Panorama of pinkish-red azaleas against a background of green hills

Mt. Tokusenjo's Azaleas and the Kesennuma Azalea Festival

Every year from mid-May to early June, the people of the greater Kesennuma area bask in the beauty of spring with the blooming of wild mountain azalea flowers (yama tsutsuji) on Mt. Tokusenjo. This mountain is situated between Kesennuma City and Motoyoshi-cho and stands at over 2,000 feet high. Come to walk along a 2.5 hour round-trip hiking trail through over 50,000 azalea trees planted by local residents. The azalea, with its vibrant pinks and magentas, is the official flower of Kesennuma and I would love to share its beauty with you.

An azalea bush in full bloom

In the middle of the main trail, you can see a panoramic view of the mountain with brightly contrasting reds and greens. See how blips of white windmills sprout from the far off mountaintops and calmly spin in the wind (see header). For the more adventurous, enjoy an additional hike up to see the mountain’s dedication rock and shrine (see below)! Beware! It’s a bit steep, but from the top, you can see even more of the vibrant azalea and forest colors as well as the cerulean blues of the oceanic coast. The newly opened Oshima Bridge makes this view extra special, so be one of the first to experience it!

Mount Tokusenjo's dedication rock and shrine

Tokusenjo also features the first two treehouses of the Tohoku Treehouse Project. The aim of this project is to build 100 treehouses throughout the Tohoku region in order to bring people to the great outdoors to enjoy underrated sights in the area. So, come explore Tom’s House and Dekita House and enjoy a picnic with a panoramic view of the azaleas!

Close-up of an azalea flower with a spider in it

The mountain is available to visit all day every day, though the azaleas will not be lit at night. Due to the lengthy winter this year, the blooming peak has been pushed back to late May. They are expected to be in the best, full bloom on May 26th and are classically enjoyed over a quiet picnic, but for those who want to eat afterward, I recommend Kesennuma’s famous shark fin goods! You can enjoy shark fin, fukahire, in many forms, such as shark fin ramen or shark fin sushi! The wind and chill of this winter has also helped with removing moisture, so after sun-drying for two months, this is the perfect time to try shark fin in Kesennuma. Try it at Yuuzushi (either of two locations), or Umi No Ichi at the Kesennuma Port.

Azalea Festival

Umi no Ichi is also the host for the Kesennuma Azalea Festival on May 19th! I encourage you to come to welcome the first big batch of blossoms! I know I just mentioned shark fin as a delicious treat, but spring also marks the best time to enjoy bonito fish (katsuo)! You may have heard of this fish in Japanese recipes calling for “bonito flakes,” but in spring, they aren’t thin and flaky at all! They are fatty and plump and waiting to melt in your mouth! At this festival, merchants are selling the first 1000 catch of the season starting at 11AM so come early and stake your claim.

The event will also feature local musical artists. Kesennuma natives, SCK girls idol group and singer Ikumi Kumagai, bring the energy of the Kesennuma people and the beauty of Kesennuma’s nature into their performances so you don’t want to miss it! Other event activities include making a shark tooth keychain and the Tokusenjo treasure hunt. The full schedule and event details are available in Japanese on their website.

Directions and Other Details

  • Click here for Google Maps or search for “Tokusenjo” in your GPS device.
  • Ample parking is available at the trailhead. Follow signs to the main lot and hiking trails.
  • Weekend Azalea buses open up in the month of May for transport as well. Dates the Azalea buses run and other details can be found in Japanese here.
  • Not wheelchair accessible but hiking sticks are available for free use.
  • It’s recommended to wear exercise shoes and bring drinking water.
  • Click here for periodic updates (with photos) on how the azalea bloom is progressing.
  • For those planning to stay overnight, click here (Japanese website) for lodging information!

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