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Beyond Tokyo MAY-JUN 2021

Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi prefecture

Come for the purple, stay for the lights

⛲️ There’s only one reason to trek all the way out to Ashikaga at the beginning of May, and that’s to see the astoundingly huge wisteria at the Ashikaga Flower Park. But guess what? It’s amazing at other times of year too! The thing that’s special about Ashikaga isn’t just that the wisteria are of Guinness Book proportions, it’s that the park is designed with reflecting pools everywhere, to double the wow. And they’ve mastered the art of planting lots and lots of blooming things together, for maximum impact. Whatever the time of year, your photos will knock the sox off your nearest and dearest, guaranteed.

I’ve been to Ashikaga Flower Park during three of its seasons: wisteria, iris and winter illuminations.

Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park
You may not think wisteria is as travel-worthy as cherry blossoms, but…need I say more?
Iris in bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park
When the wisteria are done, rivers of purple and white iris take over
Winter illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park
And when everything’s dormant, the flowers go electric in a must-see wintertime display

Wisteria
Mid-April to Mid-May

Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park
Not only are these wisteria enormous, there are lots of them! There are all different colors, from deep double purple to pink to white
Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park
This isn’t even the biggest one.
Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park
Not only are they big enough to make whole tunnels people can walk through, each skein of blossoms is over a meter long
Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park
This tunnel of white ones isn’t just beautiful, it’s deliciously fragrant
Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park
This bridge covered in pale blooming pink is to die for
Wisteria and azaleas at Ashikaga Flower Park
And wisteria aren’t the only flowers on offer, even during wisteria season. There are over 5,000 azaleas in the garden that bloom at the same time
Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park
Plus, there are colorful displays of smaller flowers everywhere, setting off the purple and white to perfection. And see those wisteria just casually lining the pond? Each one is so magnificent that it would attract a crowd anywhere else, but here, people just walk by and don’t even bother to take a picture, because there are SO MANY
Reflecting pools at Ashikaga Flower Park
Be sure to stay until it gets dark! At night, the park is lit up, and has a whole different kind of magic
Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park
Nighttime is when the reflecting pools really earn their keep
Wisteria tunnelat Ashikaga Flower Park
The golden wisteria tunnel is utterly transformed
Wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park
And the big boys really shine

Next up…

Iris & Hydrangea
Early June to Mid-July

Iris in bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park
In early June, blue and white iris take over the park, filling the many ponds with butterfly-like blooms
Iris in bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park
They frame the views in a truly lovely way that’s right out of a woodblock print
Iris in bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park
And meander in rivers of rare varieties at the foot of hillsides covered with hydrangeas
Iris in bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park
Islands of iris float between raised boardwalks
Iris and hydrangeas in bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park
And mix with hydrangeas to fill a shady meadow beneath a spreading tree
Hydrangeas in bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park
Summer in Japan can be hot and sticky, but the Ashikaga Flower Park remains an oasis of welcome coolness
Lilies in bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park
Extra bonus: the labyrinth of lilies in all their multi-colored glory is a regular summer feature

And finally, when you least expect a flower park to be top of your must-see list, these.

Winter Illuminations

Winter illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park
In winter, the Ashikaga Flower Park lights up at night, and becomes a vast garden blooming with fairy lights
Winter illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park
That tunnel of white wisteria transforms into a tunnel of glowing wisteria
Winter illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park
And the golden wisteria tunnel becomes a bower of green
Winter illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park
The reflecting ponds do not disappoint
Winter illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park
And there are plenty of whimsical scenes as you move from one part of the park to another
Winter illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park
As well as arcs of lights for the perfect photo op
Winter illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park
Blooming winter peonies are displayed in jewel-lke settings
Winter illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park
And tiny lit-up shrines honor the kami-sama of the giant wisteria, slumbering beneath their crowns of electric purple blooms

The Ashikaga Flower Park has great flowers the rest of the year too. (I bet the tulips are pretty amazing, for starters.) Scroll down on this page from their website, and click on the photos to see the other seasons.

Flower seasons at Ashikaga Flower Park

Admission: There are two kinds of tickets, daytime (9:00-17:30) and nighttime (17:30-21:00). Depending on what’s in bloom, the ticket prices change. During peak wisteria season, it can be as high as ¥1900 for a daytime ticket and ¥1600 for a nighttime one. Children’s tickets are half the price of adult tickets. You can find out the exact amounts for the day you plan to be there on the Ashikaga Flower Park website. Author’s note: If you want to save money, you can come at 17:30, buy only the nighttime ticket, and still take “daytime” photos for about an hour before it gets really dark. The park is big, so you need to move pretty quickly if you want to snap all the worthy stuff while there’s still daylight left, but it can be done. I prefer biting the bullet and enjoying the park all afternoon and evening in a leisurely way, but it does get pretty pricey.

Open days: The park is open every day (except for a couple of odd holidays noted on the website’s English info page). That page also has a handy red button so you can check to see if the flowers are worth going out to see that day. I strongly suggest checking it before you go, to save you the disappointment of a long train ride if the flowers bloom sooner or later than you hoped.

Hours: The park hours also change with the seasons, so be sure to check the website’s English info page for the day you plan to be there. In general, it’s from 9:00-21:00, but opens earlier during wisteria season.

Here’s where Ashikaga is:

Map showing Ashikaga Flower Park in Japan

Here’s how to get to Ashikaga from Tokyo:

Train route from Tokyo to Ashikaga Flower Park

Once you get there, it’s just a four minute walk down the main street in front of the station to the park entrance.

Local map of Ashikaga Flower Park area and train station

I used the Japan Navigation phone app to figure out this route, and you can easily use it too, with your actual date and departure time. It’s also good for finding the easiest way to get to Kita-Senju Station from where you’re staying. Here’s where to get the app and how to use it. Note: This entire route uses JR trains, so if you’re going to be traveling anywhere else in Japan by train during the time you’re there, it might be cheaper to buy a JR Rail Pass. Here’s where you can figure out if that would be a good idea.

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More Beyond Tokyo destinations are in the JAPANAGRAM ARCHIVE

Thank you for giving The Last Tea Bowl Thief to your nearest and dearest!

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

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

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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