If you know anything about the Japanese, it is that they love their monoculture gardens. Many Japanese people also know when different flowering plants are in full bloom. Plum blossoms early in the year, cherry blossoms in April, Wisteria in mid-May, Peonies in late May/early June, etc. So what about mid-June? In mid-June the hydrangeas reign supreme; there is nowhere in Japan where you can see more hydrangeas than in Kitakyushu’s (Wakamatsu) Takatôyama Park at the Hydrangea Festival.
On 12 June 2022 I had the opportunity to travel to Kitakyushu to see the Hydrangea Festival. It was easy to get to from Fukuoka (where I am based until at least October 2023) and with beautiful sunshine, there was no way that I was staying indoors.
Takatôyama Park sits on top of a wooded hill to the west of Kitakyushu. It overlooks the city, the bay and the strait between the island of Kyushu (where Kitakyushu is) and Honshu (the largest, main island of Japan). If you go on a clear day, you can see very far, including the cities visible on Honshu and the mountains in the southern range. The viewing platform gives you a nice advantage over the surrounding trees.
Takatôyama Park is part manicured park, part wooded area. If you decide to walk from Wakamatsu station, you will go through some of this wooded part. No matter if you are in the wooded part of the more manicured part, in early to mid-June you will see hydrangeas everywhere. They have many different species of hydrangea and various ones come out at slightly different times.
The HYDRANGEA FESTIVAL
So what made it a festival? Unfortunately, I have to admit the festival part was somewhat of a let-down. When you hear about festivals in Japan, most people think of traditional cultural aspects like performances, dances, demonstrations, etc. If you go to festivals in Japan, most of them are also like this. However, the Takatôyama Park Hydrangea Festival is different. The “festival” had a couple of informational stands about how to take care of plants and then there were a few vendors who were selling a small selection of plants (many not hydrangeas).
That being said there were some interesting things available. Many of the sellers had succulents and cacti. I assume that those plants are popular with the busy Japanese person who works too much and doesn’t have enough time to take care of plants. There were also some nice arrangements that could be added to any home easily. However, they were somewhat pricey and somewhat bulky; I also had no way of bringing any of them back to Fukuoka with me. They were nice to look at, though and the vendors all seemed to be friendly and knowledgeable about their wares. There was also an artist selling very beautiful but also eye-wateringly expensive flower paintings.
I ended up spending most of the day at Takatôyama Park. After hiking up the hill (parts of which were somewhat steep), I decided I might as well continue to the top and went to the viewing platform. The day I went was somewhat hazy but you could see the outlines of the Honshu mountains and the city view overall was very good.
After spending some time on the platform, I wandered around the festival but quickly left. I wanted to see more flowers. The range of pinks, blues, purples and whites was amazing! Here is what I saw:
Getting there and entering
My trip started with a 1-hour train ride (Fukuoka Hakata Station to Orio Station, then Orio Station to Wakamatsu Station) followed by a 15-minute uphill walk to the park. Alternatively, you can also take a bus from the station to the park, but it will be less direct and take longer. Taxis are also available and there are usually one or two waiting outside the station.
Alternatively, you can take a train from Hakata Station to Kitakyushu’s Kokura station (only 1 stop on the Shinkansen or bullet train). Then you can take a local train to Tobata station (about 8 minutes if you get the sub-rapid train) and then a bus (10 minutes) to Wakamatsu Station and then walk/take a bus or taxi.
Depending on how you go, the fare could be as little as approximately ￥1,000 one-way or up to ￥4,000 for the train. The Shinkansen will be more expensive than the local trains. The local trains also vary in price depending on their speed: a train that stops at every station is cheaper than a sub-rapid, rapid, or limited express (the fastest) train. If you are using an IC card, your fare will be calculated based on your departure and arrival times (when you tap in and out of the respective stations).
If you are spending some more time in Kitakyushu, you can also get a 1-day bus pass for Kitakyushu here.
The park is entirely free to enter. This also includes the viewing tower that gives you views of the city, bay, Honshu mountains and docks. If you decide to drive here, parking is also free but space is limited.
I had heard that there may be some food vendors at the festival but I did not find any. Instead I went into Wakamatsu and found a place right across from the station called Araddin Wakamatsu. Araddin is a Japanese curry restaurant with a bit of a twist: the curry is carrot-based! Otherwise everything (how it is served, what you can get, etc.) is the same. I found it to be delicious and a great twist on the Japanese classic. If you go on specific days, you can also get a special meal which is the curry of the day, salad, rice, etc all for ￥500. Not only is it delicious but also cheap! Without the special deal, the same set costs ￥670 or so.
One thing to note is that the owner is very frank and many people have commented on how direct the owner is, which is unusual in Japan. As it is a one-man business, I can understand why that might be. You can read my review on Google Maps here. Suffice it to say, I will definitely be going back.
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