Everyone loves the cherry blossoms season in Japan but little do people know that there is a smaller festival of similar epic proportions: The Fuji Shibazakura Festival (富士芝桜まつり, Fuji Shibazakura Matsuri). However, instead of pink petals in the trees, the ground at the base of Mount Fuji is covered with colourful moss phlox. There is pink moss, white moss and purple. It looks straight up out of a fantasy but it can be visited. But only for a short time, so here’s what you need to know to not miss it and why you really mustn’t.
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Why Visit the Fuji Flower Festival?
Fuji Shibazakura is quite the sight to see. If you are at all into colours (especially pink and purple), beautiful landscapes, stunning mountain scenes and Japanese flower festivals, then there is no way you cannot miss this. Expect around 800,000 stalks of five different shibazakura types covering the underground. Mount Fuji rises majestically in the instance. The lush greens of the surrounding forests frame the view. Any travel photographer will rejoice!
It’s easy to reach from Tokyo via train and can easily be combined with day trips around Kawaguchiko and up to Fifth Station on Fuji. Climbing the dormant volcano is off limits most of the year, except for a week or so in late August, when the snow has completely melted. So during April and May, you can still experience snow up on Fifth station, which is serviced by local buses or car. The lookout up there is simply stunning.
Where to Find The Fuji Shibazakura Festival
Totally worry free is booking a tour. Everything is sorted out for you, you simply need to join your group and then you’re off on a day trip. Try Get Your Guide for the Shiba Sakura and Mt Fuji 1-Day Bus Tour from Tokyo. This tour combines a visit to the local traditional village Saiko “Iyashi no Sato” Nenba, which is super pretty and gives a good insight into the old Japan. Also, you will visit two of the famous caves and Fuji Fifth Station.
First and foremost, you have to get to Hitsujiyama Park. From Tokyo, make your way to Shinjuku station, where you have four different options of getting to Lake Kawaguchi by the city of Kawaguchiko. Option 1 is to take the limited express, either “Azusa” or “Kaiji” to Otsuki for an hour and then change into the “Fujicsan Express”, “Fujisan View Express” or Fujikyu Railway for around 45 minutes. These lines operate daily and are the fastest option. Please note that the Japan Railpass doesn’t apply for the second part of the journey (the Fujikyuko line), which costs ¥1,140 /adult.
Should you be travelling to the Shibazakura Festival on weekends or public holidays, you can take advantage of the direct rapid line “Holiday Express Fujisan” No 1 or No2. Similarly , the “Yamanashi Fuji No 3 or 4” direct rapid train operates only on select weekend days in April and also takes around 2 hours and 20 minutes. In case you want a day trip from Narita Airport, take the Narita Express via Shinjuku. The entire trip will take your around 3 and a half hours. The JR TOKYO Wide Pass, on the other hand, is valid for all JR trains but not with the Fujikyu Railway.
Useful (and free) apps: Hyperdia (for train connections), Google Maps and Maps.Me for offline maps
From Kawaguchiko train station, you can take the local bus to Hitsujiyama Park
Travelling from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko is easy and there are multiple options, which is great in case you are planning a day trip to see the shibazakura flowers. To directly reach the Fuji Shibazakura Festival site, your best bet is the Chuo Highway bus from the Shinjuku bus station. All other bus lines will drop you of in town, where you can take a local bus to the Fuji Festival.
From Tokyo Station, take the “Tokyo Station-sen” Highway bus from Tekko building, which takes two hours. From Shibuya, grab the “Shibuya Mark City/Futako Tamagawa Line” from the Tomei Highway bus, which takes 130 minutes. More connections, such as from Yokohama or Shizuoka can be seen here.
By Local Bus
From Kawaguchiko Station, jump on the Shibazakura Liner to get to the Fuji Festival. It costs 2000 yen return per adult and 1000 yen for children aged 3 to 12 and includes park entrance. Buses leave about every twenty minutes but you can check the timetable in advance as well. The last bus leaving for Shibazakura Festival is at 3:30 pm and returns to town at 5pm. A bus ride takes 30 minutes.
From Tokyo, take the Chuo Expressway from Takaido IC to Otsuki JCT and then onwards to Kawaguchiko IC to get on the R139, which leads straight to the Fuji Shibazakura Festival. Another way to get there is taking the Tokyo IC and the Tomei Expressway to Fuji IC an then onto the R139 as well. Driving takes around 2 hours.
How to Get Around the Park
The park itself isn’t big and you can walk it. It’s easy and wheelchair accessible. So you don’t have to schedule in more than 2 hours max, I would say. Grab a park plan at the entrance (or take a closer look at your entrance ticket) but there are information boards throughout as well. You cannot possibly get lost. (And that says a lot coming from me.)
When to Best Visit the Shibazakura
If you want to see the low growing pink Japanese flowers, you only have a relatively short time frame to do so. The shibazakura grows only in April and early May. The best time to visit is mid to late April. The festival times are a good indication of when to travel – and also the park won’t be open. If you can, avoid travelling during Golden Week, which runs usually from April 29 to May 5 (sometimes May 6). This is when most of Japan is off on holiday.Shibazakura Festival times 2018: Saturday April 14 to Sunday May 27, 8am to 5pm
How to Snatch the best Photos of Shibazakura
As with all spring attractions in Japan, expect large crowds to flock to Fuji Shibazakura Festival. This means, getting here as soon as the park opens is a great idea. This way, you can roam the small paths and explore the moss phlox garden beds from all angles without people in all of your shots.
Get up at the viewing platform first thing and then walk around. An added bonus of arriving early is that it increases your chances of seeing Mount Fuji not entirely covered by clouds. Take photos from opposite the pond with the shibazakura framing the water.
Foods to Try inside Park
As always, the Japanese have put a special twist on local delicacies, such as Fujinomiya yakisoba, Fuji-Yoshida udon (horse meat), Koshu chicken giblet stew and Fujizakura Pork Soup. In celebration of spring in general, you can even find a hearty cherry blossom dish, namely the Shibazakura ramen (with sakura shrimp on top) and original Shibazakura Croquettes with salty sakura inside.
Expect food in the shape of Fuji and decorated with flower patterns to match the occasion. A sweet treat are Fujiyama Taiyaki, Malasada and soft ice cream. If you are a foodie, you might wanna dig into the Shibazakura menu, just be aware that the prices are higher than usual due to the limited edition eats.
Where to Stay in Kawaguchiko
There are lots of places you can rest your head in Fuji Five Lakes. However, if you want to stay close to the action, keep close to Kawaguchiko. This way, you can explore the local attractions on the 2-day bus pass easily on top of your pink moss visit. For the absolute best view over Fuji and the Lake, stay at the luxurious La Vista Fujikawaguchiko neat the Music Forest. The name comes from the soft sound of the dense tree foliage when the wind sweeps through it.
A nearby alternative is the uber stylish ryokan Fuji Ginkei. It has an on-site restaurant with traditional Japanese cuisine. To have the benefit of an onsen within the ryokan, you gotta check into Fuji Onsenji Yumedono. It is close to Nagasaki Park and Oishi Park. For low budgets and hostel life, try the tastefully designed Kagelow Mt.Fuji Hostel Kawaguchiko. If you are lucky, you can spot Mount Fuji from your room!
What to Pack for A Visit to Fuji
The weather in Kawaguchiko in April and May reaches maximum temperatures of between 16 to 20°C but can go as low as 3°C at night. So it is wise to carry a light jacket or extra sweater to come prepared for chilly winds. It only rains eight days a month during spring here, so chances are, you will have splendid weather.
Should you include Fuji Fifth station, it is wise to dress up in even more layers as it is below 10°C up there. Think snow! Wear warm and closed shoes, long pants, a stuffed jacket, hat and possibly light gloves. You can ditch all those extra layers once you are down again – or use them for a short visit to the underground caves around Kawaguchiko.
To capture the stunning beauty of the Japan flower festival, bring a tripod and good camera along. Have it already extended once you enter the park so you can easily set it up before the crowds enter. To bring out Mount Fuji behind the clouds and make it pop up against the blues, try on a polarizing filter for your camera lens as well. It seems that drones are allowed so if you want to pack one, you can. (Double check on this fly safe map.)
Regarding Japanese souvenirs, you might want to spoil yourself and buy a few local foodie treats, handmade items from the traditional villages and the obligatory keychains and kitkats. Therefore, leave some space in your luggage.
Hitsujiyama Park – An Alternative to Fuji Shibazakura Festival
If a day trip to Fuji doesn’t fit your Japan travel itinerary and you prefer a closer location, try Hitsujiyama Park in the North East of Tokyo. Stroll over the new Moss Hill and marvel at one of the largest moss phlox covered areas. The park offers 9 different pink moss types in total. You can take the train from Ikebukuro or Ueno and change to Chichibu Railway. Train rides take between two and three hours.
What Else to See in Kawaguchiko?
You can easily fill 2-3 days with hopping from sight to sight in Kawaguchiko. One option is to get the local two day bus ticket for 1500yen per adult to be able to hop on and off local buses along the gree, blue and red line. Just keep the timetable and stop location at you as last buses leave before 5pm and you don’t want to be stranded or standing at the wrong stop. Noteworthy Kawaguchiko attractions are Saiko Iyashino-Sato Nenba (Healing Village), the various ice, lava and bat caves and shrines.
Also, you can take the bus up to Fifth Station of Mount Fuji, which costs 2100yen roundtrip. Depending on the snow situation buses might be cancelled or you have zero view as clouds hang around most of the day. Either way, it will be cold up there, so dress up warm.
Should You Visit Fuji Shibazakura Festival?
The pink moss phlox deserves more attention from (international) tourists than it has so far. Which is also good because it means you won’t have to battle an onslaught of crowds – especially during the week. Day trips from Tokyo or Shizuoka are entirely possible, albeit rushed. However, I would always recommend an overnight stay to explore the area, nature and Fuji-yama itself. It is definitely worth it!
Tell me: Would you want to visit Fuji Shibazakura Festival yourself?