, or the rainy season, is almost here. In Japan it starts officially on June 11 and lasts about a month. The actual dates vary from region to region and year to year, but one thing is common across the country: a firm dislike of the persistent rain, cloudy skies, and the need to constantly be armed with an umbrella (which you have to put in a narrow plastic umbrella cover when entering supermarkets or department stores).
However, tsuyu does have at least one redeeming factor: ajisai
, or hydrangeas. These beautiful, hydrophilic flowers bloom throughout the melancholy month of June in vivid shades of blue, pink, and purple.
Toshimaen Amusement Park 16th Annual Ajisai Festival opened May 26 and closes June 25. Located just 15 minutes from Ikebukuro, this park is packed with an astounding variety of hydrangeas for its small size and is well worth a visit to soothe away the stress of city life. Entry to the hydrangea garden is only 200 yen. If you go on a Monday or Friday you can take part in a free guided tour, and there are a couple craft events as well!
They have, of course, the common Endless Summer, also called Nikko Blue. (You'll see this kind blooming commonly in private gardens, neighborhoods, and along the streets.)
"Endless Summer" hydrangea
In addition, they have a stunning double-pedaled hydrangea called kompeitō blue, after the traditional Japanese sugar candy (a sweet originating in Portugal, wouldn't you know, and imported when Portuguese traders came to Japan).
I don't want to spoil it all for you, but they also have various mophead hydrangeas...
...a hydrangea tunnel, a playground for kids, and much more.
If you want to make a day of it, you can get a day pass to ride all the rides for 1,000 yen, or rides plus a meal (ranges from soba noodles to summer desserts) for 2,100 yen. Some of the attractions include the El Dorado Carousel in the center of the park, the Flying Pirate, a trick maze, bumper cars, the Mystery Zone, the Children's Forest, an Insect Museum, and an Arcade. Foodwise, if you don't get the all-inclusive, your choices include Carino, where you can reserve a table for a party; Masala, where you can grab curry rice; Cute Liberty Bell, where you can enjoy a retro American decor while making the most of endless refills at the "drink bar" (soda fountain), or the snacks hut if you just need a little something to tide you over.
Last but not least, this is Japan we are talking about, and this is a gorgeous flower garden no less, so they also have a night light-up option for 300 yen (from 5pm).
If you fall in love with this flower, check out Meigetsuin Temple in Kamakura (nicknamed "Hydrangea Temple") and the Hydrangea Train, Hakone-Tozan Railway from which you can view hydrangea on either side of the train both during the day and at night, lit up. Don't let the rainy season get you down—enjoy ajisai!
1 stop from Nerima; 1 min on foot from the station
15 minutes from Ikebukuro (transfer at Nerima)
Hydrangea Garden: 200 yen
Adult Day Pass: 1,000 yen
Child Day Pass: 500 yen
Night Light Up: 300 yen
Park opens at 10:00 and closes at 17:00, except for the Night Light Up, which is open until 19:30.