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Showa Kinen Park - A feast for the senses

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By Annabelle Landry

Showa Kinen Park is a great place to unwind year round. Built on vacant land that once hosted the Tachikawa Japanese air base and, later on, a U.S. military base, the park was created in 1983 as part of an umbrella project to mark the 50th anniversary of Emperor Showa's reign. Its primary objective is "to provide the people of Japan with a natural environment in which to refresh their minds and bodies."

Nestled between the Sayama hills to the North and the Tama hills to the South, the park occupies a portion of the Musashino plain, the largest of its kind in Japan. Meandering through the park is the Zanbori river - a tributary of the Tama river - its banks flanked, in the springtime, with blooming cherry trees and glorious rape blossoms. The park's grounds promote bountiful growth and plant diversity owing to "kuroboku," a type of black soil rich in humus content which is found on Japan's terraces, hills and mild slopes.

Themed Gardens and Freshwater Habitats

Many themed gardens, each one more beautiful than the last, bedeck the expansive premises. The painstakingly manicured six-hectare Japanese garden, home to 1,500 Japanese maple trees and over 40,000 bushes (composed mainly of azaleas), also hosts a cooling bamboo grove and a bonsai garden, in addition to dainty bunches of tree peony blossoms interspersed with long, erect flowering stemmed-irises and verdant mosses.

The herb and flower gardens, situated in the eastern and western sections of the Open Field, reflect the changing seasons. In the spring and early summer, blazing sunflowers and adorable cosmos dot the grounds, while in autumn, the park dons its mantle of radiant cornflowers, soothing camomile and sprightly poppies. Over 400,000 bulbs are planted annually, yielding about 200 varieties. Other flowers, such as grape hyacinths, and a variety of herbs also comprise the park's multiple flowerbeds throughout the year. Last but not least, the Flowering Tree Garden harbors eight species of cherry trees, totaling 221 trees and making up one third of the garden. In addition to spectacular blossoming specimens, such as the Somei yoshino, Yama and Sato sakura, a fair number of plum and peach trees dot the landscape.

The park's natural areas are teeming with indigenous plants, from ladies' tresses to Kanto dandelions and purple mazus, helping preserve the breeding grounds of a variety of insects, including grasshoppers. The picturesque Waterfowl Lake, which has a 26,000-square-meter bird sanctuary, is home to several species including the grey heron and spot-billed duck. For the little people, the Dragon Marsh is a great place to learn about black killifish and watch 18 species of dragonflies hovering over water.

Flower Festival 2015

Showa Kinen Park Flower Festival is in full swing until May 24, boasting heaps of vibrant floral mosaics that please the eye and tickle the nose. Whether you are a family seeking fun-filled activities to do with the kids, a couple looking for a romantic getaway, a nature lover, an avid birder or a city dweller wishing to escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, Showa Kinen Park has something to offer for everybody.

In early spring, indulge your taste buds with a world-class hanami under the blossom-laden branches of the sakura trees at the Cherry Blossom Garden. The pièce de résistance, a majestic weeping cherry tree standing forlorn next to the road at Komorebi Pond, is certainly worth the trip. At the beginning of April, don't miss the rapeseed blossoms (nanohana) and the more subdued purple rape blossoms (murasaki hana-na) that luxuriantly cover the ground beneath the sakura trees, enhancing this natural fresco. Then, stop by the Children's Forest area to see the elegant daffodils and inhale the sweetly scented blue hyacinths carpeting the dense grounds, or simply amble through the park's famous Tulip Garden, undoubtedly the second biggest attraction after the sakura viewing.

Tulips, Poppies and Nemophilas Modeled after Holland's Keukenhof Park, the Tulip Garden was planted with 22,000 bulbs, producing 130 different cultivars. While some tulips are just starting to bloom, the peak period, according to Mr Okuno, Chief of Planning at Showa Kinen, is from the second week of April onwards. Such beauties as the Green Star (a white and green lily-flowered tulip), the Wedding Gift (a pink bi-colored tulip named to commemorate Prince William and Catherine Middleton's wedding), the Maya (a lemon yellow flower with a delicate fringed edge) and the fiery gold and red Nittua are high atop the festival-goers' must-see list.

Get your chi flowing and restore your energy levels with a little Feng Shui by immersing yourself in the delightful, technicolor patchwork of Iceland poppies and clusters of striking red Chalet poppies that ornament the West Field and Flower Hill, from mid-April to the end of May. Once you've had your fill of excitement, head toward Momiji Bridge to appease your mind with a soothing, hazy blanket of purplish blue Nemophilas.

Festival Activities and Events

To complement your perusal of the park's lavish gardens, the Flower Festival offers an array of activities and events, including music performances (featuring bands such as Sio, The Boon, Cold Sweat and Road Friends), field concerts, workshops, exhibitions and street performances, as well as the annual Midori no hi celebration (April 29). Komorebi Village, a replica of a typical Japanese farm village from the 1950s and '60s, also comes alive during its Spring Festival on May 3. For those sports amateurs, the Spring Park Fitness and Nordic Walk programs are great ways to exercise while taking in the lovely natural surroundings. And, during the last third of May, flower aficionados will even be able to enjoy an afternoon of poppy picking!

Something For Everyone

Showa Kinen Park is an oasis brimming with culture and adventure. Whether you opt for a bicycle ride along the park's 14-km course (rental bike, ¥410 per adult/¥260 per child for 3 hours) or a leisurely tour of Waterfowl Lake in a rental pedal or rowboat (¥700/30 minutes), you'll find there is no shortage of things to do. In the summer, families can soak up the sun in the swimming pool and water play area, or enjoy a feast in the outdoor BBQ field. In the adjacent sports area, dedicated petanque, croquet, lawn bowling and horseshoe-tossing courts, as well as a disc golf course, await sports enthusiasts. Thrill-seekers can also try mounting a unicycle, while those looking to unwind can while away the hours with their favorite book on the Open Field's grassy turf.

For a whale of a time, stop by the Children's Forest with the kids. Equipped with plump bouncing domes, imposing dragons, rainbow hammocks, a misty forest, play structure, pyramid and forest house, this fun-filled place is sure to be a hit amongst the youngsters. For some "edutainment," check out the Woodworking Centre where aspiring architects and engineers can acquire the fundamentals of carpentry and create their own projects, or visit the Hanamidori Cultural Centre and the Emperor Showa Memorial Museum. Another interesting venue is the Fureai Field's Exhibition Plaza, which regularly showcases outdoor sculpture exhibitions and horticultural shows. Want to embark on a fun journey? Follow the "How to Find the Names of Plants" route to learn about 250 different species of plants and trees, or tackle the more challenging "Green Adventure" route where you need to match the numbers with the corresponding plant names. Orientation maps with answer slots can be obtained at the park office.

Facilities

Showa Kinen Koen is outfitted to meet every need. Reserved parking spots for people with disabilities are provided at Tachikawa and Sunagawa Gates, and special needs toilets are scattered throughout the park, along with baby beds and changing facilities. There is even a fun play area just for wheelchair users on the south side of the Open Field, and all park's plant signs are labelled in braille for the visually impaired. Furthermore, the Japanese Garden is equipped with an access for wheelchairs and baby strollers. For those who own a disability card, parking and entrance to the park is free.

It's All in a Good Cause

In an effort to preserve the fragile ecosystems that compose the land, several initiatives have been implemented. For instance, scrap wood from plants is reused in garden paths and planted areas, while polluted water is treated and recycled. Other environmental efforts include conservation of topsoil, collection and use of rainwater, proper control of habitat with specific plants, limiting of agricultural chemicals and building of wildlife crossings. Also worth mentioning is the park's function as an evacuation point and strategic location for the integration of all prevention services (e.g. airport, medical, emergency, stockpiling facilities) in the event of a natural disaster.

For more information, check out the park's official website.

Showa Kinen Koen is located a few minutes on foot from JR Tachikawa and Nishi Tachikawa Stations. Entrance fee is ¥410 per adult (15 and over), ¥80 per child (6-15) and ¥210 (over 65). The park is open from 9:30-17:00 (March to October).

© Japan Today

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3 Comments
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Vivid and colourful article!

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A great overview of a park well worth visiting.

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I did not know about this park until now. Would love to go and experience it at first hand!

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