The Japanese certainly know how to design a garden, but at Ashikaga Flower Park, they’ve taken it to an especially impressive level. Yet, few people seem to know about this gem, which is an easy day trip from Tokyo.
I make it a point to visit botanic gardens wherever I travel, but Ashikaga isn’t your average botanic garden. It’s populated almost entirely with flowering plants so that the place explodes with color at all times of the year.
While most people try to visit Japan for cherry blossom season, I went for Ashikaga’s Great Wisteria Festival held from mid-April to mid-May. During the festival, glorious wisteria trellises and tunnels of purple, white, and pink fill the grounds. On social media sites, you may have seen some of the wisteria tunnel photographs taken at Ashikaga, but there’s nothing like seeing them in person. Best yet, you get to smell them. If you’ve never smelled wisteria, you’re in for a treat.
Since wisteria season comes right after the cherry blossoms, I saw a few remaining cherry trees in bloom at the park, along with brightly colored azaleas, fringed tulips, and enormous peonies. Of course, if you have your heart set on lots of cherry blossoms, Ashikaga won’t disappoint if you go during that season from March-to-April.
A Year-Round Attraction
Whether or not you travel during these special seasons, you can visit the park year-round, as it focuses on different types of flowers from month to month. In January and February, you’ll find pheasant’s eye, Christmas rose, winter clematis, and Kansai plums. March and April bring the cherry blossoms, along with snow willow, the yukiyanagi flower, rape blossoms, and 20,000 blooming tulips.
After wisteria season, it’s prime time for rose fanatics. The park contains 2500 rose bushes, as well as 1000 rhododendrons and 500 strains of clematis. June and July bring iris, bridegroom, and hydrangeas. From mid-July to mid-September, the park highlights 1500 tropical water lilies along with lantana and monkey slip flowers. From October through November, Ashikaga goes purple with 300,000 flowers like amethyst sage. From late October until late January, they hold a light show among the blossoms.
A Calming Atmosphere
If Tokyo’s hustle and bustle gets to you, Ashikaga is the perfect escape. I was concerned that the grounds would be excessively crowded during wisteria season, but not so. It was busy, but there weren’t so many people as to make it uncomfortable. Plus, the Japanese people tend to be so polite that even crowded areas are reasonably pleasant. If you arrive at the park right at opening time, however, you will beat some of the crowd.
Soothing music plays throughout the park, and there are concession stands set up with tables for relaxing and eating. They even served wisteria-flavored ice cream during my visit.
If you’re like me and tend to have allergies, there’s a good chance you won’t have to worry when visiting Ashikaga. The pollens in Japan are so different from those at home that my body had no reaction.
Also, don’t miss the park’s gift shop before you leave. It’s unusually large and sells souvenirs that are far superior to the usual cheesy fare. I bought a tasty wisteria-flavored fizzy drink, wisteria-scented soaps, and a lavender lace scarf with a wisteria design.
How to Get There
Getting to Ashikaga can be a little bit confusing, and the park’s website only confused me further. It says to take the Japan Rail (JR) Ryomo line to the Ashikaga Flower Park station, and the Park is a short walk from there. The problem is that you can’t get the Ryomo line from Tokyo. You must first take a local JR train from Tokyo to the town of Oyama. Note: You can’t get a seat reservation on “local” JR trains, which differ from the Shinkansen bullet trains, but you can use your Japan Rail Pass for those routes.
From Oyama, you can connect to the Ryomo line. Since Oyama is the originating station for the line, you needn’t worry about traveling in the wrong direction. The entire trip takes about two hours each way. (The next stop after the Ashikaga Flower Park station is simply called “Ashikaga,” but it’s farther from the park. Make sure you exit at the Park’s station.)
I fell in love with Japan and enjoyed every moment I was there, but my visit to Ashikaga Flower Park was my favorite day in the country. When I return, it will be one of my first stops.
This trip was not hosted.