Don’t get me wrong – I love cherry blossoms! How can I not? My last name means “cherry tree” in Spanish.
I think the shade of pink is one of the most delicate and exquisite colors I’ve seen. I loved seeing my neighbors picnicking on thick green grass under trees thick with pink blooms.
The beauty and problem with cherry blossoms is that the season is way too short. In Japan, peak blossoms normally occur the from the end of March to the beginning of April. The exact dates vary, of course, based on what city you are in and the temperature. If you miss peak blooms in Kyoto and Tokyo and are hankering to see them, the best approach is to chase colder temperatures up north.
The other problem with cherry blossom festivals are the crowds. Go to the peak areas that are known for blossoms, such as Ueno Park, castles, and iconic landmarks and you’ll find yourself competing alongside thousands of admirers for the same shot.
As magical as the cherry blossoms are in Japan – and they are glorious – I have to make a strong push for the other flowers that erupt every spring and summer. Who would have thought you could find the most luscious flowers in Yokosuka?
Here are some of my favorite places to see and celebrate flowers other than the cherry blossom. All are in Yokosuka and are either free, or cost less than a cup of coffee.
Flowering Plum Tree
During the Nara period (8th century) the flowering plum, not the cherry, that was actually the most famous flowering tree in Japan. It begins blooming in February and March and are often the first flowers to blossom, signifying the promise of spring.
The plum blossom looks remarkably similar to those of the cherry tree. The two ways to distinguish a plum from a cherry blossom comes down to shape (cherry blossom petals are oval), and whether there is a split at the end of the petal (the mark of a cherry blossom). Plum blossoms also have a wider variation of colors: creamy, snowy whites, pale pinks, and deep rich reds.
The Taura Plum Grove began in 1934 as a tribute to the Emperor’s Best reached by foot or by local train. Signs for the ume are posted throughout the neighborhood. Make sure that you hydrate and that you are prepared to climb some serious stairs. Hey, getting views like the ones you get at the grove and at the top don’t come easy!
The most famous place in Japan to see these wisteria is arguably Ashikaga Flower Park near Tokyo. A neat trick if you you live in Yokosuka and don’t want to travel to Tokyo is to visit the Yokosuka Iris Gardens. Although the gardens are officially known for their irises, their wisteria is a special secret, and the Yokosuka Iris Gardens website provides regular updates as to the status and condition of the blooms.
Don’t these lovely pastel shades make you think of spring?
I have to admire that the Yokosuka Iris Park only charges an entrance fee during peak bloom season (April-June). From July-March, you can enter the garden for free.
There is an abundance of parking outside the entrance, and buses make it very convenient to get to, and local vendors sell handmade pottery, tea, soft cream, cakes, and flowers.
Cost: ¥320 for adults
Once again, I have to give a shout-out to the Yokosuka Iris Gardens. Its iris gardens are among the largest in Japan, and from June-July, over 400 varieties of iris are on display. Women in dresses with straw hats go from field to field carefully monitoring water levels and snapping off dead or damaged iris flowers. Tiny white butterflies hover over flowers, and between the bright sun parasols the atmosphere is both festive and very serene.
Hase Dera Temple in nearby Kamakura is famous for its amazing blooms that peak June through July. I’ll happily vouch that the blooms at Hasa Dera are glorious. But one does not have to venture far to find thousands of flawless hydrangea — Yokosuka has them in abundance. I love the colors: baby blue, bubblegum pink, lavender, raspberry, snow white.
One of my favorite places to see hydrangea plants is Kurihama Flower Park. The park might be most known for the massive 29 foot tall Godzilla statue/slide at the top of the hill. If you’re curious as to what the enormous Godzilla statue is doing there, it was inspired by the 1954 Godzilla film in which Godzilla first set foot on land in Kannonzaki…not too far away. Just like the Godzilla statue, the hydrangeas at Kurihama Flower Park are nothing short of epic.
Cost: Free! (Just be prepared for some steep up and downs.) Or, if you don’t feel like walking, you can take the Flower Train for less than $2.
Roses are not traditionally associated with Japan. They are, however, closely associated with France. Thus, a great place to see over a hundred varieties of roses is Verny Park, named in honor of French engineer Francois Leonce Verny.
Verny contributed to Japan’s modernization in the late 1860s with the construction of the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal. The French-style garden is located right along the waterfront, and gives strollers fantastic glimpses of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force fleet. My favorite time to go to Verny Park is in the morning, when you can take your time, pull your face mask down and stop and sniff the delicious perfumes.
Come May, the thousands of blooms in the park are out of this world. Something I really marvel at is that although the roses are in a public area that has a great deal of pedestrian traffic, people respect that these blooms are meant for the enjoyment of everyone. I’ve never seen anyone try to steal a rose.
Happy flower exploring!