Japan’s Beautiful Wisteria Gardens
There are two big wisteria gardens in Japan – the Kawachi Fuji garden in Kitakyushu and the Ashikaga Flower Park north-east of Tokyo. The wisteria flowering season is from about mid-April to mid-May, immediately following the sakura (cherry blossom) season, so if you’ve not been able to make it to Japan to see the cherry blossoms, then the wisteria flowering season provides an excellent substitute.
The Kawachi gardens are probably the most well known to international visitors because that’s where the photographs of the famous wisteria tunnels are taken, but they are a long way from Tokyo on the southern island of Kyushu. To get to Kitakyushu you would need to fly or take a bullet train, which takes about 6 hours. But the Ashikaga Flower Park can be easily done in a day trip from Tokyo.
Just take any mainline train or bullet train to Oyama, which is 1-2 hours out of Tokyo, and then a local train on the Ryomo Line from Oyama to Ashikaga Flower Park station which is one stop after Tomita station. The local trains on that line run every hour.
During the wisteria flowering season, the train is full of people visiting the gardens, so all you have to do is follow the crowd. The train fares will add up to around 2,000 – 3,000 yen depending on what part of Tokyo you are coming from and whether you are taking a mainline train or bullet train.
There are wisterias all over the gardens from vines that look like trees, because they are over 140 years old, to young specimens in tubs that are beautiful in their own way. The oldest wisterias in Japan are in these gardens, and one covers almost 2,000 square metres.
As well as the 350 or so wisteria trees in the Ashikaga gardens, there are about 5,000 azalea bushes which will be in flower at the same time as the Wisteria vines, making this the most colourful time of the year to visit Ashikaga. At night the gardens are illuminated until 9.00 pm.
The Ashikaga gardens have many other flowering plants aside from wisterias and azaleas planted in flower beds, pots, planters, on trellises and island displays. Strolling through the gardens is a very relaxing way to spend a springtime afternoon, and there is plenty of seating in all parts of the gardens.
There are excellent facilities in the gardens including restrooms, restaurants, snack bars, a souvenir shop and even an ice cream parlour selling wisteria ice cream. During the wisteria season, the gardens are at their most crowded, so lunchboxes are also offered for sale to satisfy the hunger of those who can’t find a seat in one of the restaurants.
Although the Ashikaga Flower Park is best known for its wisteria festival, there are flowers to be seen throughout the year. Aside from spring, the best displays are in the summer months when roses, rhodendrons, iris, hydrangea and clematis are in full flower.
Prior to the wisteria season, the garden produces colourful displays of tulips and crocus, as well as cherry blossoms.
The cost of admission to the Ashikaga Flower Park is dependent on the condition of the flowers. During the wisteria blooming season from mid-April to mid-May, the price varies from 900 yen to 1,800 yen, but expect to pay 1,800 yen for most of that period.
In the month before the wisteria blooming season, from mid-March to mid-April the admission price varies from 300 yen to 1,200 yen, and in the month after from mid-May to mid-June, the price is 500 yen to 1,200 yen. For the rest of the year, the admission price varies between 300 yen and 900 yen. Unfortunately there are no senior discounts.
The park is not overly large, so is relatively easy for seniors to navigate on foot. However, for those who prefer a wheelchair, a small number are available free of charge on a first-come first-served basis.
For more information on visiting the Ashikaga Flower Park, check out their website here.
Facts about wisteria
Wisteria is a woody, deciduous, flowering vine that can grow up to 20 metres high and 10 metres across. It needs strong supports because mature vines can weigh many tonnes. Some wisteria vines have lived for more than 200 years.
There are two main species and many cultivars. Wisteria floribunda (Japanese wisteria) is native to Japan and produces spectacular displays of fragrant violet, blue, white or pink flowers. Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria) which is native to southern China, produces mainly violet or white flowers.
Most wisteria flower in the spring, but there are some summer flowering varieties as well. Newly established plants take 5-10 years before they will produce their first flowers. They require full sunlight for at least 5-6 hours a day. Plants that have too much shade may take up to 20 years before they flower.
The sap of the wisteria is toxic. Whilst deaths from wisteria poisoning are rare, many children have suffered severe gastroenteritis from ingesting parts of the wisteria vine.
Header image: © David Astley