Just thirty-seven miles north of Tokyo you will find the city of Tatebayashi. The city is famous for its Morin-ji temple, which was the setting for the famous Japanese folktale about a shape-shifting tanuki (raccoon). The story is called, Bunbuku Chagama and tells the tale of a magical tanuki who changes its form to a tea kettle to help reward his rescuer for his kindness.
During mid-April through mid-May however, tourists flock to the city for another reason, to view the 10,000 tsutsuji bushes (azaleas) in Kenritsu Tsutsujigaoka Koen (Azalea Hill Park), the largest azalea park in Japan. The park is approximately 12.6 hectares and records show that it dates back to 1556. It is said that the azalea bushes were first planted during the 17th century at this location by the lords of Tatebayashi Castle. As a matter of fact, today you can still see some of these 800 year old tsutsuji bushes which tower over 16 feet high.
The park was converted to a prefectural park in 1923 and has been maintained by Gunma Prefecture ever since. The azaleas reach full bloom in mid-April and the blooms last through early May. During this prime time, the park increases its admission fee from ¥310 to ¥620. This is also the time that the Azalea Festival takes place at the park. There are 50 different types of azaleas that bloom in the park, covering the grounds in a carpet of red, purple and white.
If you venture to the north, you will see the Jonuma Pond. During the months of July through August, wild lotus flowers bloom here. A lotus flower festival takes place at the park during this time showcasing 200 different kinds of lotus flowers. Also, since the renkon (lotus root) is a common item on the Japanese dinner table, visitors will be afforded the opportunity to purchase lotus root bento (lunch boxes) and pasta at the Tsutsujigaoka Park Inn during the festival.
Kenritsu Tsutsujigaoka Koen draws over 200,000 visitors during the height of the azalea season. Access to the park is easy via the Tobu Railway Isesaki Line. Exit at Tatebayashi Station and you will reach your destination in 25 minutes on foot or a mere 5 minutes by local taxi.
Whether you want to learn more about the famous Japanese folktale or you simply want to enjoy the beauty of the flowers at Kenritsu Tsutsujigaoka Koen, Tatebayashi City can easily fit into your itinerary when you are traveling in the Tokyo area.
Address: 3278 Hanayama-cho, Tatebayashi-shi, Gunma