June is prime hydrangea season — nature’s way of cheering us up during the rainy season.
Hydrangeas ("ajisai" in Japanese) are hardy and prolific. There are two main types of blossoms: the round pom-pom type known as “mopheads” and the flat heads with small blooms or buds in the center and larger flowers around the perimeter known as “lacecaps.” In either case, the blossom is not a single flower but a cluster of small flowers. Some have smooth, round petals and others have petals with fringed edges.
One interesting feature of hydrangeas is that the flowers can change colors over time, often shifting from pink to purple or fading in intensity in the course of 4 to 6 weeks of blooming. The flower color intensifies when aluminum is introduced to the soil, and fades as aluminum levels in the soil drops, so that even rain can cause the colors to change. Young plants often feature blossoms of several colors on a single bush. With so much variety, it’s no wonder that these flowers are so beloved.
Hydrangeas seem to be in bloom everywhere in this season, but there are some places where the big bushes with dark green leaves and big round balls of flowers are concentrated and particularly fine.
Ranked from 5 to 1, here are my top 5 places to see hydrangeas within striking distance of Tokyo. (There are so many great places that it was hard to stop at 5!)
#5 – Gongoro Jinja (Kamakura)
The hydrangea is the city flower of Kamakura, and there are few tourist destinations in the city where you don’t encounter them. Still, there are a number of places where the blooms are especially noteworthy and one of them is Gongoro Jinja (also known as Goryo Jinja) in Kamakura’s Hase district, just a 5-minute walk from Enoden Hase Station (and a 2-minute walk to the parking lot of Hase-dera, ranked #3 on this list).
The main entrance to the shrine crosses the Enoden train tracks just before the tracks enter a tunnel. The tracks are lined with hydrangeas and many photographers set up tripods here to capture shots of the Enoden train emerging from the tunnel with hydrangeas in the foreground.
But, addition to those views, nestled at the foot of the rockface behind this unadorned little shrine, is a small but intense garden of hydrangeas in a fantastic range of blossom styles and colors, many of them the more modern hybrid varieties.
#4 – Hondo-ji (Matsudo)
In the 10-minute walk from Kita-Kogane Station on the JR Joban Line to Hondo-ji, the appearance of the word “ajisai” in the names of establishments ranging from coffee shops to chiropractic clinics is a dead give-away that the hydrangeas here are noteworthy. Indeed, the expansive grounds of Hondo-ji contain more than 10,000 hydrangea plants. The volume of flowers, combined with the number of paths one can meander to enjoy the blooms, would be overwhelming in a more compact setting but here it’s “merely” impressive. The temple grounds feature a number of buildings, including a tall red and white pagoda, that make good background for hydrangea photos. An added bonus toward the “back” of the temple ground is a large iris garden that is usually also in full bloom in June.
#3 – Hase-dera (Kamakura)
The main temple of Hase-dera (5-minute walk from Enoden Hase Station) sits halfway up a hill with ponds and waterfalls at its feet. The temple grounds are always attractive and filled with flowers of the season, but during June and early July, it is the hydrangeas that people come to see. On the hillside above the main temple are 2,500 hydrangea plants of 40 different varieties and people are willing to wait for up to two hours to get to walk “Prospect Road”, as the trail among them is called. The views and variety of flowers makes it worth the wait, but it’s also possible to simply enter the temple grounds and look up at the blooms from the temple’s main courtyard — perhaps not as up-close-and-personal, but still stunning. Often, particularly unusual varieties are displayed in pots on the lowest level of the temple grounds.
#2 – Meigetsu-in (Kamakura)
This temple, a 10-15-minute walk from JR Kita-Kamakura Station, is nicknamed the hydrangea temple, indicating that the hydrangeas here are something special. The entire hillside leading to the temple is covered with about 2,500 hydrangea plants, mostly of the traditional “mophead” style with the big round balls of flowers in color shades ranging from blue to purple to mauve to pink. The sloping topography of the temple grounds, nestled in a little valley, give the hydrangea bushes a particularly dense appearance. In addition to the main stairs leading from the temple gate up to the temple, there are other pathways, allowing flower lovers to wander among the blossoms. Like Hondo-ji, there is also an iris garden behind the temple, to add even more luster to your visit.
The popularity of this temple means that people queue for up to 300 meters waiting to get into the temple grounds. But don’t be discouraged - the line moves quickly and the embankment next to the road is also planted with hydrangeas, so you can enjoy hydrangeas while waiting to see hydrangeas.
#1 – Hakone Tozan Railway (Hakone)
On the trip from Hakone Yumoto station up the mountain to Gora on the Hakone Tozan Railway (a part of the Odakyu Group), the embankments lining the zigzag rail line are planted with approximately 10,000 hydrangea plants that makes the ride very spectacular in this season. Because of the embankment, the blooms are at eye level for passengers on the train, affording great viewing. In fact, the blooms are so popular that area is floodlit at night during the hydrangea season. This year, the season is a little late, so the floodlighting will start from June 25 and run through July 13. The trains run on a special schedule during this season and are supposedly timed to make it possible for daytrippers to see the floodlit flowers and still get back to Tokyo by bedtime. But I always try to stay over somewhere in the area if I can.
Wherever happens to be your favorite place to view hydrangeas, enjoy!© Japan Today