While I did miss out on seeing the cherry blossoms during my trip to Japan, I did get a chance to see another kind of ‘sakura’. The shibaZAKURA, also called moss phlox, are prominent around Tokyo area in late April. Most notably, is their showcasing around Mt Fuji, with the stunning contrast of the pinks and blues. However, if you don’t want to travel too far out of Tokyo, you can always head to Chichibu which has its own pink carpets, mountains and fresh air! Getting to Chichibu is reasonably easy, I took the Seibu express train from Ikebukuro station, you can purchase tickets from Ikebukuro station the day of. The travel time is about 1 hour 20 minutes with reserved seats. However, you will need to pay for both the express train ticket + tap on and off your Suica, which adds up to about $20 each way. Personally, I found the time and hassle that i saved worth it.
Once you arrive at Seibu-Chichibu station, the park is supposed to be a 20 minute walk away. Haha! Sure, if you’re Usain Bolt. The walk is all uphill and can be quite strenuous if you’re a couch potato like me. However, it is a really beautiful walk, along the way I got some great shots of natural scenery and also saw a temple hidden away (but was too out of breath to climb the steps to it). As I mentioned, I am just terribly unfit, I saw people pushing their elderly parent’s wheelchair and groups of elderly people walking without a single huff or puff. One such elderly tourist came up to me and told me about walking a bit further to check out a viewpoint! It was another arduous upwards journey, but wow was I thankful when I reached the top! I can’t quite remember the turn off to get to this viewpoint (sorry!) but after walking through the straight road through the trees, you’ll come to a main road. You’ll be directed to turn right to head to the park but you’ll see some people walking left up another steep road – that’s probably it!
Entry into the park cost 300 yen, however it is free outside of festival times. With the entry cost you receive a ticket and also a postcard which is really lovely! Walking into the park there were quite a few things I noticed, first up there was a small petting zoo and lots of food stalls. I was feeling quite fatigued, but could see the crowds coming up behind me, so quickly rushed to see the flowers before too many people came. Unfortunately when I went I was about 3 days way from full bloom, so only about 1/4 of the park was blooming, nevertheless it was still absolutely gorgeous. The area is so large that your views of the flowers are hardly ever obstructed by other visitors, and the mountain backdrop is just lovely. A number of people brought their pets with them to walk around, I saw quite a few dogs and even one person walking their cat!
After walking around the flowers, I found a sitting area in the shade overlooking them. Walking further into that area there were a few food stalls + a large sign saying ‘no toilets’! Even though it was lunch time, I thought I would treat myself with a crepe (after all that hard walking!). After sitting a bit more and admiring the view, I then headed back to the park’s entrance where the larger stall area was. My first point of interest was a stall that sold only cat items from cat fabric to shirts and bags, I ended up buying a shirt for 2000 yen (a little pricey) as I was running out of ones to wear during my trip. I also picked up some delicious chicken skewers for about 300 yen. The lady serving me was so lovely, she even asked if I had a Japanese boyfriend as she was very impressed by my Japanese. The comment really gave me a lot of confidence as I only just started learning last year.
Travelling to Chichibu for this festival was such an enjoyable experience. I wish I had stayed longer to explore the town a bit more, but unfortunately had booked my return train back too early and had a nasty cold. As such, I can’t quite recommend visiting during off season as I didn’t get to experience anything else nearby like their famous temples. But if you are in Tokyo in late April, I highly recommend seeing the flowers in Chichibu. It’s a closer trip than Mt Fuji, with a moderate amount of tourists and very friendly locals!