Written by Lisa Wallin
Japanese Iris: Mie Prefecture’s Official Flower
The hanashobu (Japanese iris), an elegant native wetland flower, is Mie Prefecture’s official flower. The three main varieties— Edo, Higo and Ise — are named for the regions they’re from; present-day Tokyo, Kumamoto and Mie, respectively. Hanashobu has a long history of being intertwined with the Japanese culture and, along with other flowers, was widely cultivated during the Edo period (1603-1867). It was also during this era that both simple potted Japanese iris plants and extravagant iris gardens gained popularity, which is why we can enjoy Japanese irises in parks and gardens across Mie in May and sometimes June.
■Kyuka Park: Japanese Irises Among Castle Ruins | Kuwana City
One of the most impressive Japanese iris viewing spots in Mie Prefecture, this beautiful park offers a unique way to enjoy approximately 4,000 Japanese irises of three types (Edo, Ise and Higo) in late May to early June. At this park in the Kuwana Castle ruins you’ll find Japanese irises grouped in three areas in the old castle moat. Enjoy the park’s winding walkways and picturesque vermillion bridges as you explore the area, both offering great opportunities for excellent snapshots.
■Futami Shobu Roman no Mori: Japanese Irises in a Natural Setting | Ise City
Futami Shobu Roman no Mori (Futami Iris Romantic Forest) offers a scenic spot to enjoy the roughly 40,000 Japanese irises that bloom here from early to mid-June. Enjoy the delicate fragrance as you walk along the adjacent promenade, or make a day of it and make a picnic. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch hydrangeas blooming here around the same time. While you’re here, explore nearby Matsushita-yashiro Shrine and Minwa no Eki Somin (Folklore Station Somin), which sells regionally sourced produce, rice cakes, handmade goods and soft serve ice cream.
Futami Shobu Roman no Mori
Hydrangeas: Beloved for Over 1,000 Years
Beloved for over a thousand years, hydrangeas even feature in the Man-yoshu, an 8th century anthology of poems. They lost some popularity during the Edo period when Japanese irises took over, but their beauty could not be resisted and by the end of the same era they were back in favor and have remained in the hearts of the Japanese since then. These days you’re as likely to find them blossoming on temple grounds as you are in parks and private gardens, usually in June.
■Kazahaya no Sato: A Flower Park with Hydrangeas Galore | Tsu City
For a creative take on the hydrangea season, look no further than Kazahaya no Sato, an expansive flower park in Tsu City. It boasts a whopping 77,700 hydrangea bushes of 29 varieties. The sheer magnitude of the flowers makes it seem as if the park’s gentle slopes are dyed in a rainbow of colors. Gardeners here take painstaking measures to cultivate creative themed floral displays including a hydrangea clock, a rainbow line and gradient colorful waves. Because of the many varieties the season lasts a little longer and the hydrangeas here are in bloom from late May to late July.
Kazahaya no Sato
■Chouonzan Taikouji: Beautiful Flowers with a Temple Backdrop | Ise City
Mostly known as just Taikouji, this is a temple for pet lovers and flower fans alike. Many locals bring their cats, dogs and other pets to receive blessings here and flowers of various kinds bloom almost all year round. By the time June hits, bursts of light blue hydrangeas line the paths up to the temple from early June to early July, adding a cool and calm atmosphere to this sacred space. To make the most of this floral wonderland, why not stay the night? Taikouji has a hostel that offers temple stay experiences, allowing visitors to enjoy the temple surroundings outside of typical opening hours.
Want more hydrangea and Japanese iris viewing spots? Manyo no Sato Park in Inabe City has an impressive selection of hydrangeas and Saiku no Hanashobu Gunraku in Meiwa Town offers a stunning display of irises.