Japan from the inside out

Hydrangea heaven on earth

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 17, 2010

HYDRANGEAS have been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. My grandparents had a comfortable house in Baltimore with two large, attractive hydrangea bushes, so perhaps that’s where it started.

When I moved to California, I was pleased to be able to rent a house with a superb hydrangea bush in the front yard in front of the bedroom window. And I was delighted when I moved to Japan to discover that hydrangeas, known here as ajisai, were popular throughout the country.

When my wife and I built a house and talked about what to plant outside, my first suggestion was a hydrangea bush. Unfortunately, my wife doesn’t care for them as much as I do. She explained that she associates hydrangeas with the rainy season, when the weather is always hot, wet, and muggy whether it’s raining or not. Many Japanese find the season unpleasant, which is why they usually don’t associate summer with outdoor fun the way Americans do. So we planted azaleas and other flowering shrubs instead.

That hasn’t limited my opportunities for hydrangea viewing, however, because plenty of other people like them enough to have them in their yards. But one of the best places to see the flowers in Japan is the Deshiomonju-do in the Murakisawa district of Yamagata City. If there were such a thing as hydrangea heaven on earth, that might be it. The city has held a hydrangea festival there for the past 15 years. One of the attractions features another of Japan’s summer delights—a yukata fashion show, yukata being the traditional lightweight robes worn in the summertime. Had I been lucky enough to see on the 11th the 40 varieties of 2,500 hydrangeas in full bloom along a 500-meter path at Deshiomonju-do with the yukata-clad women in a full bloom of their own, my eyes might well have thought they had died and gone to heaven.

There were 30 models in the show, ranging in age from 1 to 70+, with hair-legged boys as well as women modeling the yukata. Some of them weren’t even Japanese! And if that wasn’t enough excitement, local adults and children performed dances and sang.

YouTube’s been used for a lot of things, and now here’s a 1:50 clip solely of hydrangea flowers, which I’ve added below. It’s well done and gives everyone a good idea of what Deshiomonju-do looks like. It gets particularly interesting at the one-minute mark. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show us what the models looked like!

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8 Responses to “Hydrangea heaven on earth”

  1. wow that’s a really beautiful garden

  2. camphortree said

    This post made me homesick! I miss hydrangeas! Our summer in Idaho is too short for hydrangeas to bloom.
    Long ago one summer, a gang of four girls including me set out to conquer the Northern Japan Alps. Near the peak of Tanigawadake (one of the lowest peaks) we stayed in a hut. Next early morning we walked up to the mountain top and saw the sunrise. Then we trekked toward Yomogi-touge peak that was lower than Tanigawadake. On the way we walked around several peaks and between the last peak and Yomogi-touge peak, we saw day lilies, massive armies of day lilies with bright orange color uniform occupied the entire valley!
    We climbed down Yomogi-touge and walked toward a hot spring resort, Yuzawa. From a certain altitude broad leaf deciduous tree forests appeared. Soon after we saw hydrangeas, grand navy of hydrangeas with all shades of blue uniforms marching in the forests! So blue, so violet, so aqua, so turquoise. We were sucked into the abyss sea of the blue flowers. Right when we tried to drink the dew off the flower heads, “Stop it! Hydrangeas are poisonous!”, rang a voice from behind us. A gentleman climber with camera was there. “let’s not die here before drinking a glass of beer at a hot spring inn.”, he said. “That’s for sure. we must soak in the hot spring”, said one girl. We all agreed that how we were tired of eating rice balls for two days.
    That night while soaking in the hot spring and while eating and drinking we could not stop admiring the beauty of hydrangeas and day lilies.
    C.: Thanks for that nice story.

    In the Bay Area of California, some people would put iron filings on the ground near the hydrangeas, which would make the flowers turn red. It was interesting, but not a good idea for the soil.

    – B.

  3. camphortree said

    Yikes!Is that the reason why all the hydrangeas in my American friend’s backyard (Santa Cruz beach, Ca.)so bloody red? The flowers are as bloody red as thick steaks she and her husband bbq for us. We admire the beauty of their garden while eating and drinking.

  4. bender said

    Our summer in Idaho is too short for hydrangeas to bloom

    Probably because Idaho is arid.

  5. […] Yes these are some very beautiful flowers. […]

  6. camphortree said

    So true! Hills that surround our city are bone-dry and bald. One time when my nephew visited us from Japan he was awestruck to see all the treeless mesas and asked, “Did an atomic bomb fall here? Did it blow off those mountain tops and flattened the summits?”

  7. ndrew said

    what a beautiful view..
    I love it so much..

  8. bender said


    Where in Idaho do you live? If you drive towards Montana, you will start seeing green forests…but if you live near Eastern Washington, it’s very dry. The Cascades create a vast rain shadow that drops all moisture on the west side, hence Seattle/Portland is always rainy but on the other side, it’s a desert.

    I think if you go to Seattle or Portland, you can find Ajisai. I remember seeing some bloom there. You should drive up to the Cascades if you’ve never done it before. The Cascades is a chain of Mt. Fuji-like mountains. Just beautiful.

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