If you’ve heard of CNN’s “Dream Destinations,” you might have heard about Ashikaga Flower Park, the only location in Japan chosen by the program. The park is home to an ancient wisteria tree that boasts an age of 150 years, taking you to a world that almost looks like the colorful jungle from the movie Avatar. The fairytale-like scenery is so beautiful and enigmatic, it almost seems unreal. And yet, the stunning blooms gently sway in the wind right above your head. Japan’s wisteria season is from mid-April to mid-May, closely following the cherry blossoms, so if you’re planning to have a full-on springtime adventure, you cannot miss out on this amazing phenomenon!
Ashikaga Flower Park: the Most Stunning Wisteria Spot
Ashikaga Flower Park is a true flower theme park spanning 94,000 square meters in total, located about a 90-minute train ride away from Tokyo, in Tochigi Prefecture’s Ashikaga. The park offers stunning floral sceneries all around the year, but the wisteria from mid-April to mid-May is the reason why Ashikaga Flower Park is so famous. Featuring the Great Wisteria and the White Wisteria, two natural monuments of Tochigi Prefecture, the park even offers spectacular illuminations that are known as one of Japan’s greatest night views. Following this success are the illuminations in late October that have been the top choice of the National Illumination Ranking for the second year in a row. With more than 1.5 million visitors in one year, it is obvious that Ashikaga Flower Park is a must-see tourist destination.
During the wisteria season, the park usually holds a big event to celebrate the beautiful flowers. This year, it was called “A Tale of the Wisteria – the Great Wisteria Festival 2018” and held earlier than usual, as the flowers started to blossom earlier than ever before. We visited the event right in the heart of the park – it’s about a 60-minute walk if you head straight for it, but a relaxing stroll that takes you about 90~120 minutes through the wisteria-clad garden is highly recommended.
Breathtakingly Beautiful: the Absolute Must-See Wisteria Spots
All in all, Ashikaga Flower Park offers eleven distinct wisteria hot spots: the Great Wisteria, the yae-fuji which is a double-flowered species, the <@onaga-fuji|@> (a massive tree), the white wisteria tunnel, the Kibana wisteria tunnel, the “pale red arbor” and the “pale red bridge,” the “purple wisteria screen,” the “white wisteria waterfall,” the “wisteria dome,” and the “purple wisteria arbor.” Wisteria blossom from the top, so you’ll never see all buds in blooms at once, but it also means that there’s no classic full bloom period. The deepest and most beautiful color can be enjoyed while the bottom of the flower is still closed and about two-thirds of it are in bloom. But even if you miss this timeframe, you’ll get to indulge in a stunning scenery as the buds just above your head show their beauty then. Ashikaga Flower Park’s wisteria can be divided into four colors: pink, purple, white, and yellow. We visited in late April, catching the pink wisteria at the end of their bloom, while the Great Wisteria and the white wisteria were just at their peak. The yellow variety experiences full bloom in May.
■ The Great Wisteria: the park’s symbol
The absolute showstoppers are the two Great Wisteria trees. One of them covers an astounding 1,000 square meters with about 80,000 individual flowers. Wisteria trees get old and while this 150-year old tree may seem like a grandpa plant to you, but a truly old wisteria would have an age of about 1,200 years.
■ The White Wisteria Tunnel: a natural monument
The White Wisteria Tunnel also is a designated natural monument, alongside the Great Wisteria trees. The 80-meter long tunnel will make you feel like you’re walking beneath natural chandeliers, transporting you to a wholly different world. This species has a stronger scent than the Great Wisteria, engulfing you in a sweet fantasy.
■ The Wisteria Arbor: looking up from below
Step under the wisteria arbor and look straight up – you’ll be stunned by a scenery of gentle rays of sunlight falling through a ceiling of flowers, illuminating them in a very peculiar way. The nightly illuminations are beautiful, but they do not surpass this natural harmony of sunlight and flowers that creates the most vivid purples and greens.
■ The Pale Pink Bridge: a water-and-flower fantasy
We caught the pale pink wisteria at their peak. The Pale Pink Bridge is exactly what it sounds like – a little bridge with a roof of pale wisteria flowers. Especially stunning is are the nightly illuminations, creating enigmatic reflections on the pond below.
Wisteria Galore: How to Take the Best Pictures
■ The Great Wisteria
“If you want to take a great picture of the 160 to 170cm long wisteria flowers, sitting or squatting down is best to showcase their size,” explains Mr. Kobayashi who works at the Ashikaga Flower Park. It’s true, lowering the eye level brings out the unique beauty of the long flowers far better than taking a picture while standing. This also emphasizes the majestic trunk of the tree a lot more, its dark bark creating a wonderful contrast to the pastel blossoms.
■ The Purple Wisteria Arbor
While the flowers may look the same, the trunk of the purple wisteria arbor is more elegant than powerful and is curved in a uniquely beautiful way. It may not be as wide as the Great Wisteria but boasts a more filigree and soft appearance.
■ The Yae-Fuji Wisteria
This wisteria species is especially impressive, as the double-blossom creates rich clusters of a shape that resembles grapes. It is said that this variety is hard to come by, so enjoying the dense flowers is a rare treat. Stronger in scent and deeper in color than the Great Wisteria, the yae-fuji holds its own against the park’s most famous icon.
■ The White Wisteria Waterfall
This wisteria is shaped like a waterfall, 35 meters wide and 9 meters tall. The falling white flowers cascade down over the water and are a stunning sight to behold. Make sure to also step around this waterfall to see another wisteria tree of this variety, one that is hidden and somewhat of an insider tip or secret spot.
■ The Wisteria Dome
At the far end of the garden towers the wisteria dome and is often overlooked by visitors due to its somewhat remote location. The dome-shaped pillars are entirely overgrown with wisteria flowers, giving them this stunning shape as they gently sway in the wind. Several chairs in front of the dome invite you to rest your feet for a while, shaded by the flowers themselves.
■ Onaga-Fuji Wisteria
The wisteria variety called onaga-fuji especially looks like a curtain of hundreds of flowers, responding to every breeze just like a light piece of fabric. It’s a breathtaking spectacle. The best way to capture it on a photo or video is from the small pier on the other side. The night view here is also especially recommended, as the reflections on the water seem to turn the scenery into an enigmatic dream landscape.
■ The Kibana Wisteria Tunnel
This tunnel becomes the major highlight from May when the yellow wisteria is in peak bloom. Said to be a variety that is naïve in Europe, cultivation in Japan is rather difficult. Just like their white cousin, the flowers create an 80-meter long tunnel.
Insider Tip: Further Hot Spots Within the Park
While everyone flocks immediately to the famous sights of Ashikaga Flower Park, there are numerous less crowded spots that shine in their very own beauty. Especially recommended is the “Sea of Azalea,” chock-full of colorful azalea flowers. You’ll find it in the center of the park, keep your eyes open for a white wisteria tree and you’ll notice the beautiful contrast between white and pink immediately.
Just right behind the entrance is the Flower Stage where seasonal flowers are in bloom. The picture shows the stage during late April.
All-Round Experience: Wisteria Sweets and Souvenirs
Ashikaga Flower Park does its reputation as famous wisteria spot further justice by offering a variety of limited snacks, sweets, and souvenirs. Especially delectable is the wisteria soft serve for 400 yen (tax included) only available at the park. Another must-try delicacy is the Fuji Creamery, a cold delight created in collaboration with Cold Stone Creamery for 580 yen (tax included). It does not only taste amazing but also looks like a work of art, making it a particularly popular treat. Other than ice cream, tickle your taste buds with a diverse choice of limited dishes, such as wisteria smoothie for 480 yen (tax included), “demi-tomato” takoyaki by Gindaco for 650 yen (tax included). Also make sure to take note of the many local delicacies such as Sano Ramen or a strawberry variety called tochi-otome.
There’s also plenty of souvenirs to enjoy. Next to regional specialties such as buckwheat, a large part of them focuses on the wisteria flowers. Wisteria cosmetics, sweets, and all sorts of accessories and miscellaneous goods invite to browse for the perfect memento. On top of that, collaborations between Ashikaga Flower Park and various companies promise rare items that can only be found at the park itself.
Enjoying Ashikaga Flower Park Throughout the Year
A year at Ashikaga Flower Park offers eight different annual themes and various flowers blossom in every season. Next to wisterias, June brings stunning roses and hydrangeas, while autumn is another famous rose and herb season. Even winter is magical at Ashikaga Flower Park with its many illuminations. Since April 1, 2018, there’s a brand-new station on the JR Ryōmō Line called Ashikaga Flower Park Station, just a 1-minute walk away from the park’s West Gate. Even if you’ve missed the wisteria season this time around, it is a wonderful destination for a day trip from Tokyo.
Daytime: 1,600 yen for adults / 800 yen for children
Nighttime: 1,300 yen for adults / 700 yen for children
※As of April 30. Admission changes depending on the state of the flowers. Please see the website for further details.
1.1 – 4.17 (2018): 300~1,200 yen (adults) / 200~600 yen (children)
4.14 – 5.20 (2018): 900~1,800 yen (adults) / 500~900 yen (children)
5.21 – 6.30 (2018): 500~1,200 yen (adults) / 300~600 yen (children)
7.1 – 12.31 (2018): 300~900 yen (adults) / 100~500 yen (children)
10.21 – 2.4 (2017, nighttime): 900 yen (adults) / 500 yen (children)
Daytime: 7:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Nighttime: 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
※Tickets are sold until 30 minutes before closing.
Closed: open year-round
※Please note that the park is closed on 3rd Wednesday and Thursday of February, as well as on December 31. Please confirm maintenance days on the official website: https://www.ashikaga.co.jp/english/index.html
Access: Ashikaga Flower Park Station (JR Ryōmō Line), 1 minute on foot
※About 2 hours by train from the Tokyo metropolitan area, about 90 minutes by car.
Ashikaga Flower Parkあしかがフラワーパーク
- Address 607 Hasamachō, Ashikaga-shi, Tochigi-ken 329-4216
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