The Enchanted Hydrangea Forest

The spring rainy season isn’t the most delightful time to be in Japan…unless you’re hiking through a shady forest, surrounded by heaps and heaps of blue hydrangeas! Minamisawa Ajisai Mountain’s groomed trails wind up the side of a mountain, through a silent and stately cedar forest that’s robed in countless poufs of cooling blue and violet flowers from mid-June to late July. Walking through this forest reminded me of its autumnal counterpart in Koma, where higanbana (red amaryllis) bloom in glorious profusion amid tall trees (except the hydrangea goodness goes on for a month, not just a week!)

As you can see, this flowery forest is vast!

Most of the trailside glory is provided by the classic blue Japanese fluffballs…

…but there are exotic hybrids too

The trail is anchored with wooden steps, although at times it’s far steeper than this and can become a running stream o(or, not to put too fine a point on it, mud) if it’s been raining, so dainty high heels are not recommended (not that we know anyone who tried this SHUT UP)

You can catch a few pink ones blushing amid the coolness

When you come back down the ravine on the other side, it looks like a jungle paradise

Hydrangeas grow wild in Japan, but not in this kind of dizzying profusion. So…where did these all come from?

We found out that the patriarch of the family that has lived on this land for generations wanted to make it a pleasant experience for his family to visit his grave after he’s gone, so he began to plant flowers that bloom around the traditional summer grave-visiting time. As you can see, it succeeded beyond his wildest dreams! The current generation continues to plant more varieties, the original visionary is visited and thanked by all, and the hydrangea forest becomes ever more splendid with each passing year.

The original gardener’s grave is near the trail head

Bonus view: on the way from the (free) parking area, right past the table where you pay your admission, there’s a lovely garden and koi pond with a can of food you can toss to the every-hungry carp

Here’s a (slightly creased) map of the hiking area

Open:

Every day (but if you want to hike amid the blooming hydrangeas, you should go sometime between mid-June and late July. These photos were taken at the beginning of July.)

Hours: 8:00 – 20:00

Admission: ¥250

This place is surprisingly close to Tokyo (it takes about an hour and 15 minutes from Shinjuku Station). The closest station is Musashi-itsukaichi, and you’ll have to take a cab from there into the mountains (it’s about 3 km, on a narrow and somewhat winding road). Here’s a map, to give you an idea:

When not attempting to climb muddy mountains in unsuitable shoes, Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo

Nine Years. Nine death anniversaries. Tomorrow will be the tenth. He always comes early to avoid crossing paths with her family. He always comes on the day he actually killed her…read more