Hondoji: One of the Secret Gardens of Chiba
There are five seasons in Japan; spring, Tsuyu (the rainy season), summer, fall and winter. With each season, certain flowers and trees come into their own and reveal something both beautiful and unique for that period of time. In spring, the chilled smiles elicited by the white plum tree blossoms of February, soon give way to nationwide merrymaking in March and April under a pink umbrella of Sakura (cherry blossoms). Into May and the season of Tsuyu, you can see Tulips, Wisteria, Shibazakura (Pink Moss) and Roses all beautifully laid out gardens and parks up and down the country. Moving into June, Irises, Ajisai (Hydrangeas) and Sunflowers burst forth followed by Lavender in July. As summer gives way to fall, Chrysanthemums (the symbol of the Emperor) bloom in September before the autumnal colours begin to hold sway over the country as red Maple leaves and yellow Poplars cut a swathe across the land.
A passion of many Japanese people, of all ages, is to chart these changes across the year in photographs. Japanese Facebook accounts, Instagram feeds and personal blogs are ever awash with artfully taken photos, as the sliding of one season into the next is marked by ever-changing floral phenomena. However, it is not just the tree or plant that is important for each picture it is also the location that frames it. Where a photo is taken is given much weight and consideration and, as such, there are some ‘go to’ places for seeing certain flowers at certain times of year. One such place is the Hondo Temple or Hondoji in Kita-Kogane.
Hondoji is a large temple complex located in Chiba Prefecture between the cities of Kashiwa and Matsudo. This Buddhist temple here was founded by Nichiro, a disciple of the famous monk Nichiren back in the 13th century after his master went into voluntary exile on Mount Minobu. Before this it belonged to the Minamoto (also known as the Genji) Clan. Men and women who bore this surname were actually members of the Imperial family who were demoted to the rank of mere nobility during the Heian period so it should be clear that this is no insignificant backwater temple.
Hondoji is particularly known for its Irises and Hydrangeas and there is said to be around 5’000 Irises and over 10’000 individual Hydrangea plants. For this reason, the first half of June is one of the best times to go but a trip in November is also worth your while as the bright red foliage of the trees is truly eye-catching.
If you visit Hondoji you will find a very picturesque large temple complex and well kept gardens. Highlights include a gorgeous Iris pond, bamboo forest and Hydrangea “forest”. There is also a more recently built impressive five-storey pagoda that contains a plethora of statues of the Buddha and even some of his ashes from India apparently.
It is only a 10 minute walk from JR Kita-kogane station and only costs 500yen to get in and you get a leaflet and map in English. If you are here in June in particular I highly recommend coming to visit this often overlooked site.