The best place to see hydrangeas in Tokyo
Right on cue, the heavens opened up. The wet season began and burst hydrangeas into bloom across Tokyo. From early June to mid-July, the plants flourish in pinks, blues, lilac and cream, like a petalled rainbow welcomed to illuminate the days of drizzle. There has to be one good thing about the rain, right?
While there are several top spots to view hydrangeas in Tokyo, Bunkyo’s Ajisai (hydrangea in English) Festival offers more than just your average garden. For one week in early June, Hakusan Shrine invites flower enthusiasts to gaze in awe at its some 3,000 plants scattered throughout the grounds. And if you pop by on the weekend, you’re in for quite a treat, as the festival blossoms further with lively on-stage performances, activities and stalls.
As you perch amongst petals, sip on your sparkling wine and tune into the sounds of jazz, you can’t help but feel rather refined!
What’s on offer
Hydrangeas; lots of them! They’re dotted everywhere around the shrine and also in the park around the back. I went on the first weekend of the festival’s opening, so the flowers weren’t quite at their best. I’d suggest going on the second (last) weekend.
The festival features a stage which showcases a variety of performances, including jazz, acapella and J-Pop concerts, taiko drumming and hula dance shows, as well as elementary school bands.
I wasn’t too sure what to expect, so was fairly surprised by the liveliness of the event as we stumbled in on a series of J-Pop idol-esque groups. Lots of sickeningly kawaii (cute) girls with squeaky voices from Toyo University dominated the stage in matching ensembles. They performed perfectly choreographed routines, which were kind of creepy but also hypnotic to watch. Then we saw a jazz school band and that helped to take the edge off.
There are about 15 stalls selling wine, beer and nibbles at a not so overly extortionate price! It’s 400 yen for sparkling wine (about £3), 300 for a red or white and 300 for a beer (£2.20). Or still, you can just bring in your own without a fuss.
You can even pick up your very own hydrangea, priced at 1,500 yen (£11) for small plant and 2,000 (£14.50) for a large. But if you fear failing to sneak it onto your flight back home, you might want to consider a flower lollipop instead for just 250.
There is also a tent where you can paint hydrangeas onto a canvas bag! I thought this was highly adorable, but was slightly put-off by the fact only children were doing it… Still, if you want to create a masterpiece of your own, 200 yen seems like a pretty good deal to me!
Hakusan Shrine is not only known for its flowers, but for its protective powers against toothache! So, if paranoid about your pearly whites, then you can fight to be one of the first 100 to claim a free blessed toothbrush! There’s even a dentist consultation service, but it’s just in Japanese…
The festival runs for one week and two weekends in early June. This year, it’s open from 10am to 4pm everyday but you should check the festival website for future updates and specific times of activities and performances.
Hakusan Shrine in Bunkyo. You’ll need to take the Mita Line and get off at Hakusan Station. Exit through exit A3 and turn left; you’ll see the shrine gate up some stairs at the end of the street.
English information available?
No, but you don’t need to know what anyone’s saying around you to enjoy the flowers! (and the wine).
I would have happily spent the whole day there, if it weren’t for the impending rain! You can see the hydrangeas quite quickly and probably take some decent photos in half an hour. But if you want to catch a couple of acts as well, I’d stay for at least an hour and half.
Free to attend!
Should you go?
Yes, yes, yes! The hydrangeas are a delight, and the festival hosts a lot of performances to keep you content for a good while. The only downside is that there’s a lengthy line to venture up to the top of the tiny Hakusan hill for… I’m not sure what’s up there, but I doubt it’s worth queueing 40 minutes for! But anyway, the Ajisai Festival is definitely a unique experience, which glimpses into the local culture of residential Tokyo, which appears to be filled with a strong sense of community and appreciation for the wonders of nature.