The Japanese really do seize every chance they can to enjoy the springtime. And who can blame them? Between the frigid winter and the sweltering summer, the pleasant temperatures and clear skies of spring are over all too quickly.
The most famous example of enjoying the fleeting springtime is, of course, hanami (a picnic beneath the cherry blossom). But the sakura are by no means the only flower to enjoy in the spring: an all manner of flora and fauna burst into life in a riot of colour in April and May. One of the greatest celebrations of this is in the バラまつり(Bara Matsuri), the ‘Rose Festival’ in English. It takes place in Saitama City, in the Chuo-Ku area, on May 20th and 21st (for 2017), and the festivities run from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
As you might have guessed, this festival is a feast for the lover of the rose, which the Chuo Ward of Saitama City is famous for. But trust me, even if you have zero interest in staring at various forms of roses, fear not: there is plenty more on offer to entertain and distract you.
First, the basics:
The Bara Matsuri takes place in 与野公園 (Yono Koen), a handsome park tucked between the Omiya Bypass Highway and the attractive Enjo-in Temple. The nearest train station is 与野本町, (Yonohonmachi), about 25 minutes on a Saikyo Line rapid train from Ikebukuro. From there it is a ten minute walk from the West exit. Coming by car is not recommended, as the car park is tiny and the traffic can be very congested.
The Rose Festival:
Although the whole park gets in on the action, the stars of the show are the flower beds at the west side of the park. During the festival, over 3,000 roses of over 170 types can be seen, ranging from delicate white buds no bigger than a walnut to vast blooms bigger than your open hand. The self-professed botanist will be right at home here, though for the casual onlooker it is fun to simply enjoy the sheer variety of shapes and colors: you’ll quickly learn that not every rose is red! Various stalls scattered around the park allow you to buy your own roses and/or their bulbs, as well as providing various workshops for how to best plant and tend to your newly planted bed of roses.
Beyond the Flowers:
The Rose Festival offers so much else besides flowers! In recent years the festival has swelled to become something akin to a fully fledged Japanese-style festival. That’s one of the great appeals of the ‘Bara Matsuri’: it’s one of the first appearances of the quintessential ‘Matsuri’ atmosphere in the Kanto region before the summer season is flooded with them. It has many of the usual trappings: food stalls, a dance stage with a variety of performances, and lots of families out for the weekend enjoying themselves. Many families also bring along a tarp and picnic too, so the festival even incorporates some elements of hanami too.
Being in May, the weather is also much more agreeable and the setting in a leafy park makes it feel much less cramped and crowded than your typical street side festival. The location of the festival in urban Saitama City means that you lose the dense crowds of Tokyo, but can still take advantage of being in a convenient location. For example, there is a Don Quijote discount store a 5 minute walk from Yono Park. You can buy all of your picnic goods there, tarp included!
The ‘Bara Matsuri’ has been growing in popularity in recent years, and if you come along you will see why. It combines some aspects of how the Japanese celebrate spring, with a sprinkling of the summer season in the festival vibe. So if you find yourself in the area or within easy reach of it on the weekend of May 20th and 21st, come along and smell the roses!