The Japanese custom of admiring flowers to mark the seasons reaches a high point in early spring when the entire national consciousness seems to be focused on the annual flowering of the cherry blossoms.
Once the delicate pale pink blooms of the Somei Yoshino cherry trees have lost their luster and blown away, Japan’s flower fever indeed subsides, but hardly fades away. Instead, late spring and early summer are times for more showy specimens, from the purple clusters of hanging wisteria to the indigo petals of sensual irises.
Over the Golden Week holiday break from late April to early May, we went in search of whatever blooms we could find to assure us, after some unseasonably bitter-cold days, that spring had finally arrived. Thankfully, we didn’t have to venture far from Tokyo to find hills covered in baby blue eyes, trellises drooping with long locks of wisteria, patches of bright-hued tulips, burgeoning peonies and iridescent irises, to name a few.
Our first day-trip in search of flowers took us to Hitachi Seaside Park and Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture. As both parks are extremely popular and not easy to access by public transport, we opted for a bus tour, which took us to both parks in one day.
While bus tours are not our first preference, given the challenge of finding parking space at peak season at either park, this option made the journey much easier and completely stress-free. Our tour, organized by travel agency, H.I.S., took us to both parks as well as a strawberry farm, where we picked luscious strawberries to eat on the spot, and even provided a box lunch.
A few days later, we took advantage of a glorious spring day to stroll through Hama-rikyu gardens in central Tokyo.
A short walk from the Shiodome subway station on the Oedo Line, Hama-rikyu, which is right by Tokyo Bay, used to be the duck hunting grounds of feudal lords during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Today, it is a beautifully maintained oasis where it is possible to feel transported back in time despite the unavoidable sight of the towering high rise buildings that surround the park.
On one of the final days of Golden Week, we decided to brave the crowds and visit Nezu Museum in Aoyama to see its famous irises, which we had heard were in full bloom. To coincide with the blossoming of the irises, the museum had brought out one of its most famous treasures – a pair of six panel screens depicting a field of irises by Ogata Korin. The screens, which were painted in the 18th century, are a national treasure.
Nezu Museum, designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma, houses an impressive collection of pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art, built up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by businessman, Kaichiro Nezu.
Early May is also a good time to visit the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands (Hakone Shisseikaen) in Sengokuhara, in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, a short train ride from Tokyo. Here, several ecosystems of the Hakone wetlands have been recreated with over 1,000 species of native plants. It’s a joy to spend an hour or two in this carefully maintained garden with its boardwalks, which make it easy to walk through the man-made marshes, swamps, meadows and forests and admire the panoramic views of the surrounding hills.
Tokyo may be an increasingly futuristic urban sprawl but there are many gardens and parks, both in the city and its environs, to remind us that nature’s gifts are not so far away.