Do you know about Japan’s other sakura? After the cherry blossoms have fallen from the trees, the ground starts to blossom when the shibazakura or moss phlox starts to bloom. It’s like a carpet of flowers, dense and colorful and an absolute must-see sight! One of the best places to experience Japan’s moss phlox phenomenon is Hitsujiyama Park in Chichibu, just an 80-minute train ride away from Tokyo’s Ikebukuro. There, the small flowers spread over a spacious hill with the majestic Mount Bukō in the background – we visited the park to give you a first-hand impression of just how stunning this scenery is!
Hitsujiyama Park’s Moss Phlox Hill
As already mentioned, shibazakura is the Japanese name for moss phlox or creeping phlox and literally means “lawn cherry blossom.” Just like the actual cherry blossom covers large trees in pale pink and white, the moss phlox covers the ground entirely in about 10cm-high flowers, looking nothing short of a fantastical painting. The best time to see the moss phlox in bloom is for about one month between April and May.
Within Chichibu’s Hitsujiyama Park is shibazakura no oka, or moss phlox hill. The name can be taken literally, as the entire hill is covered in flowers of different seasons. Every year, the Shibazakura Festival is held during the moss phlox season, drawing in visitors from all over Japan to indulge in the sight, events, and various delicacies from food stalls all around. This year, the flowers bloom surprisingly early and the event takes place from April 13 to May 6, 2018.
Moss phlox hill spans over an area of 17,600 square meters (a little over 4 acres) in total and is the largest shibazakura area in the Kanto area. While that size may sound intimidating, it is surprisingly easy and relaxing to stroll all around in about 30 minutes. The flowers, planted to create a mosaic of pink, white, and purple, are roughly divided into three areas called the northwest slope, the southwest slope, and the east slope. The northwest slope gets the most sun and is the earliest to bloom, followed by the east slope and finally the southwest slope as the latest.
Hitsujiyama Park has three entrances. The Central Entrance is the main one, offering a beautiful view of the moss phlox with the mountain towering majestically in the background. The Shōbuta Entrance boasts a view of the flowers from below and makes you follow a path in between the moss phlox. The third entrance is called Une Entrance and known for its stunning scenery of pink and white flowers with a stark contrast.
Enjoying Shibazakura #2 - The Best Views and Photo Spots
The moss phlox flowers are about 10 centimeters high, so to capture just how wide the colorful carpet is, take a picture from the lowest possible position. Aim your lens slightly upward to capture the unique magnificence of moss phlox at its best.
If you’re using a smartphone, we recommend turning the device upside down so that the camera lens is the bottom half. Even if you have people or yourself in the shot, the lower-than-usual position is still the best choice.
There are also great spots of other flowers with moss phlox in the background, especially at the hill of the Central Entrance. To get Mount Bukō in the picture together with the shibazakura, don’t kneel all the way to the ground but find the middle or lower middle between eye level and ground. The pictures below were taken from the bottom of the slope at Central Entrance and from the point where the path from Shōbuta Entrance crosses. Elevated benches at the east slope offer a beautiful scenery of both the southwest and northwest slope together.
Enjoying Shibazakura #3 – The 9 Different Moss Phlox of the Park
Top, from left to right:
1) Amazing Grace
2) McDaniel's Cushion
Bottom, from left to right:
3) Little Dot
4) Autumn Rose
Top, from left to right:
5) Scarlet Flame
6) Emerald Cushion
Bottom, from left to right:
8) Oakington Blue
9) Mont Blanc
With the hills blooming in white, pink, and purple, it’s easy to see that Hitsujiyama Park has more than one kind of moss phlox, but would you have guessed that there are nine in total? They all vary in color and shape, differences that become obvious and interesting when you examine the tiny flowers up close. Only then do you really realize that these spacious, colorful carpets are made up of millions of unique little blossoms.
Enjoying Shibazakura #4 – Unique Heart-Shaped Patterns
One of the things you’ll immediately notice as you gaze upon Hitsujiyama Park is the beautiful heart-shaped patterns that the moss phlox grows in. That is unique to Chichibu and can be traced back to the Chichibu Yomatsuri, or Night Festival. It’s a beautiful, enigmatic spectacle that features floats decorated with lanterns, carvings, and other ornaments – the entire event is so enticing and wonderfully traditional, it has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Hitsujiyama’s moss phlox is said to be planted in patterns that are similar to those on the traditional clothes worn for the festival, conveying a feeling of liveliness and joy. The hearts and curves made up by the different moss phlox varieties are the result. Another reason is that a single moss phlox petal resembles the shape of a heart as well, and at the east slope you’ll find a large heart entirely out of flowers. Unfortunately, we cannot show you this adorable pattern as 2018 saw the moss phlox blossom earlier than usual and it was almost gone when we visited.
Enjoying Shibazakura #5 – Savoring Local Delights at the Market!
As the Moss Phlox Festival is held, there’s also the Chichibu Specialties Market being held. It’s the hot spot for local specialties, including amazing food but also crafts and produce. We especially urge you to try Chichibu’s famous miso potatoes, tempura of local produce, and the waraji katsu, breaded pork cutlet that gets its name for having a unique straw-sandal shape.
Trying the snacks at the different stalls is one of the highlights of visiting Hitsujiyama Park during this time. Some of the shops having stalls here usually only sell to wholesalers and companies, so you’re in for plenty of hard-to-come-by treats! From a famous sushi restaurant with a history of 100 years to beautiful products from a Chichibu glass manufacturer, browsing the market is a unique and fun experience that no one should miss out on.
Hitsujiyama Park Beyond the Moss Phlox
Even if you miss the moss phlox season, Hitsujiyama Park is beautiful all around the year. Cherry blossoms can be admired in spring, while beautiful irises blossom in early summer.
The park overlooks the town of Chichibu and thus offers a stunning sight of a more rural side of Japan, reinforced by the majestic mountains all around. <@Hitsujiyama|i@< actually means “sheep hill” so naturally, you’ll encounter wooly friends within the park as well, and the playground is a major highlight for kids.
On the north side opposite of moss phlox hill, you’ll find the Buzokan Museum and an art museum, should your heart long for a cultural activity. While the scenery alone is well worth the trip to Chichibu’s Hitsujiyama Park, there’s plenty to do and discover!
Date: April 13 – May 6, 2018
Admission (8:00 a.m. – 5:00p.m.): 300 (regular), 250 (group for over 20 people)
※Free for junior high and younger.
※Free from May 1 (outside the festival date).
※Park entry regulation: Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays from April 28 to May 6.
Please note: people with a disability or rehabilitation certificate, as well as those with a health and welfare certificate of persons with mental disorder are free to enter upon presenting their certificate.
※The Chichibu Specialty Market is within the paid part of the park. Please note that smoking is prohibited on the moss phlox hill.
Access: about 80 minutes by express train from Ikebukuro Station, then about 20 minutes on foot from Seibu Yokoze Station or Seibu Chichibu Station.
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