Akeno Sunflower Festival: 600,000 Sunflowers in Full Bloom
The annual Hokuto City Akeno Sunflower Festival in Yamanashi is on from – from 8:00 – 17:00. The summer festival boasts a stunning view of 600,000 sunflowers, which bloom in an area that has the longest period of daylight in Japan.
After checking that all passengers were on their way to the festival the driver of the bus departing from JR Nirasaki station dropped passengers off directly at the festival. For 1,100 yen I was given a one-day pass that covered the cost of the bus there and back. The festival itself had no entrance fee.
As soon as I got off the bus I could see a vibrant field of yellow sunflowers. Luckily the weather was clear and sunny. The beautiful yellow sunflowers against the backdrop of the rolling hills, the blue sky and puffy clouds were stunning. The flowers looked to be facing downwards, most likely because it was raining the night before, but this did not detract from the happiness they radiated.
In fact, some of the sunflowers appeared to have smiles on their faces, either from workers in the field etching them on, or through some mighty coincidental interference from insects. Bees buzzed around the flowers delighting in the mecca of pollen that was before them. In the middle of the field was a little empty space where people could wander and take pictures among the flowers.
There were several sunflower patches, each one numbered. I walked down the road passing greenhouses that grow blueberries and cherries at certain times of year. Vendors were selling blueberry flavoured ice cream. I found some fields where flowers had not bloomed yet. Here I saw something amazing. There was a solitary flower that was the only one to have bloomed in a whole patch. It was a striking image and affirmed the beauty of the unexpected occurring randomly in nature.
I followed the road further down and found a small patch of some fully bloomed flowers. I was already content with what I saw, but I saw some people walking down the spaces between the fields. I followed and this is when I stumbled across a spectacular field that was my favourite of the festival. An expansive yellow rug was laid out before me, with masses of sunflowers all facing the same direction toward the sun. It looked like a sea of sunflowers; I just wanted to dive right into it.
After taking in the majestic scene, snapping photos, and hearing gasps of awe from multiple onlookers, I decided it was time to get some food. There was a small section of stalls selling yakisoba, corn on the cob and barbequed meat, but one particular thing on the menu caught my eye – sunflower ice cream. Being the area with the longest period of daylight in Japan, it was also scorching hot and a cool treat was welcome.
Stalls sold himawari (sunflower) ice cream with vanilla or honey flavoured ice cream sprinkled with sunflower seeds. The sweet treat was delicious, and the crunchy sunflower seeds were a nice compliment to the soft, mellow yellow ice cream. With all that sunshine the ice cream starts to melt quickly, so be sure to snap an obligatory photo and eat it fast!
Every year a different image is made in the field, last year it was a musical note and the year previous it was Mt Fuji. This year it is a star, though it may be too early to see the sunflowers surrounding the star, once they bloom I am sure the scene will be even more beautiful.
This was a small festival, but well worth a look if you are a nature enthusiast, or just want to take some stunning pictures. Whether you find yourself in Yamanashi, home of the majestic Mt. Fuji, or if you are willing to take the trip from elsewhere - check it out. Give yourself an hour and a half to two hours to appreciate the beauty of the sunflower fields, and create some sun-drenched Japanese summer memories.
Hokuto City Akeno Sunflower Festival is accessible by a 25-minute bus or train ride from Nirasaki station on the JR Chuo line. Nirasaki is about three hours from Shinjuku by local train, and 1 hour 40 by limited express train (Super Azusa). Take the Mizugaki Line bus that departs from outside Nirasaki train station. Get off at the Heidi-no-Mura Kurara-kan stop, and the festival is a 5-minute walk away.