NOW & NEW
Roses are one of the most popular flowers for hanami in the spring, right behind cherry blossoms but alongside tulips, wisteria, and hydrangea. In my humble opinion, I have a penchant for some of the aforementioned species over roses, but one advantage roses have over most of the other springtime flowers is that roses have two peaks: one in May and another in October. When all’s said and done, however, spring is the number one season for flower viewing, so naturally, May’s rose season is bound to be better than October’s, and those based in the Hiroshima area have quite the array of choices of ideal venues for rose viewing. The first to come to mind is Fukuyama’s Rose Park (especially during the Rose Festival), and another is to join the Sera Hanameguri Kippu bus tour during rose season, but what if I told you there was another rosy destination closer to Hiroshima City?
The town of Waki—established in 1973—in neighboring Yamaguchi Prefecture is nudged right between Otake, Hiroshima, and Iwakuni, Yamaguchi, and honest to goodness, the residents of either prefecture don’t talk about it enough. Funny story, the name Waki (和木) means “harmonious trees” in Japanese but has the same pronunciation as the Japanese word for “armpit (脇),” which is an apt summary of the town’s situation: out of sight, a sensitive topic, and the site of application for floral-scented deodorant. I for one wish to expose this armpit of a small, fifty-year-old town to tourists visiting Hiroshima, for Waki is a haven of roses and rich in entertainment options for families with little ones. When taking the JR Sanyo Red Line from Hiroshima Station bound for Iwakuni, simply get off at Waki Station, one stop before Iwakuni.
Rise and Fall
Simply reaching Waki Town itself is easy, but getting to Hachigamine General Par—where the rose garden is located—might be a bit of a trial to those who don’t drive. Most sensible travelers who are keen on reaching the park ASAP will probably get in one of the cabs parked in front of Waki Station, but as I am one of the most frugal and least pragmatic local tourists I know, I decided to walk all the way up the hill. It’s only a 50-minute walk or so one way, and the roads leading out from the station have sidewalks, but those sidewalks disappear once the incline starts, so hikers have to watch out for cars while climbing. Once I reached the top, I saw banners celebrating Waki’s 50th anniversary as well as what seemed to be a festival site yet to open.
Since I couldn’t check out the festivities right away, I proceeded past the parking lot and rabbit enclosure to the park’s main office, where visitors buy tickets for rides from a vending machine. The office opens at 9:00 a.m., so I made sure to depart for Hachigamine Park early enough to be the first visitor to buy a ticket for the most famous attraction: the longest roller slide in the nation! After purchasing the ticket and hearing a brief explanation from the staff on how to ride, I took my seat pad and climbed up a daunting flight of stairs to the start of the slide.
There used to be a lift that took riders en masse to the top, but the park has allowed that to collect rust and dust, forcing us all to implement an impromptu leg day. If it’s any consolation, the seascape available at the top is soothing and worth the climb, and since I wasn’t waiting in or holding up a line, I had ample time to catch my breath and take a swig of tea before sliding. Remember to properly sit on the seat pad and grasp the handle while sliding, or your rear end will feel the metallic friction of hundreds of rolling cylinders. I was too preoccupied feeling the adrenaline rush on the slide to record any video of my ride, but in between journeys down the slide and up the stairs I managed to have a caterpillar latch onto my body. While I appreciated the company, I had to let the little bugger go for its own safety.
Roses Are…Every Color?
The terminus of the slide spits riders out near the rose garden, and since one ticket for the roller slide affords three trips (it’s an honor system, but who wants to ride more than thrice anyway?), so after the third round, I made my way across the street to see the roses in their prime. In addition to the flowers themselves, the background scenery was also picturesque, with the Ferris wheel in the background and the steam locomotive (hereinafter denoted as “SL”) coincidentally passing by. Hachigamine Park had dozens of varieties of roses, and everywhere I walked, there was a photogenic sight before my eyes.
At the front of the rose garden was a Rose Bell, which is popularly rung by married couples but can be used by anyone for any reason. I didn’t exactly have a wedding in my future, but I decided to ring the bell because, well, who else doesn’t want to know what a bell sounds like when laying eyes on one? The chain for this bell might be considered childproof since it takes a modicum of strength to actually make a sound, but when I yanked the chain hard enough, the bell produced a healthy ding that reverberated for a while.
Of course, groups upon groups of people came to Hachigamine Park for the same reason I did, so waiting for opportune moments to capture unpopulated photos required a good bit of patience on my part. In retrospect, that waiting was worth it, because if a majority of one’s time were to be spent anywhere in the park, it would undoubtedly be spent here, gawking at the roses. I captured red roses, white roses, pink roses, yellow roses, purple roses, and roses in every hue in between on camera. Taking pictures of the same flowers from various angles was also fun, though I think the only thing I wanted was a bluer sky. When I saw tour buses and multitudes of kindergarteners on field trips arrive, I took that as my cue to scram!
Following my rose-hunting adventure, I made my way to the Ferris wheel in the distance, which was situated in the middle of the dinosaur park just past a staircase watched over by Archaeopteryx and Pteranodon (neither of which are dinosaurs, but I’ll overlook that). As I had purchased a ticket at the main office earlier and there was no line to board, hopping in a gondola was easy as pie, and commanding a captivating view of the entire park was only a matter of time. For just a fleeting moment, the dinosaurs and rose garden below were ultra tiny, but alas, the Ferris wheel was still on the small side, so my ride was over too soon.
Next up was the SL, whose departure station was but a short stroll away from the Ferris wheel down the hill. I couldn’t have timed it better if I had tried again, but the train departed as soon as I flashed my ticket and got inside one of the cars. The SL ran a circuit around a significant portion of the park, so I got to see the Seto Inland Sea, nearby residential quarters, the roller slide, and the rose garden, where tourists admiring the roses stopped to wave at and admire us. The SL ride ended at the same station where it began, and riders were free to snap photos of and with the engine before leaving.
Moment of Joy: Cloud Nine
In spite of how much fun I had riding the roller slide all three times, if there was any one ride I could recommend to guests of any age, it would be the Ferris wheel. The roller slide was only enjoyable to me because I’m a child at heart and not too big, and the SL mainly caters to small children and their parents, but the Ferris wheel is great for schoolmates, couples, families, and even lone travelers who want a birds-eye view of Hachigamine Park.
The view from the apogee of the Ferris wheel was especially spectacular during rose season, I would almost call it “rose-mantic!” Though it may not be large, the Ferris wheel at Hachigamine General Park in Waki gives some Ferris wheels in Hiroshima—such as the one at Marina Hop’s Marina Circus—a run for their money.
Human Feeding Time
After I had my fill of amusement rides, it was time to fill up on food, so I backtracked to the main office to return my roller slide seat pad, and then made tracks for Hacchi’s House (ハッチの家), the only eatery on the park grounds. Okay, there’s a fancy Italian restaurant down the hill close to where the festival tents were, but it was out of my budget and a chain store, so it would make more sense to choose that place in Hiroshima City. Hacchi’s House is a humble wooden hut with a café and gift shop inside as well as vending machines and a smoking area located just outside, and during this time of year, there was banner advertising shaved ice for sale. The food menu was posted on the wall beside the front door, so prospective diners can decide everything they want before entering the smoothen the ordering process.
The café fare was simple, specializing mostly in udon and rice balls, so I got myself the self-proclaimed special niku udon, which was really just a regular bowl of hot udon topped with green onions, kamaboko (pink and white fish cake slices), and a generous helping of beef. Customers who order take a numbered token, and when their numbers are called, they claim the food and take their own utensils and water cups to their dining tables. My bowl of udon was piping hot and hit the spot, but the beef had some sinewy bits I didn’t care for so I left those uneaten.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch some of the captive wildlife at Hachigamine Park eating lunch too. The easiest ones to watch eat are the rabbits, and bits of cabbage are strewn about the edge of the fence at all times so the visitors themselves can feed the rabbits with said cabbage. Failing that, there’s always the possibility of plucking the nearest blade of grass to give the rabbits, who will happily chow down on that as well. Further down the hill near the archery range were the horses, who are normally available for rides, but when I saw them all they wanted to do was eat and chill. I’d say these equines had the right idea because I now had the urge to go elsewhere to chill, so I started my descent towards Waki Station to return home. Thanks to the steep incline and good old gravity, the journey down took a lot less time than the journey up, but be careful if you decide to run down the hill, lest you fall over, injure your knees taking big steps, or, knock on wood, crash into a car.
All in all, I’d say that Hachigamine did a fantastic job of occupying half a day for me, and I can recommend it as a destination for anyone looking for nature in a more discreet, armpit-like area. I might even go so far as to suggest Waki over Fukuyama if tourists are adamant about returning to Hiroshima City in the late afternoon or following up their travel plans with Iwakuni and/or Miyajima. If people are traveling with little kids in tow, all the more reason to drop by, and even childless adventurers may reconnect with their inner child after experiencing the country’s longest roller slide. The town of Waki may be thought of as an armpit in terms of name and physical location, but with so many gorgeous roses that attract visitors in the spring and fall, it doesn’t stink in the slightest. Maybe next time I’ll spare my own armpits some sweat and shell out money for a taxi up that hill.
Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team