Brace yourself, the second wave of "hanami" is just about to begin.
The cold days of winter are finally behind us, the sun is out, the flowers are in full bloom and yes, it’s at last safe to say that spring is here officially and about to stick around for a while. Sadly, everyone’s favorite cherry blossomsbloomed already — amid some very cold days not quite perfect for hanami— and while we might be able to see some splendid sights for a few more days, it’s time to get ready to bid farewell to them.
Worry not however, because the next best thing to sakura — shibazakura— is just getting ready to steal the spotlight as the second wave of an equally mesmerizing hanami experience. And there is a perfect place to see this picture-perfect sight just an easy train ride from central Tokyo.
Shibazakura: A magnificent flower carpet
Shibazakura, also known as moss phlox, is a type of flower that grows on the ground and, with petals resembling cherry blossom flowers, the plant wins the honorable title of “sakura lawn.”
Its flowers bloom in white, pink and purple, forming colorful and seemingly endless flower carpets before your eyes.
Chichibu flower wanders
One of the most prominent venues to view these stunning flowers near Tokyo is Hitsujiyama Park in Saitama’s green- and adventure-rich Chichibu area, located just over an hour from Ikebukuro via the Seibu Line. In conjunction with Chichibu’s stunning landscape as a backdrop, the park presents a gorgeous spring floral paradise.
A popular annual event, the Chichibu Shibazakura Festival — this year held from April 12 through May 6, the last day of the long Golden Week — features some 400,000 fully bloomed moss phlox arranged in various shapes and swirls that stretch over four acres of the Shibazakura Hill, creating a scene right out of a painting.
The festival invites you to take a stroll around the shibazakura fields blooming in all colorful spring colors, or sit back and relax on the benches to enjoy the majestic Mount Buko landscape backdrop encompassing the park.
The festival also hosts a farmer’s market, where you can find everything from locally-grown vegetables and fruit to an award-winning miso potato and handmade soba noodles. Of course, classic Japanese snack foods, such as yakisobaand dango, will be up for grabs, too.
And if you ever get tired of the flower-viewing (which we doubt you will), Hitsujiyama Park also has animal ranches, tennis courts and playgrounds, so visiting with kids is more than welcome — they can stay well occupied while the parents savor the view.
Tips for attending the Chichibu Shibazakura Festival
- Get there as early as you can for optimal flower viewing with less crowds
- Make sure to bring sun protection because there aren’t a lot of shady spots
- Bring enough cash as there are no ATMs at the venue
- It’s quite a walk from the station to the park. There’s a dedicated shuttle bus if you don’t want to hoof it on foot, but if you’re up for the challenge – get those sneakers on!
- If you’re visiting by car, prepare for quite a long wait. It’s even better to park somewhere far away and take the train for a few stations if you want to avoid sitting in your car for hours.
- Expect extra crowds if you’re visiting during the Golden Week. If you can, aim for a regular weekday.
- Don’t forget your camera and a few SD cards — you’ll be taking tons of photos!
Address:6360 Omiya, Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture
Access:Seibu-Chichibu station (About 1.5 hours from Ikebukuro on the Seibu Ikebukuro – Seibu Chichibu line). For a pleasant, fast and inexpensive ride, take the Red Arrow Limited Express, a special limited express connecting Ikebukuro and Seibu Chichibu for ¥700 for a one-way ticket. Trains run hourly and the journey will take around 70 minutes.
When:April 12 – Monday, May 6, 2019, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission:¥300. Free for visitors with physical disabilities