With its stunning scenery and fragrant beauty, this is one spring festival you don’t want to miss!
While Japan’s sakura cherry blossoms make headlines throughout April and early May each year, there’s another type of sakura that’s adored by the masses, only this one blooms up from the ground beneath your feet.
Called shibazakura (literally “lawn sakura”), the tiny blossoms create such beautiful carpets of colour that they’ve become the main event at a number of springtime festivals around the country.
▼ The most spectacular display of shibazakura, otherwise known as “moss phlox”, can be found right now at the base of Mt Fuji, in Yamanashi Prefecture.
On our recent visit, we found the flowers and the view to be absolutely stunning. If you’re in Japan during the festival period and looking for an unusual hanami flower-viewing experience, you won’t be disappointed by a day trip to the area. And to make sure you get the most out of your visit, we’ve compiled 14 tips to help you enjoy the day.
Located about three kilometres (1.9 miles) south of Lake Motosu in the famous Fuji Five Lakes region, the easiest way to get to the event is via the Chuo Highway bus from Shinjuku, which delivers you directly to the venue during the festival period in approximately 2.5 hours. Alternatively, you can get a bus or train to Kawaguchi-ko Station and then use the Shibazakura Liner bus, which costs 2,000 yen (US$18.28) for adults and 1,000 yen for children, and includes the return bus trip, park entry fee and a free postcard with a beautiful image of the shibazakura blooms. We travelled to the festival from Tokyo by car and after crawling along in one-lane traffic for at least an hour on the approach, we were directed to one of the designated parking stations over a kilometre away from the venue. It was tempting to continue on in the traffic jam, considering we were so close, but the free courtesy bus from the car park meant we were able to bypass the long queue of cars waiting to park at the on-site parking area when we arrived.
▼ Tickets to enter the festival cost 600 yen for adults and 250 yen for children, while groups of 15 or more get a 100-yen discount on adult tickets and a 50-yen discount on children’s tickets.
2. Leave pets at home
As you may have guessed, a park with a ground covering of flowers as its showcase is not the best place for pets to roam about in. The festival organisers advise that pets, even those being transported in cage-style carriers, are not permitted.
▼ The sign on the left notes that pets will be refused entry.
3. Pick up a leaflet
It sounds obvious, but these have handy information about exclusive souvenirs and good recommendations for local gourmet foods which can be purchased during your visit. While the English-printed pamphlet here refers to the flowers as “Shiba-sakura”, they’re more commonly referred to as “Shibazakura”, which is how they’re pronounced in Japanese.
▼ Once inside the park, you’ll notice it’s quite expansive, with the main action occurring just north of the Ryujin-ike pond.
4. Save your pictures for the main viewing site
As soon as you enter the park, you’re given a taste of what lies in store, with a beautiful display of bright pink flowers welcoming you along the path as you head to the main viewing area.
It’s tempting to stop and take dozens of photos here but there’s really much more beauty to photograph just around the corner, so you might want to go easy on the shutter button.
Around the bend, you’ll come across patches of purple and white varieties, which have been carefully planted to create interesting patterns and shapes.
From here you’ll be able to see the main sightseeing area, which is filled with people, fields of flowers, and an unusual feature called the “Mini Shibazakura Fuji”.
5. Enjoy “Mini Shibazakura Fuji”
Perfectly resembling the shape of the country’s iconic mountain, the flower-covered mound has been meticulously cared for and is located in this spot for a very special reason…
As you walk around the miniature replica, you’ll notice it’s been perfectly aligned to sit right in front of Mt Fuji itself.
Mt Fuji is impressive from a variety of vantage points in this area, and on a clear day, you can get some spectacular views. One of the best vantage points, however, is located at the top of a specially constructed viewing platform.
6. Get a bird’s-eye view of the area from the ‘Panorama Plaza’ viewing platform
To take in all the park has to offer, this is a great spot to gaze out on the scenery and snap a few colourful photos. On a busy day, there might be a line of people waiting to get up to the 3.8-metre (12-foot) tall raised viewing deck, but the wait is never too long as they usher people along quite steadily, and the view from the top is definitely worth it.
From the top, you can see the attention to detail in the Mini Shibazakura Fuji design, with the shape and location of the area’s Fuji Five Lakes appearing as white patches in the field of pink around the mountain.
There are more than 800,000 tiny moss phlox flowers planted throughout the park, in pink, purple, white, and blue varieties, creating beautiful swirls of colour.
▼ The fields of flowers spread out in a space that covers over two hectares.
▼ All with the stunning Mt Fuji looming up over the clouds in the background.
7. Take a break at the footbath
After you’ve enjoyed the bird’s-eye view of the park, you can gaze out over the flowers while resting your weary feet in a “Panorama Footbath” for 100 yen. The chance to soak your feet while enjoying the panoramic view of Mt Fuji is one of those “only-in-Japan” experiences that adds a special element to the trip.
8. Check out the photographic memento service
Here, in the midst of some of the most colourful blooms, visitors can have their photo taken with a glorious backdrop of Mt Fuji for 1,000 yen.
9. Enjoy a sweet break while surrounded by flowers
At the Fujiyama Sweets pop-up cafe, you can enjoy drinks and pastries on a viewing deck facing Mt Fuji. If you don’t have time to stop for a sweet, you can always pick one up to take home.
10. Try local gourmet specialties
The Mount Fuji Gourmet festival is being run on the site during the event period, with a large number of food stalls selling everything from Fujinomiya yakisoba fried noodles to Yoshida udon, which comes served with horsemeat. After paying at the self-service machines, simply take your ticket and wait in line at the corresponding stall.
With so many unusual dishes available, including shibazakura-themed dishes and desserts on the menu, visitors from all around Japan queue up to try the local specialties.
11. Stock up on souvenirs at the gift shop.
With several shops at the venue, it’s hard to resist the temptation to buy at least one souvenir.
▼ Some impressive items available include Shibazakura Festival-branded wine, some of which contain real cherry blossoms inside the bottle…
▼ Shibazakura Manju sweet bean buns, one of the festival’s most popular souvenirs…
▼ Shibazakura chocolate, which comes with a pink, sakura-flavoured filling…
▼ And Sakura Sake, which comes in a re-usable blue-and-white bottle in the shape of Mt Fuji.
12. Stop and admire the flowers
This one goes without saying, of course, but when you look closely at the different flower beds, you can really see the care and attention to detail that’s gone into constructing the different shapes and landscapes. Even flowers of the same colour consist of different varieties, which create varying textures for maximum visual impact.
Alongside the fields of moss phlox are other types of flowers too. There are bright purple Muscari, or grape hyacinths, which get their name from the grape-like bulbs that blossom on their spikes in spring.
And colourful patches of Anemone, which add a different point of interest to the vast expanse of shibazakura around the park.
13. Buy flowers to take home
If you live in Japan or know someone who does, there’s no better gift from the festival than a pot of shibazakura flowers. At just 200 yen each, these are an absolute bargain!
With several different types of moss phlox available, one of the most visually striking is the Tama no Nagare, or candy-stripe variety (pictured below-left), which looks like it’s been decorated with delicate pink brushstrokes. From a distance these are said to look like clusters of crested ibis.
14. Visit the post office
As you leave the venue, you’ll come across a branch of the nearby Fujiyoshida Post Office which has been set up on-site. Here you can pick up commemorative stamp sets or have a postcard marked with an exclusive ink stamp, a service only available here at the festival.
▼ The ink stamp design (top right) features a sakura-covered image of Mt Fuji enclosed in a circle. This design changes every year.
On the journey home, you’ll be able to enjoy close-up views of Mt Fuji. The iconic mountain is always beautiful, even on a slightly overcast day, when it appears and disappears behind clouds, floating in the distance like an atmospheric ink painting.
The 2016 Fuji Shibazakura Festival runs from 16 April to 29 May, and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Fuji Shiba-sakura Festival/富士芝桜まつり
Address: Fuji Motosu Ike Resort, Yamanashi-ken, Minamitsuru, Fujikawaguchiko, Motosu 212
Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. daily (until 29 May)
Photos © RocketNews24
Follow Oona on Twitter for all the latest in limited-edition Japan releases and information about new openings and restaurants around Tokyo.