by Jess, japan-guide.com writer
2016/06/06 - Ajisai Viewing in Kamakura
Today I headed out to Kamakura to visit a few temples famous for their hydrangea flowers. Hydrangea are called ajisai in Japanese, and typically bloom from around mid-June to mid-July, which coincides with the rainy season. This year, they have started blooming over a week early, so already the popular viewing spots are getting crowded. I visited three spots to check out the status of the blossoms and the crowds, starting with Hasedera Temple.
Hasedera is one of the most famous spots in Kamakura regardless of season. During June, the hill behind the temple building is filled with blooming hydrangea flowers. Knowing that the temple can get very crowded, I headed there first. Luckily, the combination of being a weekday in the morning and a bit early in the season meant I didn't have to wait to get up the hill. Nevertheless, at times the path up slowed to a crawl as everyone shuffled slowly forward, and the press of photographers around the most picturesque spots meant sometimes waiting a bit for a picture. Despite that, the combination of beautiful views and flowers definitely made it worth it!
During the peak of the season, visitors are assigned a group number which are let up the paths one number at a time. The overall waiting time is posted outside the entrance of the temple, and an approximate wait time for each group is listed on a big board inside the temple grounds. There are pots of hydrangea around the temple to enjoy as you wait, and the view of Kamakura from the viewing platform is one of the temple highlights.
The hill was a riot of color, despite still being a little early for full bloom. At the entrance I picked up a souvenir fan for free which listed some of the different species names of the hydrangea in Japanese, and had fun identifying a few of the different kinds of flowers. I also got lucky with the weather, as it was supposed to be cloudy, yet the sun managed to peak through a number of times to highlight the flowers... only to disappear behind the clouds as soon as I lifted my camera!
As I mentioned above, the ajisai are around a week early this year. According to staff at the temple, they expect the blossoms to reach full bloom about a week from now, with the best viewing period from next week for about two weeks' time. The blossoms should be nice through the end of June depending on weather.
My next stop was Meigetsuin Temple, sometimes called Ajisaidera for its huge amount of hydrangea planted along the paths throughout the temple. Unlike Hasedera's large variety of species, the majority of flowers at Meigetsuin are of one variety called Hime Ajisai (Princess Hydrangea). This variety starts out a pretty white-blue, then deepens in color each time it rains until they are violet-blue, and finally deep blue. This early in the season, most are still light-colored, but I found a few that had already started to get darker.
Meigetsuin has a different feeling from Hasedera, I think due to the fact that the paths through the hydrangea made it feel like you were alone in a blue and green forest, even with other people around you. It was very peaceful!
As a side note, currently also blooming at Meigetsuin are iris flowers, which are viewable in the inner garden. The garden is usually open only two weeks during this time of year, and requires a seperate fee to enter. I opted not to go in, but according to staff the irises are currently at full bloom. Luckily, I got the chance to see some irises at the next temple I visited.
My last stop of the day was at Tokeiji Temple. It is a smaller temple, not as well known as Hasedera or Meigetsuin for hydrangea, and therefore not as crowded. Along with hydrangea, there were a number of other beautiful flowers on the grounds. I also caught the end of what looked like a tea ceremony club, with many women in kimono browsing the gardens and giving everyone some great picture opportunities!
List of Posts:
2016/06/06 - Ajisai Viewing in Kamakura
2016/04/20 - Nemophila at Hitachi Seaside Park
2016/04/18 - Alpen Route Snow Wall 2016
2016/03/08 - Plum Blossom Report from Kairakuen
2016/02/24 - 2016 Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival Report