Missed the cherry blossom season in Tokyo? Never fear! There are many other types of flowers to enjoy after the cherry trees have sprouted leaves. One that is particularly well-known in the Kanto region, and has attracted a lot of attention in recent years, is the annual Fuji Shibazakura Festival.
Dates for Fuji Shibazakura Festival 2020: Saturday April 18 to Sunday May 31 (8am to 5pm)
What are Shibazakura?
Seeing the word sakura (often pronounced zakura in the suffix of a compound word) in the name of these flowers might lead you to believe that it’s a species of cherry blossoms. Sorry to disappoint, but it’s actually a bit of a misnomer. Shibazakura is known in English as “moss phlox”, which makes it a species of phlox. What are phlox? Phlox are a type of creeper plant which covers the ground like a layer of carpet. To be honest, I don’t know much about phlox, and had never even heard of it before I learned of this festival. But it’s not a cherry tree, that’s for sure.
However, it’s vibrant pink petals, which do resemble a shrubby form of cherry blossoms, has earned it the nickname of “lawn cherry blossoms”. In Japanese, this is “shibazakura”, and thus the alias for these creeper plants was born.
The Fuji Shibazakura Festival
As the name suggests, the Fuji Shibazakura Festival combines Japan’s iconic peak with hundreds of thousands (the official website states around 800,000) of shibazakura to create a picturesque spring day out. Every April-May, you have thousands of different coloured moss phlox (8 kinds) against a backdrop of a majestic snow-peaked Mt. Fuji. On a clear day, Mt. Fuji towers so clearly in the background that it almost seems like an illusion.
There is a pond, Ryujin-ike, located near the No. 2 entrance where you can capture more Instagrammic shots. The name, which literally means “dragon pond” derives from a legend of a dragon living in nearby Lake Motosu (one of the Fuji Five Lakes), who saved villagers by calming a Mt. Fuji eruption. It is said that the dragon’s spirit is now enshrined in this shibazakura-framed pond. [http://www.shibazakura.jp/eng/faq/]
In the deepest part of the festival site is Panorama Plaza, a wooden structure you can climb up to get a sweeping view of the shibazakura and Mt. Fuji. Next to it is Panorama Footbath, where you can find some relief for your weary feet, as well as a Panorama Cafe, where you can relax with a cup of tea.
As with all Japanese festivals, there are food stalls located on site, in an area aptly dubbed “Mt. Fuji Delicious Foods Festival”. You can expect to find both typical stall food like takoyaki and grilled squid, as well a range of local specialties like Yamanashi Prefecture’s Houtou noodles and the Shingen “waterdrop” mochi which went viral a few years back. And what spring event would be complete without some sakura-flavoured sweets? Delicious indeed.
This year there’s even going to be a Mt. Fuji Daidogei Festival, showcasing entertaining juggling acts and magic shows by different street performers every week.
Depending on how much you like flowers (or photography), you can easily do a loop and see everything the festival has to offer in around an hour.
Getting to the Festival
It takes quite a while to get the Shibazakura Festival from Tokyo, so it’s a solid day trip. You should allocate at least 2.5 hours each way, which mean 5 hours in total. This might seem like a lot, but then you are crossing over two prefectures.
If taking public transport from Tokyo, the only direct way to the festival site is a highway bus from Shinjuku that operates only during the festival period. It only runs twice a day in each direction, so make sure you plan carefully if you wish to use this option. The travel time is around 2.5 hours one way, and it costs 2400 yen (2200 yen if booked online).
The other option which offers more flexibility is to take a train or bus to Kawaguchiko Station, and then transfer to Shibazakura Liner. This is a shuttle bus that runs only during the festival period, and it takes around 30 mins to reach its destination. It cost 1230 yen one way, but I recommend you purchase a combination ticket to save yen (more info below).
This is the option we took, but be prepared for long lines for the bus, which will add to your travel time. We went during Golden Week, on a beautifully clear day, so it was especially congested. If at all possible, I recommend you avoid weekends and public holidays.
If heading to Kawaguchiko by train from Tokyo, departing from Shinjuku Station is the most convenient. There are two options:
1. The direct Limited Express Fuji Excursion to Kawaguchiko Station, which takes just under 2 hours.
2. The Azusa or Kaiji Limited Express trains on the JR Chuo Line to Otsuki Station (1 hour). Transfer to the Fujikyu Railway trains bound for Kawaguchiko Station (another hour).
If coming by bus, you have more options for departure points. You can basically take any highway bus bound for Kawaguchiko Station. There are buses from all the major tourist areas, including Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tokyo Station and Akihabara.
You can get more details and route maps from the official festival website.
The park entry costs are a reasonable 600 yen per adult, 250 yen for children over 3 years. You will undoubtedly spend more on transport to and from the festival site.
You can get a discount by purchasing a combination ticket for 2000 yen which includes entry into the festival and round-trip shuttle bus fare from Kawaguchiko Station. Since the one way bus fare is 1230 yen (= 2460 yen round-trip), and the entrance is 600 yen, I’d say this is a pretty good deal. You can buy the ticket set at Kawaguchiko Station on the day.
The Fuji Shibazakura Festival is a good day trip from Tokyo, but given how long you need to spend on the road, it’s best combined with a stay in Kawaguchiko. There is plenty to do in Kawaguchiko – pamper yourself in a hot spring ryokan, go around the Fuji Five Lakes, or explore caves in the infamous Aokigahara forest. If you’re a thrillseeker, you can even hit up Fuji-Q Highlands, known to have the scariest rollercoasters in all of Japan. In any case, Kawaguchiko should be on every first-timer’s Japan itinerary!
Note: Photos shown on this page are from 2017, when I attended the festival.