In Japan, April is more than just the start of spring. It’s a time for students to go back to school, businesses to ring in the new fiscal year, and for the cherry blossom trees to bloom. During this time, Japanese people race to parks and gardens to celebrate the pink petals with picnics and parties called hanami. For international travelers, this is both the best and worst time to see Japan.
There’s no denying the beauty of a sakura tree in full bloom, and joyous festivals welcoming the flowers only add to the fun. Unfortunately, this also tends to be the most crowded time of year and the hardest to plan a trip around. In Japanese culture, cherry blossoms represent the transience of life because their bloom only lasts two weeks. Plan your international trip a little too early or late, and you might be in for a disappointment.
Fortunately, there’s another pink blossom, equally as beautiful as the cherry trees, that you can see as well during this time of year. Moss phlox flowers (Shibazakura in Japanese) bloom from April to June, giving you plenty of time to make arrangements for your itinerary. In particular, try to attend one of these four shibazakura festivals during your next spring trip to Japan.
The Fuji Shibazakura Matsuri is the most popular creeping phlox celebration for Japanese people, but Western travelers have yet to discover it. South of Lake Motosuko (one of Fuji’s Five Lakes), 800,000 shibazakura bloom in varying shades of magenta and pink as Mount Fuji proudly stands in the background. Footpaths wind through the flowers and sights like a mound of blossoms that resemble Fuji and a hot spring water footbath.
To celebrate the season, the locals hold an annual festival featuring gourmet food stalls and a pop-up cafe from around mid-April to early June. The exact dates of the festival change depending on the yearly bloom, but the flowers typically peak in May. If you want to beat the crowds, try to attend the festival in the morning on a weekday, but avoid going during the Golden Week Holidays (April 29 - May 6).
A 90-minute train ride from Tokyo to Seibu Chichibu station transports you from a city that buzzes with neon lights to one alive with ancient traditions. The forests and mountains surrounding the sleepy downtown area are home to centuries-old temples and shrines. From mid-April to early May, Hitsujiyama Park’s shibazakura open in the fields and on sloping hills.
Across the landscape, you’ll see varieties of moss phlox boasting several colors. Through strategic sowing, they make remarkable patterns and shapes. At the top of the Shibazakura Hill, you can rest on benches and take in the view below. During this time, a large market outside of the park opens where you can buy sake, beer, refreshments, and souvenirs.
Shibazakura is far from rare in Hokkaido, and our next two entries are both on Japan’s northernmost major island. If you’ve ever been here during winter, you’ll be surprised at how different the summer scenery looks when the snow melts away, and flowers cover the grounds. Unfortunately, JR trains don’t provide services to Takinoue Park, so the only way to get there is by private car or bus. Despite this, the shibazakura alone attract millions of visitors every spring.
The shibazakura bloom in Takinoue Park begins in early May and lasts through early June. Generally, the best time to see them is in late May, during which time the park hosts several festivities. You can enjoy stage performances, or ride a helicopter to take in an expansive view of the field. At the Phlox House, you can sample different local delicacies, including shibazakura flavored ice cream.
Higashimokoto Moss Pink Park is a testament to how one person can substantially change the environment for the better. Shortly after World War II, Chubachi Sueyoshi fell in love with moss phlox after his sister brought him a single flower. In 1947, Sueyoshi began an 8-year project to grow shibazakura in his hometown starting with a single box of seeds. He is single-handedly credited with creating the Higashimokoto Moss Pink Park.
From mid-May to early June, approximately one million phlox paint the hillside of the park. Climbing the stairs through the flowers, you’ll come across an observatory where you can view the field in its entirety. Within the park, you can also find an unusual shrine with a bright pink torii gate!