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Hidden Wonders

[Hidden Wonders of Japan] Hydrangeas in Kamakura: Embrace the Joy of the Season

Pack your camera and rain gear and head to Kamakura, where hydrangeas at Buddhist temples bring color to Japan's rainy season.



Ajisai corridor at Meigetsuin, a Rinzai sect Zen temple founded in 1130. (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)

The rainy season in Japan is strongly associated with the blooming of ajisai (hydrangeas), the collective name for a genus of more than 75 species. Ajisai can be seen in Japan as potted plants on doorsteps, scattered shrubs in parks and gardens, banks of plants along roads and railroads, and covering hillsides at temples and shrines.

There is no shortage of ajisai viewing sites in Tokyo as I described in a previous JAPAN Forward article. But Kamakura, roughly an hour from Tokyo, has something more: Buddhist temples famous for their impressive ajisai displays.

Busy shopping street in Kamakura (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)
Ajisai Hill at Hasedera temple. (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)

Temples, Ajisai, and the Ocean

Meigetsuin (明月院) is a Rinzai sect Zen temple founded in 1130. Its connection to ajisai is so strong that it is commonly known as Ajisaidera (Ajisai Temple). All but a few of the shrubs are "hime ajisai" (princess ajisai) meaning that the flowers are predominantly blue.

Hydrangeas at Meigetsuin (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)
Elementary school students in an ajisai corridor at Meigetsuin. (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)

Meigetsuin is famous for the sheer volume of the ajisai, not the variety, and for its other gardens and buildings.

Hasedera (長谷寺) is a Jodo-shu (Pure Land) temple famous for an eleven-headed statue of Kanon (Goddess of Mercy) and its hillside covered with ajisai.

Along a walking course between Meigetsuin and Hasedera. (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)
Window looking out on the Meigetsuin Garden (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)

Meigetsuin is a 10-minute walk from the Kita-Kamakura station on the JR Yokosuka Line. Hasedera is a 5-minute walk from the Hase station on the private Enoden Line made famous by the manga series Slam Dunk.

The ocean view from the ajisai hill at Hasedera adds to the appeal of this temple as a viewing site. (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)
Although a Jodo-shu (Pure Land) temple, Hasedera has a rock garden typical of Zen temples. (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)

A Rainy Day Enoden Trip

Walking from one temple to the other takes about an hour. It may be preferable to use the Enoden from Kamakura because it is jam-packed with tourists even on weekdays.

Parts of the Meigetsuin ajisai area are wheelchair accessible but that of Hasedera is all stairs.

Over-tourism is a real issue in Kamakura. If possible, go on a weekday with light rain. This makes for less crowding and better photographs.

An Enoden train (© JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)


Author: Earl H Kinmonth

Photographs by EH Kinmonth. Find other stories about Tokyo and nearby areas by Dr Kinmonth on JAPAN Forward.

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