can see, wow. And even if the trails are infested with fellow azalea-oglers, you barely notice them amid the sheer scale of this bowl-o-color-puffs.

This place is HUGE. It’s like the Nezu Shrine on steroids

As you wend your way to the top, there are nice views of the benevolent Kannon who raises a blessing hand over the polka-dotted hillsides

Various colors of azaleas pop in and out of season for about two weeks

Everywhere you look, giant pompoms

Hiking paths climb through a bloomy wonderland…

…until you reach the top, where you can soak in 360 degrees of azalea goodness. By the way, this photo was taken at close to “full bloom” – we don’t live in Photoshop Heaven where all of them hit maximum eyepop at the same time, but they’re still way cool. This photo was taken on a super crowded day, but you barely realize other people are there. Note the ant-like swarm at the bottom of the hill near the temple building – they couldn’t spoil the view if they tried!

To get there, plug your nearest station into the Train Finder or download a free Japan Travel mobile app to your phone (I use Navitime Japan Travel) with Kabe Station as the destination.Getting to Shiofunekannon-ji Temple without a car takes about 1.5 hours by train, then it’s about a 35-minute walk to the temple entrance. Or you can take a bus from the station – the one bound for Nishi-Tokyo Danshi – and walk 10 minutes from the Shiofune Kannon-iriguchi bus stop.

Open: 8:00-17:00

Admission: ¥300

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This one is closer to Tokyo (a ten-minute walk from Tachikawa Station) and while the size of its azalea display is modest, they bloom at the same time as the tulips. Which are (scroll down!) boggling.

SHOWA KINEN PARK

The best azalea display is right near the Tachikawa entrance, at the big fountain.

A magnificent multicolored hedge completely surrounds the fountain…

…and somehow they manage to get all the colors blooming at the same time

It’s a long way to go just to see the azaleas, it’s such a big park, there’s a lot more to enjoy than just what’s famously in season. For example, here’s what’s happening in another part of Showa Kinen Park in the month of April:

There’s a big section by the “Serpentine” river that is planted in tulips, and it’s in constant bloom from early April until early May. This picture was taken on the same day as the azalea photos. More on this floral extravaganza here.

Hours: 9:30-17:00

Admission: ¥410

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NEZU SHRINE

And finally, this. I’m putting it last, even though it’s easy to get to (from Nezu and Sendagi Stations) because it does attract cherry blossom-like crowds. But if you’re waiting outside the little gate when it opens, you can usually enjoy a good twenty minutes before the ravening hordes and tour groups arrive.

In full glory, April 19, 2018

Amazing, right?

With the big torii gate at the entrance

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How do they get them to bloom like this?

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The added bonus of seeing the azaleas at the Nezu Shrine is that you can also walk through their tunnel of torii gates.

Open: Every day, 9:00-17:00

Admission: ¥200

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While recovering from the arduous task of hunting azaleas, Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo

When Detective Kenji Nakamura’s phone rings with the news that his mother’s death wasn’t an accident, his life begins to unravel…read more