Cherry Blossoms Are Just The Beginning—These Are Japan’s Other Magical Botanical Attractions
Just imagine: row after row of gorgeous trees alive with spring blossoms, pink flowers floating in the air—is there anything more iconically Japan than its sakura, or cherry, blossoms? For a short time each spring the trees which bear these striking, delicate flowers burst into full bloom—painting the country in iconic shades of palest pink and dazzling white. And yet just as quickly as they arrive, these flowers start to flutter and fall away. After about a week these blooms leave their trees, signaling that winter is over and the warmer months are about to arrive.
Cherry blossoms are beautiful because they are so fleeting—typically occurring between late March into mid-April. If you can schedule your trip to Japan during this time, you’ll be treated to one of the world’s greatest botanical attractions. However, if you visit at any time of year and are willing to explore a bit beyond Japan’s sakura bounty, you’ll find that this country teems with gardens and flora. Despite being known for its cosmopolitan cities, Japan is replete with forests, mountains, mangrove jungles and stunning natural landscapes—inviting seemingly endless exploration. Here are some of the best natural attractions you should consider.
Koishikawa Botanical Garden, Tokyo
Part of Tokyo University, Japan’s most prestigious institution for higher education, this serene garden provides a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city experience. Yes, this is a great place for sakura viewing, but the variety of trees here—many of which are collected from all over Asia—also provide excellent viewing of fall foliage in the autumn months. For a quick and easy retreat that’s accessible from the city, consider this spot.
3-7-1 Hakusan, Bunkyo-ku,
Just 10 minutes up via cable car into the mountains from central Kobe is Japan’s largest herb gardens, with an astonishing 75,000 herbs and flowers spread out over 12 extensive areas. Be sure to stop by the terrace for some fresh air and expansive views over the city of Kobe, as well as the gift shop for an array of essential oils and other herbal gifts to bring home.
1-4-3 Kitanocho, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi,
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto
Fast-growing, hardy bamboo is a symbol of good luck and prosperity in Japan, and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s most visited, most photographed attractions. For good reason—standing in the midst of a bamboo grove is a transporting experience. Watching the light dance around the bamboo trees and hearing the wind knock the stalks together is unlike any other forest experience.
Sagatenryu-ji Susukinobaba-cho Ukyo-ku Kyoto-shi
Kairakuen Garden, Mito
Sure, you’ve heard of cherry blossoms, but what about plum tree blossoms? At this garden in Ibaraki Prefecture, approximately 3,000 plum trees bloom at the very start of every spring. Created in 1842, this park has the unique history of being created not only for the feudal lord at that time, but also for the public to enjoy. Be sure to climb to the third floor of the garden’s Kobuntei, a traditional Japanese-style building, for sweeping views over the park and the nearby Senba Lake, known for its beautiful swans.
1-1251 Migawa, Mito,
Mifuneyama Rakuen Park, Saga
This 124-acre park in Saga dates back to 1845, but it has more recently been activated with an immersive light and sound show from the artist collective teamLab, making it an unusual botanical attraction. Allow yourself to be completely transported to another dimension as you wander the trails of this garden, where the boundaries of natural and man-made are blurred and where majestic monuments are on display, such as a secret 3,000 year-old Okusu tree.
4100 Takeo Ooaza Takeo-choTakeo-shi
Adachi Museum of Art, Shimane
Founded in 1970 by businessman Zenko Adachi, this museum and its adjoining gardens were created on the principle that “the garden is also a picture.” This bucolic landscape is considered one of the best gardens in all of Japan, especially for the way it blends into the surrounding hillsides. It is considered so precious that no visitors are allowed to step foot in it. Instead, it can be viewed from within the adjoining museum, where you can also enjoy a rotating collection of 1,500 Japanese paintings, with an emphasis on modern art.
320 Furukawa-cho, Yasugi,
Saihoji (Kokedera), Kyoto
Japanese gardening traditions find beauty in things that Western gardens typically overlook—and there is no better example than the aptly-named Moss Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to over 100 different kinds of moss. As part of admission, every visitor is asked to participate in a quick round of the traditional Buddhist copying of scriptures (or sutras) in a practice called shakyo, a form of meditation. Inside, you will find not only endless carpets of beautiful moss, but what is said to be one of Japan’s earliest rock gardens, dating back to the 14th century.
56, Matsuo Jingatanichō, Nishikyō-ku,
Metropolitan Oshima Park, Tokyo
While many might look at a camellia flower and associate it with certain European fashion brands, this iconic flower is a staple of Japanese gardening and many species in the camellia family are endemic to Japan. Tucked away in the sprawling Metropolitan Oshima Park, you will find a camellia garden with around 1,000 species and cultivars, in addition to about 5,000 wild Camellia japonica trees. There is a mix of foreign and endemic species, as well as sections sorted by colors, with an astonishing mix of red, purple, black, pink, yellow and white camellias on display. If you’re a flower lover, it’s an absolute must-visit.
2 Fukujyu Senzu Ooshima-machi
In a country so often recognized for its cityscapes and urban life, botanical attractions shine brightly as one of Japan’s greatest strengths. There are wild, biodiverse landscapes emtirely different from what you’ll find anywhere else, and there are also long, rich histories of gardening and cultivation that might just serve as inspiration to bring home. Wherever in the country your travels bring you, be sure to explore Japan’s natural side.