NOW & NEW
The Flower Festival in Hiroshima is a catch-all spring festival held during Golden Week to celebrate flowers of all species and forms, but the celebration of flowers by no means ends there. When it comes to flowers, there’s always at least one species in season at any given time of year, which means a festival can be justified every month. In this way, the flowers themselves have become events all over Japan, and to help accommodate the throngs of tourists who flock to fields of flowers in rural areas (and ameliorate congestion on highways), certain companies organize special bus tours just to shuttle visitors to the flower gardens they seek.
Enter the Hanameguri Kippu, a tourist’s ticket to see three different gardens in Sera Town (whose locations are rotated throughout the year), plus a stop at Sera Winery for lunch and booze. I actually took part in this same tour last year, albeit during August when I could see sunflowers and eat blueberries until I dropped. Back then, there were four periods during which the Hanameguri Kippu bus tour ran, but this year, they added a fifth: the wisteria season tour, which ran between the 7th and the 15th of May. Naturally, I capitalized on this brand-new period the first day it was running, and treated it like a post-Flower Festival Golden Week event, running exclusively between what were the first and second periods last year. Like the other periods on the tour, this one involved an early start from Platform #6 of the Hiroshima Bus Center with a transfer at 甲山営業所 (こうさんえいぎょうしょ – Kosan Business Office) where we would get briefed on the tour bus before boarding.
I was joined by a different travel companion this year, and unlike what happened last year, we successfully disembarked at the transfer point! During our briefing, we were given lanyards where we were to insert the tickets that we purchased at the Hiroshima Bus Center to demonstrate that we were eligible to hop on and off the tour bus throughout the day. The lady also made one crucial announcement before our bus arrived: the Hanameguri Kippu bus is NOT A RENTAL BUS, which means it departs at designated times regardless of who or how many passengers are on board, so long as they’re wearing the dedicated ticket lanyard. This partially explains why I was able to join the tour halfway through last year despite missing the briefing, and it also means that anyone who wishes to prematurely call it a day at any point in the tour is free to do so. By the time I was done having the picture of myself taken, our bus had arrived, so we boarded and made tracks for the first destination and highlight of the tour, the Sera Wisteria Garden.
せらふじ園 (Sera Wisteria Garden)
This place wasn’t on the Hanameguri Kippu itinerary for any of the periods last year, so methinks せらふじ園 (せらふじえん – Sera Wisteria Garden) was only introduced to the tour this year, and is only in business during the brief wisteria season. Though the dominant flower here is the wisteria, this garden is also home to a great number of baby blue eyes (referred to as “nemophila” here in Japan) flowers. Having multicolored beauties sprouting up from below and hanging down from above made me want to reach high and low to capture the blossoms in their best state.
Elsewhere in the garden, they had wisteria hanging from horizontal nets to create a flower ceiling of sorts, under which guests can rest on benches and enjoy shade at the same time. Furthermore, this place featured wisteria in three different hues (white, magenta, and purple), alternating at different sections of the net. This segment was also adjacent to the café, which sold wisteria-themed items such as colorful sodas, soft serve ice cream, and dorayaki (a bean jam sandwich cake).
However, I was craving something more filling, so we ended up ordering some kara-age and onigiri. They tasted okay, and although the presentation didn’t warrant a photo here, they were reasonably priced, which is more than what I can say for the other Sera-exclusive items on the menu. We finished our food and proceeded back outside to admire the wisteria, more of which could be found up a slope.
Heading up some steps took us to this wisteria canopy corner, where flowers and parasols shielded visitors from the harsh May sunlight. Most guests who drop by here tend to linger and stare longingly at flowers in the distance, which is also what we did. When it was getting close to our departure time, we rushed out of the garden and hopped back on the bus sans problems.
花の駅せら (Flower Station Sera)
Stop number two was 花の駅せら (はなのえきせら – Flower Station Sera), and despite the name, there are no train tracks to be found. Instead, what we get is wide-open fields of flowers of all cultivars and colors. In addition to the flowers, this garden’s got spaces to eat, play, and even raise goats. The goats are fond of humans and are open to being petted, plus they have enough space to roam and get some exercise from a playground of their own.
Speaking of playgrounds, one doesn’t have to be a child to enjoy the play equipment they have installed. This swing was located up on a hill, and is big enough for grown-ups to sit on and sway back and forth while gazing upon the rainbow fields below. The seat isn’t flat like most park swings today, so riders would do well to watch their balance when pushing or being pushed.
According to the brochure, the star of the show here is supposed to be the viola, but when looking at the fields from afar, it’s not easy to tell which are violas and if violas are even the majority in some areas. If you ask me, Flower Station Sera isn’t about any one type of flower in particular as much as it’s about what they compose when they’re cleverly arranged together. When looking down from the hill where the above swing was, one could make out a butterfly mosaic assembled from the myriad flowers populating the garden.
Moment of Joy: Florivory
There was a wide selection of yummy eats for sale at the café here as well, but more than anything else, I had to try the flower soft serve ice cream! It was so gorgeous when I got it, I instinctively ran to a table near the flower fields to take what I knew for certain would be the most photogenic photo of the day.
After a brief photoshoot with my food, I dug into the mound of dairy, sprinkles and flowers. As icing on the proverbial cake, the waffle cone was also dark and chocolate-flavored, and when eaten with the vanilla ice cream, produced a cookies and cream-type of flavor that basically made this cone two desserts in one!
Food Fair, Fun Fare
We were so caught up in the moment gazing in awe at the flowers, swinging to our hearts’ content, playing with the friendly goats, and trying to snap the best photos that we almost didn’t notice that our bus would leave soon. Upon realizing this, we dashed out the front entrance into the parking lot and onto the bus, which would now whisk us toward our lunch break at Sera Winery. Those who drive themselves around the gardens of Sera would normally already stop here to browse local products, but for us bus tour participants, this is our best chance to grab a more substantial and slightly cheaper bite to eat in the afternoon.
At first, we perused the wine selection since we had quite a bit of time on our hands, but after that, we started seriously searching for lunch options. Thankfully, there were plenty of stalls set up offering freshly grilled and fried foods, all proudly made with local ingredients. Sera beef is something the locals love to advocate; it’s expensive for a reason and highly sought after in other parts of Hiroshima Prefecture as well. Alas, due to the food we had had from the previous two locations, our tummies were not so empty and our wallets not so full, so no grilled beef skewers or Sera burgers for me today.
I instead went with a box of wild mushroom tempura, still piping hot from being prepared minutes before it was boxed and sold to us. The mushrooms that were fried differed in shape and size, but each and every piece had that irresistible umami kick sealed inside the crispy exterior. This box of tempura was meant to be shared, but as the number of pieces diminishes, there will likely be debate over who gets the last morsels.
花夢の里 (Flower Dream Village)
After that unintentionally vegetarian lunch, it was time for the last garden of the tour, 花夢の里 (かむのさと – Flower Dream Village). Prior to this place, we had already seen plenty of nemophila, but here, they are now the focus flowers of the garden. The paths in this garden branched out at multiple points, with every turn leading to a pretty patch of nemophila, but to maximize the number of azure blossoms in one’s field of vision, the observation deck just past the gift shops cannot be missed! The steps may be a challenge for some visitors to climb, but I’m no geezer, so in less than a minute I had row upon row of nemophila in my sights.
After gazing at them from afar, we then approached the above fields for some more quality snapshots with the nemophila. One of the most popular attractions here is the Nemophila Bus Stop, which is simply a pretend bus stop sign in the middle of a nemophila field. It should go without saying that buses don’t really stop here and crush these precious flowers, but such an arrangement does evoke a sense of nostalgia, thus most guests who come here insist on a picture with this sign. I, for one, however, had a more splendid idea in mind.
It’s obvious to the naked eye at most angles that these nemophila were planted in rows, but when viewed from a certain altitude, they appear to be a singular sea of flowers. In other words, I could walk between any two rows of nemophila, crouch down, imitate the front crawl, and when photographed from a distance, I appear to be swimming in the fields! Why settle for a rudimentary bus stop when you can make a beach day out of an inland flower garden?
Eventually, the time to leave was upon us, so we boarded the tour bus one last time to escape this botanical dreamland and return to our urban reality. We would have to transfer at 道の駅世羅 (みちのえきせら – Roadside Station Sera), from where we would take a highway bus back to Hiroshima City. Until then, though, we had some time, so they gave us a survey asking for our opinions on every stop of the tour as well as the time allotted for each destination. I was highly satisfied with every stop we hit up today, and the tour as a whole truly felt like a dream. The fact that it was coming to an end made me a bit sad because said dream came and went so quickly, but upon reading the message on the portable writing surface below my survey paper, I was reminded of the joy of my life in Hiroshima as a whole. I could have just typed it out, but a picture’s worth a thousand words, so here.
In actuality, this dream is only part of an even bigger dream of constant adventure in my home prefecture of Hiroshima, and that’s a dream that’s slated to continue for the foreseeable future. It’s a bit like how cyclic the seasons for different flowers are; as one peak subsides, another one commences. I could join the exact same tour during other periods to experience a different type of dream in Sera, or change the venue or means of dreaming via different destinations or modes of transportation. There are flowers blooming somewhere in all seasons, so any time of year is peak season for some plant or another. Knowing that, there truly is no wrong time to come to Hiroshima, so wander down here any time to start your dream vacation in Sera’s surreal gardens.
Written by Kevin Peng