Last year, we sat amazed as we looked at pictures of Hitachi Seaside Park, where every autumn a hill covered in kochia shrubs turns a dazzling shade of crimson.
Then we sat crying as a storm on the day we’d planned to visit the park washed out our travel plans.
After 12 long months of moping, this week we finally got a second chance, and this time the weather was perfect. Interested in making the trip for yourself? Read on and we’ll tell you how.
If you’re starting from Tokyo, the first leg of the journey involves making your way to Ibaraki Prefecture. The closest station to the park is Katsuta, which is connected to Tokyo’s Ueno Station by the JR Joban Line. The Super Hitachi limited express will get you there in an hour and 11 minutes for 3,608 yen (US $33). If you’ve got more time than cash to spare, regular trains will also do the job in two hours and 12 minutes for 2,268 yen ($21).
Alternatively, if you’re coming from western or central Tokyo, you can take the Hibiya subway line to its final stop at Kita Senju Station, then transfer to the Joban Line and continue on from there to Katsuta.
▼ Katsuta Station
Head out the East Exit and go down the stairs, where you’ll find the bus rotary. Buses depart from Stand 2 for the park roughly every 20 minutes during the day, and the 20-minute ride from Katsuta Station to the entrance at the Kaihin Kouen Nishi Guchi costs 400 yen ($3.73).
▼ Kaihin Kouen Nishi Guchi/海浜公園西口 (Seaside Park West Entrance) Bus Stop
The bus will drop you just a short walk from the entrance, and while the expansive plaza in front of the gate might not look too impressive, once inside it becomes immediately apparent just how huge the park is.
At 190 hectares (470 acres), you could fit a couple of amusement parks inside the place. And while one section of Hitachi Seaside Park does contain a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and a handful of other rides, it also has a massive of section of natural forest that walking trails meander through, along with a lake and cycling path with bike rental stations.
But what brought us here was the kochia, which grow in knee and waist-high bushes over a hill in the northeastern part of the park. For most of the year, kochia are green, but once October rolls around, the 36,000 shrubs in Hitachi Seaside Park turn an amazing shade of red, reaching their peak in the middle of the month and drying out to a brown color by early November.
Multiple paths crisscross up and down the slope, and in many spots visitors are even encouraged to step off the walkways and stroll around the kochia.
That’s not to say the kochia have a monopoly on natural beauty inside the park at this time of year. Ibaraki is famous for soba buckwheat, and on the approach to the hill, you’ll pass by a field of it. In October the plants’ white flowers bloom, and while some varieties of soba blossoms have a foul smell, the ones at Hitachi Seaside Park are thankfully odor-free.
▼ The kochia and soba team up for a picturesque combo
Directly adjacent to the kochia hill, there’s a large patch of cosmos, which were in full bloom when we stopped by.
The most impressive views come when the two seas of color sweep and flow around each other.
Of course, they couldn’t call it Hitachi Seaside Park if it wasn’t near the ocean, and making your way to the top of the hill rewards you with a view of the Pacific.
There’s also a bell up there. We didn’t see any sort of sign explaining its origin or purpose, but since everyone was lining up to give it a ring, we figured we might as well too.
If your feet are feeling tired after hiking up this far, at the very highest point of the hill you’ll find a grassy area where you can sit and look out over the park.
▼ The sea breeze also makes it an ideal spot for blowing bubbles, if you happen to have brought a container of solution with you.
Should you come down from the hill with time left over before the park closes, there’s still plenty to see. Aside from the forest paths, bicycling route, and amusement park rides we mentioned before, Hitachi Seaside Park has old farm houses, rock and herb gardens, and even a stylish café tucked away at the far edge of its grounds.
Still, since the park closes at sundown, we recommend making the kochia your first priority. They really are beautiful, and are sure to excite your kids, impress your date, or just put your pet rabbit in a really good mood.
Hitachi Seaside Park / ひたち海浜公園
Address: Ibaraki Prefecture, Hitachi Naka City, Mawatari Onumaaza 605-4
Admission: Adults 400 yen (US $4), children 80 yen, children under 6 free
Bus timetable from Katsuta Station