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Tokyo's best hydrangea gardens

It has to be the most beautiful blue in the world: the blue of a hydrangea on a misty morning. I'm not even sure that it's really blue. It's a colour that's a bit blue, a bit purple, a bit pink and a whole lot of I-really-don't-know-what-to-call-it.

Right now hydrangeas as well as irises are in full bloom in Tokyo, and that means it's time for another "best spots" story. Incidentally, I lied in my headline: my top spots aren't all in Tokyo, but they're all within a one-day trip. 

Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Hydrangea, which is native to East Asia, is called ajisai (
あじさい) in Japanese; irises are called hanashōbu (花菖蒲). I'll start with hydrangeas for a very nostalgic reason: my mother loves hydrangeas – we call them Christmas roses in Afrikaans, for reasons unknown to me – and whenever I see them, I think of her. She used to grow them, and by feeding them different fertilizers, she cultivated colours from sky blue to deep pink. (The more aluminium in the soil, the deeper blue the flower.)

Hondoji in Chiba

My top prize for best hydrangea spot is Hondoji (本土寺) near Kita-Kogane Station in Chiba. Hondoji used to be a residence that belonged to the Genji family. It was renamed Hondoji by the famous Nichiren, founding father of Nichiren Buddhism, which believes that all people have an inborn Buddha nature and can therefore achieve enlightenment in their current life. You could call it the commoner's Buddhism, as opposed to the elitist Zen or esoteric Shingon schools.

The temple has a superb hydrangea forest, a breathtaking iris garden and a moss garden that rivals anything I've ever seen in Kyoto.

It astonishes me that this temple isn't better known. It's a flower lover's paradise and, just by the way, stunning in autumn, too.




Tiny Jizō statues at Hondoji

Asakuyama Park in Tokyo
Asakuyama Park (飛鳥山公園in Ōji is best known for its cherry blossoms, but it also has a beautiful hydrangea garden on the slope next to the railroad. The biggest advantage of Asakuyama is that it's relatively quiet in June, which means you can enjoy the flowers without hordes breathing down your neck. It's very easy to get there: it's right next to Ōji Station on the Keihin-Tōhoku Line, Namboku Line and Toden Arakawa Line.

Asakuyama Park

Asakuyama Park

Hakusan Jinja in Tokyo

Hakusan Jinja (白山神社has a hydrangea festival displaying 3 000 bushes each June. During this festival, the shrine also opens its Fujizuka (a small artificial hill shaped like Mount Fuji) to the public, so that you can climb up and worship at a small shrine on the hill. I should add that it's not really a hill; it's a ... bump. A few stairs and barely a minute will take you to the top.

Wait. It gets better. Hakusan Jinja is also famous for its ability to stop toothache, so toddle along, take a toothbrush as an offering, and you might never need root canal treatment ever again.

Hakusan Jinja

The mini Fuji-san behind Hakusan Jinja

Hakusan Jinja showcases many unusual varieties.

Hase-dera in Kamakura

Hase-dera (長谷寺) in Kamakura, known formally as Kaikōzan Jishōin Hase-dera, is justly famous for its hydrangeas. The steep hill behind the complex is covered in hydrangea bushes that provide an awe-inspiring sight, but be warned that you'll probably have to queue for at least an hour to get in, especially if you go on a weekend. I wrote about Hasedera in this post.

Hase-dera, looking out over Kamakura

Small Jizō statues at Hase-dera

The slope behind Hase-dera

Hase-dera has a small iris garden, too.

Meigetsu-in in Kamakura

I could write about Meigetsu-in (明月院) myself, or I could simply refer you to this excellent post by Sapphire. I wouldn't be able to choose between Hase-dera and Meigetsu-in if you pointed a loaded gun at my forehead, but Meigetsu-in is marginally easier to access (and it has a better iris garden than Hase-dera).

I've stolen Sapphire's story, but I'll include my own photos.






Edit added 13 June 2013

My discovery for this year: Takahata Fudōson in Hino, western Tokyo.


I've added access maps to Hondoji, Asakuyama, Hakusan Jinja, Hase-dera and Meigetsu-in (in this order). Later this week I'll write a post about Tokyo's best iris spots. Watch this space ...

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