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Beyond Tokyo JULY 2020

This month’s destination: Gyoda Ancient Lotus Park, Saitama

A vast and serene lotus garden grown from 3,000-year-old seeds

🎋All around the world, we’re mourning the cancellation of beloved summer events, and Japan is no exception. From fireworks to goldfish festivals to rock concerts, barely any classic summer delights have survived in this year of COVID. Except…the lotus blossoms. Since the beginning of time, these ancient symbols of “pure beauty that flowers from the muckiest mud” have uplifted the human spirit, so it’s fitting that even in these grim times, we can still wander beneath their glowing green parasols and marvel as their pink perfection unfurls at the break of day. This month, let’s visit the Gyōda Ancient Lotus Park (Gyōda Hasu-en), where we can wander for hours among plants that grew from millennia-old seeds.

Lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
An excavation for a new city building unearthed 3,000-year-old lotus seeds of a variety that was thought to be long extinct. When they sprouted and bloomed, scientists were so delighted that the city dedicated a large tract of land to their cultivation, and the Gyōda Ancient Lotus Park was born.
View from top of high tower of lotus flowers blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
As you can see from this photo taken from the top of the nearby municipal tower, we can spend many happy hours exploring the gigantic lotus ponds, where pink beauties raise their glowing heads as far as the eye can see
Lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
When we first arrive, there’s a garden of exotic varieties planted in front of the visitor center, criss-crossed with rustic boardwalks, so we can get up close and personal with the stars of the show
Lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
These ponds feature rare colors…
Lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
extravagant fluffiness…
Lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
achingly beautiful purity…
Lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
peony-esque perfection
Lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
and the delicate glow of seldom-seen species
Lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
But once we’ve feasted our eyes (and our Instagram) on the rare varieties, it’s time to hike beyond the visitor center and stroll among the ancient flowers themselves
Lotus pond and stream at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
Across this stream, a sea of lotus awaits
Lotus flowers blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
One of the nicest things about this lotus garden is that it’s in such a park-like setting, so even the landscape in the background is restful and restorative
Lotus flowers blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
Everywhere we look, there are lotus in all stages of blooming. Lotus flowers bloom for three days only: first, as half-open cups (like the flower on the right), then they close up, and burst into full bloom at dawn the next day, like the one on the left. On the third day, they open all the way up and drop their petals, before setting seed heads, which grow into those many-eyed noggins, nodding among the leaves
Pond of lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
The ponds at Gyōda Hasu-en bloom taller and more profusely than gardens I’ve seen anywhere else, where the flowers tend to hide among the leaves
Boardwalks crossing pond of lotus flowers blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
The middle pond features a network of boardwalks that take us right out into the midst of the flowers, without getting our feet wet
Pond of lotus flowers blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
At the smaller back pond, the leaves and flowers grow taller than me, so we can enjoy a frog’s-eye view from under the lotus leaf canopy
Lotus flower blooming at Gyoda Ancient Lotus park Gyoda Hasu-en
Benches everywhere offer cool shade and soul-restoring vistas

The town of Gyōda also features a small castle (for you castle spotters):

It’s known as Oshi Castle, and you can read more about its history on the Gaijinpot website, where this nice photo came from

And in non-COVID years, the municipal tower that sits right next to the Ancient Lotus Park offers a view of one of the strangest only-in-Japan tourist attractions: fields planted in rice art. They didn’t plant it in 2020 because of the pandemic, but last year, it looked like this:

Rice field tambo art in Gyoda 2019 rugby players
The Gyōda rice field “tambo” art has been an annual attraction since 2007 (and they captured a Guiness Book World Record for biggest rice field art in 2015) so I’m betting it’ll be back in 2021, bigger and better than ever. (In case you’re wondering, here’s how they do it)

Visiting information:

Open: Saturday, June 13 – Sunday, August 2, 2020

Hours: 7:00 to 16:30

Admission: Adults, ¥400; Children, ¥200

If you come by car, they have a nice parking lot, and it costs ¥500 for the day

Here’s where Gyōda is:

Map showing Gyoda location
As you can see, it’s not far from Tokyo—just over an hour by train—but this rural town feels like a world away from the bustle of Shinjuku Station

Here’s how to get to Gyōda from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo:

I recommend leaving as early in the morning as you can stand, because lotus flowers open at first light, and close up by noon. If you get on the train around 7:00 am, you’ll be strolling among the ancient lotus by 8:30, plenty of time to soak up the serenity before it gets too hot and the flowers start to droop.

I used the Japan Navigation phone app to figure out this route, and you can easily use it too, when your actual date and departure time. It’s also good for finding the easiest way to get to Gyōda from where you’re staying. Here’s where to get the app and how to use it and here’s where to buy a Japanese transit card and how to use it. (I searched the route from Shinjuku Station, because it’s huge and central, but you might find a closer place to catch the Shonan-Shinjuku Line, if you search from where you’re staying.)

Train route from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to Gyoda

When you get off the train at Gyōda Station, there’s usually a shuttle bus that runs between Gyōda Station and the Gyōda Ancient Lotus Park (Gyōda Hasu-en) during The Season, but because of the COVID, they’ve suspended it for 2020. You can still get there, but you have to take a taxi or the community bus. I searched everywhere for a Gyoda community bus schedule, but it’s surprisingly elusive, so I suggest taking a cab to get to the Lotus Park from the station, then finding the bus stop at the Lotus Park and using that to return to Gyōda Station.

If you love a good read, you might enjoy The Last Tea Bowl Thief too

“A wonderful blend of history and mystery.” —Laura Joh Rowland, author of The Iris Fan

For three hundred years, a missing masterpiece is passed from one fortune seeker to the next, changing the lives of all who possess it…read more

Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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