Hydrangeas and Rice Paddies in Kaisei Town
Every year in June, it drizzles with rain nearly continuously, with sun being but a rare treat. One of my favourite things to do during this time is seek out hydrangea (or "ajisai" in Japanese) spots. The blooms are large and bright, providing some much needed colour to an otherwise grey day. Last year we headed to the small town of Kaisei in Kanagawa Prefecture as a day trip from Tokyo.
Every year for two weeks in June, Kaisei Town holds a hydrangea festival, with more than 5,000 bushes planted throughout their town. Unlike other flower festivals in Japan where the flowers are concentrated in a roped off garden, the hydrangeas are found dotted around the entire town. The combination of rice paddies and hydrangeas makes for a stunningly beautiful setting as you stroll around, and the small countryside atmosphere makes it all feel very serene. Flowers of all colours can be found, from the normal blue hues to pink and purple and even pure white. Most years they have plenty of entertainment of offer, from Japanese dances and taiko drumming to a mini stram locomotive. Not to mention several stalls selling food and local produce. I went in 2020 however, when all of this extra entertainment was cancelled due to the coronavirus situation. Perhaps that was lucky for us though, because we had what felt like the entire town to ourselves.
We were travelling with a toddler so we didn't do this, but they have rental cycles available. I would definitely recommend renting bikes if you can - Kaisei is so incredibly picturesque that being able to cycle around and explore even more would be just perfect. You can also spot Mt. Fuji on a sunny day apparently, just to make things even more amazing.
After walking around and taking about 10,000 photos of the hydrangeas, we walked to the Seto Yashiki, a thatched-roof farmhouse which was built over 300 years ago. It has now been opened to the public and visitors can view local art exhibits in the storehouse along with weaving and craft demonstrations.
For lunch we went to the Kaisei Waterside Forest Springs FS Diner, where they served the best fish bowl I have ever had - the sauce was amazing and the fish was freshly caught from the facility.
After lunch we drove to the Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple in neighbouring Minami Ashigara. It is a large complex of Buddhist temples in a tranquil setting amid a forest of ancient cedar trees. It had been raining, but stopped by the time we arrived at the temple. Yet it was still slightly misty, and everything was at its greenest due to all the recent rains. I found this incredibly beautiful even though I am not usually one for temples in general. But the fresh greenery and moss everywhere, the temple grounds that were so large they needed exploring, and the many crystal clear waterways really sold me. There are walking paths going further into the mountain that we couldn't do with a toddler, but if you wish to hike you definitely could. Even if you just stick to the main temple grounds, be prepared to spend at least 1.5 hours here. Very nearby is the Only Yu Hot Spring Resort which you could stop at if you need some warming up. Also next to the temple is Parcabout, a treetop adventure facility that I had been wanting to visit for a long time, but alas could not on this visit.
How to get there:
By far the best way to access this festival is to rent a car as then you have complete freedom over where to visit. If not, then you can take the Odakyu Line to Kaisei Station.
To reach the temple - Take the Odakyu Odawara Line (Rapid Train) to Odawara Station. From there, transfer to the Izu Hakone Tetsudo Daiyuzan Line and get off at Daiyuzan Station. The bus station is right next to the train station. Take the bus heading to Daiyuzan Saijōji and get off at Daiyuzan Saijōji Temple.
What else can you do in the area?
Minami Ashigara also has a festival on at this time. If you have rented a car then it will be easy for you to do both. Their festival features the hollycock flower (Hana Aoi Matsuri). Minami Ashigara is also home to the Asahi Beer Kanagawa Factory where you can do a tour and tasting session if you reserve it in advance. Also within driving distance and on at the same time are the Matsudayama Herb Festival and the Odawara Castle Hydrangea Iris Festival. There is a shuttle bus running from Kaisei Station to Matsuda and Minami Ashigara if you do not have a car.