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As promised, a complete Kinchakuda higanbana report

I lied, mea culpa, I lied. I said I'd write in more detail about the higanbana flower park in Saitama "tomorrow", and tomorrow has already become yesterday. I finally fulfill my promise.

I've seen so many breathtaking flower displays in Japan. I grudgingly concede that the first prize should go to the cherry blossoms, but mutter mutter mumble mope, second prize isn't good enough for this scarlet opulence. The flower park that has me waxing lyrical is Kinchakuda near Hidaka in Saitama. The park itself is nothing special, but in late September and early October it erupts in red when the red spider lilies (彼岸花 higanbana) start blooming. The flowers grow in three fields, or rather forests, next to a river.

Higanbana and crowds at Kinchakuda. Click on the photos for bigger versions.

It gets very crowded during higanbana season – old-timers, mothers pushing babies in strollers, other women pushing lap dogs …

It's a dog! A dog going for a walk! So let it walk already!

Then again, if it's walking, it will be yapping and crapping around my feet. Best let coddled curs ride.

I digress. Sorry. Nothing annoys me as much as Japan's lap dog owners. Except its mamacharis. Where wos I?

There are thousands of retired folk, women with small kids dogs and photographers with phallic lenses, but it's definitely worth a visit. The crowds are well behaved, as is the norm in this blessed land, and even the photographers hogging the footpaths will lower their tools so that you can pass.

Obstacle course

The flowers will remain in full bloom for another week. If you want to see the spectacle, take an express train on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line from Ikebukuro Station. Change to a local train at Hannō Station, and get off two stops later at Koma Station. It takes just over an hour in total.

When I arrived at Koma, I realized again that Japan doesn't always make it easier for foreign tourists. There are no signs in the Roman alphabet. I don't expect English as such, but if Japan is serious about attracting foreign tourists – and if one is to believe the numerous newspapers stories about this topic, it is – then it should take into account that kanji literacy is not universal. Then again, and there I go thenagaining again, I assume most foreign tourists would be more interested in the nightblooming species in Shibuya than higanbana in a Saitama village, so why bother with romaji?

Even if you can read kanji, the town is stingy with its signs. Fortunately you can either rely on Google Maps or simply follow the geriatric hordes as they backpack their way resolutely towards their goal. I love watching the old-timers. They're going on a short trip to a flower park. There are vending machines roughly every 10 meters, well-kept roads and footpaths, and dozens of food stalls in the park itself. Yet the old codgers are dressed in Alpine hiking gear, with boots and walking sticks and rucksacks and water bottles and emergency snacks and hats and leather gloves. Why leather gloves?

You know how South Africans do wilderness trekking? Kortbroek en sloffies. Short pants and flip-flops. If there's a real chance that you'll step on snakes and scorpions, sloffies are swopped for vellies.

Since I'm now kvetching anyway, let me tell you about my train ride. Everything was fine till I got to Hannō and changed to a local train. Then an entire primary school descended upon the train for a day trip to who-knows-where. Oh dear heavens. Have you ever shared a carriage with fifty 8-year-olds? Japan's population is declining? Really?! However, let us be grateful for small mercies: in South Africa, the kids would've been armed with knives; in Japan, they're simply equipped with powerful lungs. Then, when I returned, I sat opposite a young woman in a very short dress. She fell asleep, legs akimbo, goods on prominent display. This shouldn't shock me anymore, but it still does. Either I'm old-fashioned or I'm just old.

The most amusing incident during my Kinchakuda excursion was that I finally, finally!, gave another foreigner the infamous gaijin nod. I think it's completely idiotic to greet another person simply thanks to skin colour, but this encounter was so unexpected, with more similarities than mere pigmentation, that I spontaneously grinned. Here's how it happened. I spent almost four hours in Koma, and in that time I didn't see one single Caucasian. I was surrounded by black-haired kirei-ing Japanese. I finally walked back to the station, ambling along a narrow footpath between farms, gazing at the chestnut trees around me. I didn't notice her until we were almost next to each other: a Caucasian woman of a certain age, dressed in jeans and a too big T-shirt, well-worn old sneakers, zero make-up, another rare solitary traveller. (The Japanese are herd animals who seldom sightsee on their own.) I couldn't help myself. She wasn't just another gaijin; she was another me. "Oh! Hallo!" I blurted out. "Hallo!" she grinned back. We stopped for a chat. She's German, has lived in Japan for 20 years, loves flowers. I'm very glad I ended my gaijin nod boycott. Danke! Ich freue mich auf den nächsten momiji Ausflug! Sollte ich schreiben, "Momijiausflug"? Deutsch mag lange Wörter, nicht wahr?

You can see more photos of Kinchakuda here and more photos of higanbana here


Chestnuts. My friend Vox says it looks like hedgehog genitalia. (How does he know?)

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