Four Amazing Azalea Spots in Tokyo to See in a Day
After the sakura come the azalea, bursting with vibrant colors that illuminate the city. These spots are accessible by public transportation or even by bike.
Spring in Japan is marked by a succession of flowering trees and shrubs. Flowering cherry trees (sakura) are easily the best known, but they are preceded by flowering plum trees as described in my article on Mogusaen. Sakura are followed by azalea (tsutsuji) and wisteria (fuji) still later, once the rainy season starts, there will be roses and hydrangea (ajisai).
At the moment it is the turn of azalea to attract crowds. In contrast to the most common sakura variety (Somei Yoshino) and its white flowers with a subtle pinkish tinge, azaleas are a riot of colors, some so vivid that one might think they are artificial rather than natural.
Here are my personal impressions of four noted sites in metro Tokyo that can be visited in a day by public transportation or by bicycle (my case).
Said to have been founded more than 1900 years ago (in a nearby location), the Shrine (Nezu Jinja, 根津神社) has seven buildings listed as important cultural properties and 6,600 square meter (71042 square feet) azalea garden.
The Shrine claims roughly 100 varieties and 3000 shrubs. Because of the many varieties, the viewing season is long as some shrubs come in bloom while the flowers on others are wilting.
Fortunately, azaleas hold their color even as the blooms wilt. Unless you are close to a particular shrub you will not easily see that the blossoms are past their peak.
Nezu Shrine's 100 Varieties of Azalea
The azalea display is officially known as the Bunkyo (Ward) Azalea Festival (文京つつじまつり) and runs until April 30.
Drum performances are scheduled for April 23 and April 30 at 12:00 and 15:00.
Flowers are on sale every day.
An entrance fee of ¥300 JPY (adults only, about $2 USD) is charged for access to the azalea hill.
The Shrine is close to the Yanaka area, noted for Japanese street food and coffee shops.
Eating and drinking within the Shrine grounds is discouraged.
Imperial Palace East Gardens
These gardens occupy parts of what were circles of defense for the Edo Castle belonging to the Tokugawa shoguns, but only a few small buildings and massive foundations remain from that era.
The azaleas are on the east side of the Ninomaru Garden. The best access to this portion of the Gardens is from the Otemon Gate taking the first major walkway to the right.
The azaleas appear in two forms: discrete plants in a "mixed forest area" (雑木林) area and extensive beds adjacent to a tea house and a pond that is part of a Japanese formal garden.
The local makes for photographs with distinctively Japanese backgrounds as well as ones showing the business towers to the east of the Gardens.
Meiji Shrine Garden
The Inner Garden of the Meiji Shrine was commissioned by the Meiji Emperor for the Empress and was Imperial Property.
It is now open for public viewing with a charge of ¥500 JPY ($4 USD) for maintenance.
It is best known for irises that come into bloom in June and the yellow and red leaves of Japanese maples in late autumn. The iris display is featured in my JAPAN Forward article, "Iris in the Rainy Season."
It does, however, have an azalea garden with several exotic varieties and there is a knoll with azaleas and a teahouse at the top.
The Meiji Shrine itself is a must-see at least once for anyone visiting Tokyo.
This garden is my personal favourite. It is an easy walking distance from my SOHO and I have a "passport" that gives me a year of unlimited access to this and other formal gardens belonging to the Tokyo Metro Government.
Although lacking the massive display of azalea at Nezu Shrine, Rikugien was built around 1700 for the 5th Tokugawa shogun with scenes meant to recall 88 famous poems.
As such it offers an ambience lacking at the Nezu Shrine and one that changes with the seasons.
It is particularly well known for a very large shidare zakura (weeping cherry tree) and its autumn colours. Both attract large crowds.
Compared to the other sites taken up here, the azaleas at Rikugien are somewhat late in blooming.
There are individual shrubs here and there as well as on an island in the large pond that is the centrepiece of the formal garden.
Rikugien's Late Bloomers Extend the Season
A knoll with numerous azaleas is a popular backdrop for selfies and photographs taken on the other side of the pond.
So too is a large, vividly coloured shrub next to the teahouse on the north side of the pond.
Nezu Shrine is a short walk from three subway stations, Todaimae on the Namboku Line and the Nezu and Sendagi stations on the Chiyoda Line.
Viewing hours are 09:30-17:30.
The azalea area gets extremely crowded on weekends. Best to go on a weekday and as early as possible.
A live camera can be used to check the flowers and the crowd situation.
Imperial Palace East Gardens
The East Gardens are a short walk from the Otemachi Station that serves the Chiyoda, Tozai, Marunouchi, Hanzomon, and Mita subway lines. It is a slightly longer walk from Tokyo Station.
Hours vary by season, currently through August, 09:00 to 18:00 with admission ending 30 minutes before closing.
Because of the distance from the gate to the azalea area, entering at least an hour before closing is recommended.
Note also that the East Gardens are unusual in being closed Mondays and Fridays unless either is a national holiday in which case they are closed on the next day.
An English-language description of the various gardens and a map is available.
Meiji Shrine is a 3-minute walk from Sangubashi Station on the Odakyu Line, 5 minutes from the Yoyogi Station for the JR Yamanote, Chuo, and Sobu Lines,5 minutes walk from Yoyogi Station for the Toei Oedo subway line, and also 5 minutes walk from the Kita-sando station of the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin line.
The closest station is the Harajuku (Meiji-jingumae) station on the JR Yamanote line and the Chiyoda Metro subway line.
Because the Garden is some distance from any of the Shrine entrances, 10-15 minutes of walking is involved to get to the easily overlooked Garden entrance.
A walking map in English can be found here.
Rikugien is a 5-10 minute walk from the Komagome station of the Yamanote JR line and the Nanboku Metro subway line.
The closest entrance to the station is, however, closed except for certain special occasions (cherry blossom and autumn colors).
It is necessary to walk south along Hongo-dori street and turn right at the convenience store on the right side just before the large intersection.
Admission is ¥300 JPY (adults). The park is open every day of the week 09:00-17:00 except where there are "light ups" (cherry blossom and autumn colors) when it is open until 21:00.
As of this writing, the azalea viewing season in Tokyo has about two weeks left. My personal recommendation is Rikugien, but any of the other three sites taken up here is worth a visit with or without taking in other sights in their immediate vicinity.
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- Beautiful Sakura Homecoming to Mark Emperor Showa's Taiwan Visit Centenary
Author: Earl H Kinmonth
Find other stories about Tokyo and nearby areas by Dr Kinmonth on JAPAN Forward.
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