I always have a tough time transitioning to autumn in Japan. Sure, the lower humidity means I can stop sweating for the first time in three months, but it’s a little disappointing leaving the office in the evening and finding the skies already completely dark. In my book, a persimmon is a poor substitute for a nice slice of watermelon. And while my wife does indeed look stylish in her snappy fall coat, if I’m being completely honest, I’d still rather see her in a bathing suit at the beach.
However, there is one saving grace to autumn: the dazzling array of fall colors. Hitachi Seaside Park may share part of its name with the electronics manufacturer founded in the same city, but there’s no technological wizardry going on here. The vivid vermillion of its foliage is 100 percent natural.
Among the plants found in the spacious park in Ibaraki Prefecture are kochia, a type of large herb that grows in brushes about 90 centimeters (35 inches) tall. Hitachi Seaside Park’s kochia are clustered on a hill, and during most of the year exist as cute clumps of greenery.
Come late September, though, their color starts to shift, becoming tinged with red. The park’s official website shows them to currently look like this.
By mid-October, the 36,000 kochia shrubs’ transition is complete, transforming the hill into a sea of crimson.
The park’s kochia are cultivated for decretive purposes, but the plant does have a few practical uses as well. Aside from being used in some herbal medicines, the kochia seeds are eaten in some parts of northern Japan, where they’re called tonburi. Tonburi connoisseurs refer to the seeds as the “caviar of the fields,” due to the two foods’ similarity in texture.
Kochia have a tendency to absorb lead and mercury from the earth they are rooted in. As such, the plant can also be used in phytoremediation, a process of naturally removing soil imbalances.
Hitachi Seaside Park is also known for its cosmos, a flower which blooms at around the same time as the kochia turns scarlet. Cosmos come in a variety of colors, with those around the park’s hill being pink, white, and red.
The nearest train station is Katsuta Station (勝田駅), from which the park’s entrance can be reached in 25 minutes by bus. For visitors coming from the Tokyo area, there are also direct buses from Asakusa and Ueno Stations, which carry passengers to the entrance at Kaihin Kouen Iriguchi (海浜公園入口) bus stop.
Hitachi Seaside Park opens daily at 9:30 a.m., with closing times ranging from 4:30 to 6:00, depending on the season. For the months of September and October, the best time to see the kochia and cosmos together, Hitachi Seaside Park will be open until 5 p.m. For this year, officials predict the kochia to retain their full color until roughly October 20.
Hitachi Seaside Park
Ibaraki Prefecture, Hitachi Naka City, Oaza Mawatari 605-4, 312-0012
Admission: Adults 400 yen (US $4), children 80 yen, children under 6 free