The other day a friend suggested we go up to the rural town of Ohara, a place in Kyoto that is technically still within the city limits but feels like it’s worlds away. Up in the mountains it’s several degrees cooler than in the city, and while tourists do hit up the place, it’s much quieter than some of the better-known spots in the city proper (Kiyomizu Temple comes to mind). Because of these reasons, I agreed, and away we went.
Little did I know that it was flower blooming season in the gardens of Ohara’s main attraction, Sanzenin Temple!
Hydrangea (or “ajisai” in Japanese) are flowers you can spot in several places in Kyoto, but Sanzenin is a lovely place to get as much viewing in as you like. As we went on a weekday there were only one or two other people in the garden, so we were able to bask in the flowers as long as we liked.
Funnily enough, I’ve been to Sanzenin a few times in the past, but always in the autumn. While the fall leaves and spider lilies are also nice up in this part of Kyoto, I’d never even realized the hydrangea were all over the place until this trip.
Mind you this is coming from someone who knows very little about flowers; the only reason I know these are hydrangea is because my friend kept calling them that all day. Still, I’m hopeful this means the knowledge will stick.
Now, why hydrangea and not another flower?
After checking out a few different sources (i.e. bothering my Japanese and fellow expat friends) I learned that hydrangea are a harbinger of summer. The reason for this is they bloom around the rainy season, or 梅雨, which comes right before the oppressive heat of August settles over the country.
Learn something new every day, eh?
We went during the first week of July and, as mentioned, during a weekday, which seemed the ideal time to take it all in without interruptions. For those of you who come during other times of the year, I recommend coming for Sanzenin Temple anyway! It’s a beautiful place with moss-covered gardens, a place to drink tea, and it’s a great chance to get away from the bustle of the city.
Ohara (and Sanzenin) can be reached by bus (No. 17) from Kyoto Station. You can also take the Karasuma Line to Kokusaikaikan Station and hop on bus No. 19 if you’re not a fan of buses (or want to check out multiple means of transportation, I guess). I’ll be digging more into Ohara in general in future posts, so keep an eye out!