Many people think of tsuyu, or the rainy season, as one of the worst times to visit Japan. It’s muggy, wet, and all your outdoor plans are usually put on hold. But the rains also mark the beginning of hydrangea season. Cherry blossoms usually get all the attention, but we think hydrangeas are an equally excellent reason to visit Japan. And, in particular, several Botanical Gardens. Plus, it won’t be as crowded—even better!

Lilac-blue hydrangeas in Japan Kyoto Botanical Gardens or the Jindai Botanical Gardens

The beauty of hydrangeas

If you’re visiting from June till early July, you’ll encounter many different varieties of hydrangea flowers. The most common ones are the mop-headed clusters of blue flowers growing on a bush. But there are so many different varieties with equally delightful names. Sumida’s Fireworks, for example, really look like little star-shaped clusters. There are also names like Popcorn, Annabelle, and Kaleidoscope!

Hydrangeas love water, which is why they flourish in the rain. They look especially lustrous after a shower or when it’s drizzling, as though they’re glowing. The wetness makes their colours especially vibrant. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough to see them in the mountains, they might even be emerging from the mist. They are truly magical to behold!

Star-shaped hydrangeas in the Botanical Gardens
These look like stars!

The significance of hydrangeas in Japanese culture

Known as ‘ajisai’ in Japanese, hydrangeas have a long history on the archipelago. Some scholars even think these flowers are indigenous to Japan! These days, hydrangeas aren’t unique to Japan, but these beloved flowers are certainly plentiful during the rainy season.

Hydrangeas in a temple

The original characters for hydrangea mean ‘a gathering of blue’. They’re also known as ‘nanahenge’ or ‘seven transformations’. As any good gardener knows, hydrangeas change their colours according to soil PH. Colours range wildly from white to pink to baby blue to deep violet. For this reason hydrangeas were used in Japanese art and poetry to represent a fickle, changing heart. At the same time, hydrangeas also symbolize heartfelt emotions, depending on the context.

Hydrangeas outside a house

Where to enjoy hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are so beloved that you can see them growing in most places. Think residential areas, on main roads in cities, or on mountain trails. Some temples even have trails and areas dedicated to them, too.

Botanical gardens are always a good bet for a wide variety of hydrangeas. If you love these flowers, consider visiting the Kyoto Botanical Gardens or the Jindai Botanical Gardens in Tokyo. Meigetsuin Shrine and Hasedera Temple in Kamakura, and Byakko Pond in Heian Shrine are excellent too.

Post by Japan Journeys