Tendrils of fragrant blossoms drape guests in a kaleidoscope of colours
in one of Japan’s most Instagram-worthy gardens.
Once one of Japan’s best-kept secrets, Kawachi Fuji-en Wisteria Garden was on few tourist itiner-aries. Popular with locals who enjoyed strolling along quiet winding paths and taking romantic photos under the tunnels of wisteria blossoms, Kawachi Fuji-en was simply too beautiful a place to keep secret for very long. The lush, colourful gardens were unveiled to the world in 2017 when CNN listed Kawachi Fuji-en as one of Japan’s most beautiful places, and the floral utopia suddenly became one of the “it” places to visit. Every year during the peak season in April and May, scores of visitors descend on the relatively small and quaint city of Kita-kyushu to visit the gardens and take photos against a surreal backdrop with millions of tiny wisteria blossoms dotting the scenic hilly valley.
Opened in April 1968, Kawachi Fuji-en is a private hillside garden located among the wooden slopes just south of the city of Kitakyushu. The gardens welcome visitors and photographers in the spring during the peak wisteria flowering season. Native to Japan, wisteria (or fuji, 藤) is a thick wooded trellising vine with dozens of varieties that offer prolific and fragrant blooms hanging in grape-like clusters. The flowers can be found in a multitude of sizes and colours that range from muted shades of snow white, baby pink and yellow to vibrant coral oranges, magenta, bright red, hot pink, royal blue and indigo. Located in the warm southern climate of Kyushu, the gardens at Kawachi Fuji-en offer the ideal conditions for these plants. The gardens showcase 22 varieties among more than 150 mature wisteria vines that envelop the 10,000-square-metre park in short-lived, many-coloured splendor. Long loved in Japanese lore, wisteria’s delicate and magnificent blooms have been featured in poetry, anime and manga, and many will recall stories of romantic adventures when they watch the flowers sway in the gentle breeze that seems to be omnipresent.
From mid-April to mid-May, the gardens open to the public to celebrate the spring season with the Fuji Matsuri, or Wisteria Festival. Tickets are required and available from convenience stores, and the gardens vibrate with throngs of visitors. It’s a little quieter and more serene at the beginning and end of the festival, but during the celebration’s peak, the prismatic rainbow of petals provides a perfect backdrop for photos. The most popular locations include the two approximately 100-metre-long tunnels that form an enormous roof of hanging clusters of flowers, and the domes and trellises that dot the park. The deeply saturated hues of the flowers create an almost alien-like landscape with corals and royal blue shrubs and the lush verdant greens of the leaves and vines. The show-stopping vista from the top of the hillside gardens features breathtaking views of the surrounding valley known for its bamboo groves.
Access to the park is easy via public transit; during peak season, a shuttle bus serves the park from JR Yahata Station not far from the downtown Kokura Station. Getting to the gardens by rental car allows visitors to explore the surrounding villages and sites like the Kawachisakura Park and local nature preserve, but during the height of the peak season, expect traffic and limited parking. The gardens reopen during the late fall, typically from mid-November until early December, when the 700 Japanese maple trees that dot the park erupt in a blaze of colour. These trees, some over 70 years old, are rarely noticed during the Wisteria Festival, but come autumn, they take over and attract their own crowds. Regardless whether you visit the park in the spring or the fall, make sure you bring a camera; the beauty of the gardens cannot be expressed solely in words.