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Festival of Flowers

After 40 glorious spring ‘Cherry Blossom’ and autumn tours to Japan, I realised there was so much more than this ephermal favourite. Wisteria, iris, azalea, and peony are all celebrated with bespoke festivals.

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It’s been a huge privilege to take our Ross Tours Travellers to gardens all over the world in my 40 years as a tour leader. Japan has always been top of my list because of the superior standard of horticulture.

The surreal beauty of their famous gardens, with spare design, impeccable plant selection and masterful maintenance, has left an indelible imprint on my psyche. In those early days, I was captivated by Japan’s autumnal glory; mountains smothered in fiery maples and castles crowned in captivating chrysanthemums.

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We decided to immerse our travellers in the spring cherry blossom season, to be part of this annual celebration called Sakura. We were hooked and have been offering both spring and autumn itineraries to our travellers ever since.

I guess it’s their ancient culture, that was locked away from the west and preserved for such a long time, that intrigued me. The intrinsic beauty of their noble castles and temples, mostly now restored, and the gardens that wrap around them, brings me back every year.

Then we found the flower festivals! Tunnels of pendulous racemes of wisteria, plantations of peonies, rolling hills smothered in baby blue nemophila and Temple Gardens of eye-watering azaleas. It’s sheer joy to share this experience with our travellers.

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Ashikaga Flower Park is 80km north of Tokyo, a wisteria park covering 9.3-hectare site with 350 individual wisterias making up this spectacle. Wisteria grown as standards in huge planters along a 80m tunnel, forming an extensive curtain of breathtakingly beautiful white and purple blooms.

As you continue in the park, another mesmerising masterpiece is the ‘Great Wisteria’ (Wisteria floribunda). A declared National Monument, the Great Wisteria is one of Japan’s oldest specimens, estimated to be around 150 years old. It puts on spectacular display, with ‘millions’ of metre-long racemes covering a 1,000sqm arbour. Interestingly, it was found growing on a rural farm in 1994 and was considered by experts impossible to transplant.

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It was Tsukamota Konami, Japan’s first qualified female arborist, who accepted the challenge (after careful observation for two years). Roots were exposed, pruned, and regrown. The trunk was wrapped in plaster cast, cabled to a timber frame, and transported 20km by helicopter to Ashikaga. This triumph of horticulture was a global first. It stands proud as centrepiece of this Wisteria Wonderland at Ashikaga.

Nezu Shrine is one of Tokyo’s oldest temples, built in 1706, with connections to Shoguns and Meiji Emperors. This exquisite temple with its Torii gates and shrines, is surrounded by 3,000 azaleas. Global warming has pushed the azalea festival back a month, so the timing fits with our late spring festival itinerary. Luminous colour makes this floral display such a spectacle. Shiofune Kannon Temple is an ancient Buddhist Temple built around 645AD on the floor of a deep valley west of Tokyo.

Can you imagine the view from the temple of 17,000 azaleas that have been planted on the sides of this valley? Their ‘Festival of Azaleas’ attracts worshippers and flower lovers to this historic site each spring. As does the Peony heaven at Yushien Garden in Matsue, where 250 peonies come into flower on the island.

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COME WITH US

Join Graham in this celebration of spring, with festivals of azalea, peony and wisteria. Our journey begins deep in the mountains of Nikko and then travels across four islands of the archipelago: Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Naoshima. Visit Tokyo, Matsue, Okayama and Takamatsu.

Japan Spring Festivals, 21 April-4 May 2022. Details at rosstours.com or call 1300 233 200

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Author: WORDS: GRAHAM ROSS, IMAGES: GRAHAM ROSS & SHUTTERSTOCK