A few years ago, wisteria wasn’t even on my radar. Sure, it’s a historical and hugely popular flower here in Japan, but having spent so much time in Okinawa up to that point, my flower knowledge mostly comprised hibiscus … and that’s it.
Alright, and cherry blossoms. Everybody knows cherry blossoms. 🙂
Then I moved to Kyushu and discovered an entirely new blooming calendar. Around the same time, the photos of the Kawachi Fujien wisteria garden in Fukuoka Prefecture went viral on the internet. Wisteria became, for a time, my new obsession.
Fukuoka is a bit far now from my current home in Tokyo. But the Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture – just north of Tokyo – allegedly boasts equally impressive display. In a quest to fulfill my seasonal wisteria quotient, I set out this past week to check it out.
From my home station of Ebisu, I had a long train ride of two hours, but only one transfer at Oyama (in Tochigi). When I arrived at the tiny train station of Tomita, it was easy to follow the crowds on the 12 minute walk to the flower park. (The way is marked, with some English signage, but if you visit during wisteria season, there are both crowds AND employees directing traffic) so you can’t get lost.)
Ashikaga Flower Park charges admission based on how “in bloom” the flowers are. On the day I went (May 2nd), the wisteria was pretty much at full bloom, so I paid the full ¥1700 admission. It’s a steep price – added to the price of a train ticket already – but I feel the garden was worth it. There are nearly a dozen major wisteria trellises, from large flat trellises to a huge half-dome to one or two tall “wall trellises”. All of them were in full bloom and while there were hordes of people milling about the garden, it was possible to get shots of some of the trellis with very few people in them.
The garden also had several paths lined with small wisteria bushes – some of which looked even more impressive than the larger displays – and numerous other flower beds had been planted.
It wasn’t easy to navigate the heavy crowds and the lines for the bathroom were all incredibly long. I’m not sure if the visitor traffic was due to it being Golden Week, full bloom, or both. As wisteria normally always bloom during Golden Week, it’s hard to know if it will ever be less crowded.
I did find some affordable food at the stalls in the rear part of the garden, chowing down on local Utsunomiya gyoza and some allegedly special dumplings. I also managed to find a seat on a bench so I could eat my dumplings, so at least the crowds didn’t make that impossible.
For me, as a flower fan, the trip up from Tokyo was worth it. If you visit, remember to charge your cameras (I took over 500 photos!), bring your own bento if you don’t want to pay for food on site (though it wasn’t too pricey) and pack plenty of patience. Also, as a heads-up, wisteria attract numerous bees. I wasn’t bothered by a single one but those with an allergy may want to be aware.