Spring in Japan is synonymous with cherry blossom – and rightly so. No trip in March or April would be complete without visiting one of the country’s famous sakura hotspots. But Japan is also home to a wealth of spectacular spring flowers that are equally photogenic, yet well off the traditional tourist track.
Head to Kyushu to walk through a carpet of bright pink azaleas on the slopes of Mt. Aso. Admire the vibrant purple-blues of over a million Japanese irises in Hamamatsu Flower Park.
And discover the early-April Hana Matsuri (“flower festival”) all around the country!
Buddha flower celebration
Every year on April 8, the Japanese mark the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha, with a fitting floral tribute. Held across the country, Hana Matsuri is a celebration of both religion and the coming of spring. If you’re in Japan for the cherry blossoms, make sure you check out these colourful flower festivities.
During the event, temples feature a hana mido or flower temple, which is elaborately decorated with seasonal blooms and houses a small Buddha statue sprinkled with amacha sweet tea.
Beyond the flowers, you can expect music, colourful kimonos and children dressed in traditional costumes.
One of the most rewarding destinations for an alternative take on Japan’s spring flowers is the southern island of Kyushu. The rich volcanic hillsides of the Aso-Kuju National Park are an extremely fertile ground for all sorts of colourful blooms from March onwards. At
this time, the landscape transforms from black wastelands, created by the grass-burning tradition of noyaki, to fresh green pastures dotted with swathes of ebullient Alpine flowers.
Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso is an ideal base for exploring the area during the period of spring reawakening.
Nestled in the heart of the National Park, this luxury ryokan is composed of stylish private villas, each with its own outdoor hot spring bath, and stands just 3 miles from a major trailhead – the perfect springboard for exploring the stunning scenery of this beautifully-preserved wilderness.
One of the most iconic images of Kyushu in the spring is the tapestry of fresh pink and purple flowers weaved into green hillsides. These are Kyushu azaleas, a unique variety of the shrub known as Miyama Kirishima in Japanese, meaning “azalea that blooms high in the mountains”.
The northern foot of Mt. Aso is one of the best places to appreciate this seasonal phenomenon. The area, known as Sensuikyo, is a gorge created by lava flow during the volcano’s eruption. Every year from mid-May to early June, some 50,000 Kyushu azaleas cover the mountainside in a magnificent carpet of colour.
Walking paths around here are relatively easy, offering superb vistas on the outer rim of the Aso crater. And if hiking is not your thing, staff at Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso can organize a horseback trip, even for novice riders.
Another floral highlight 10 minutes by car from the ryokan is the Kuju Flower Park, a 49-acre site housing some 5 million flowers and 500 different varieties. Wide paths lead through vast fields of flowers, framed by the Kuju mountains. The ever-changing display of blooms begins mid-March with pansies, followed by tulips, poppies, roses, pink phlox moss, nemophila, lavender, salvia, lilies, hydrangeas and sunflowers.
In the summer, you can even pick your own blueberries.
Hamamatsu Flower Festa
Just over 2 hours by train from Tokyo, Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu is situated just minutes from the Hamamatsu Flower Park. The area is the heartland of Japanese green tea, and the lakeside ryokan is a great place to learn about both tea and Japan’s spring flowers.
The ryokan offers a special program to coincide with the Lake Hamana Flower Festa, which runs in the Flower Park throughout most of spring.
As a guest, you’ll get free entry to the festival and, if you’re there in early spring, you’ll be able to wander along the park’s mesmerizing mile-long stretch of cherry blossoms, lined with 30,000 tulips. From late April to early May, one of the highlights is a stroll under the 150-meter pergola of dangling wisteria flowers.
By late spring, you should head to the hydrangea garden, which boasts some 500 different varieties, as well as the iris gardens – where around 1 million hanashobu flowers add a touch of colour to Japan’s rainy season.