Japan's Four Seasons Abound in Color!Discover Aichi's Nature and Flowers
Feel Japan's Four Seasons
The Japanese archipelago is a long, narrow land that stretches for over 3,500 kilometers from north to south, so its climate varies from region to region. However, there are four broad divisions, namely the four seasons spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
The Japan Meteorological Agency defines them as follows: March to May is spring, June to August summer, September to November autumn, and December to February winter.
There are many countries around the world that have four seasons, but surely no one feels them as constantly in their daily lives as the Japanese do. They write songs that link the seasons to their emotions, adore flowers, and apply seasonal themes to food and daily events. Feeling the four seasons with delicate sensibilities has long been deemed an enriching way of life. A trip to enjoy the four seasons will be a wonderful way to experience a sense of beauty that the Japanese have cherished since olden times.
Aichi, a Treasure Trove of Beautiful Nature
Located almost at the very center of Japan, Aichi Prefecture has a climate that's comfortable all year round. With two peninsulas stretching out to sea, mighty rivers running across a sweeping plain, and chains of mountains like rows of rooftops, both its climate and culture vary widely from region to region. It may all be the same prefecture, but its diverse character is impossible to capture in just a few words. However, one might venture to describe its appeal thus: it offers wonderful views of the ocean, mountains, and rivers, all relatively near to Nagoya.
Renowned scenic spots include Korankei, a gorge full of glistening autumn foliage, Obara, which boasts biannual "shikizakura" cherry blossoms that bloom in autumn as well as spring, and Yotsuya Senmaida Thousand Rice Paddies, an expanse of beautiful rice terraces in the foothills of a mountain. With these and many, many more places where you can feel the beauty of the four seasons, please do come visit too, and find your favorite view.
When the cold of winter has abated and the days begin to feel warmer, the Japanese feel that spring has come. The cue varies from person to person. For example, it could be seeing vernal flowers like plum tree and cherry blossoms in full bloom or hearing the songs of birds that come in spring. It's a time that's full of joy at the arrival of a new season now that the harsh, long winter is over at last. In Japanese schools, graduation is in March and admission in April, so spring is sometimes also seen as a season of meetings and partings.
Cherry blossoms — Nagoya Castle: Spring Festival (Nagoya City)
Period: Mid-March to early May
(Best time to see the cherry blossoms: Late March to early April)
Festivals are held in Nagoya Castle every season, but the one that attracts the most visitors is the Spring Festival, which is held when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. The castle grounds are filled with some 1,000 blooming cherry blossom trees, so wherever you look, you'll get a beautiful view courtesy of someiyoshino, shidarezakura, and other examples of Japan's favorite varieties. Rare among the cherry blossoms in the castle are those of the native Japanese variety gioiko, which are green instead of pink. Planted alone, they can be seen in front of the Ninomaru Teahouse and in the Ninomaru East Garden. Light green upon first coming into bloom, they darken to magenta as their short life ends. See if you can find them, too.
Another highlight is the illuminated cherry blossoms in the evenings, which present a rare spectacle of Nagoya Castle rising majestically above fantastic clouds of yozakura blossoms. When it comes to taking photos, the inner garden is highly recommended for getting shots of the cherry blossoms together with the main keep.
Lots of events are held during the festival, including the special public exhibitions of important cultural properties that have remained unchanged since the castle was first founded, and performances by warlords and ninja dressed in Warring States period garb.
[AichiNow] Nagoya Castle Spring Festival
Cherry Blossoms — Okazaki: Cherry Blossom Festival (Okazaki City)
Period: Late March to early April
Okazaki Castle is the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who rose higher than any other samurai in Japan. The 800 or so someiyoshino cherry blossom trees that burst into riotous bloom there every spring are said to be the finest in the whole of the Tokai region. The very Japanese landscape they and the castle create together is also highly popular among people from overseas.
[AichiNow] Okazaki Cherry Blossoms Festival
Cherry Blossoms — Iwakura Gojo River: Cherry Blossom Festival (Iwakura City)
Period: Late March to early April
Running north-south through Iwakura City, the Gojo River is on the list of the top 100 cherry blossom spots in Japan. In spring, some 1,400 trees bloom along around 7.6 km of its banks, and people flock there to enjoy a stroll along the avenues of pink. Also held during the Iwakura Cherry Blossom Festival are numerous events that showcase the region's history and culture, notable examples being demonstrations of the traditional technique of "nombori-arai"*1 in the river, and parades featuring local dashi.*2
*1. In Japan, Tango no Sekku is a traditional festival for praying for the health and safety of boys. The custom is to hang up koi-nobori carp banners — banners (nobori) in the shape of carp (koi). Glue is used to dye these carp banners, and after the dyeing process is complete, the glue is washed off in the river. This step is called nombori-arai.
*2. Special cars for the gods to parade around the town in during festivals. They have no engine and are instead mounted on wheels made from logs and moved around by locals all working in unison.
[AichiNow] Iwakura Cherry Blossom Festival
Nanohana — Irago Nanohana Garden: Atsumi Peninsula Nanohana Festival (Tahara City)
Period: Mid-January to late March
From mid-January to late March, the whole of the Atsumi Peninsula is yellow with the blossoms of more than 10 million nanohana (rapeseed flowers). Irago Nanohana Garden is the main venue for the Atsumi Peninsula Nanohana Festival and offers some 2 million rapeseed blossoms to admire. As you stroll along the paths between the flowers, make your way through the maze, and climb up the hills, you'll really feel spring in the glorious 360° yellow world stretching away all around you. For a photo of someone together with the flowers, how about Nanohana Blanco Swing? A shot of them smiling while swaying on the wooden swing with rapeseed blossoms, palm trees, and the blue sky in the background will make a picture so beautiful it’ll glow.
[AichiNow] Irago Nanohana Garden: Atsumi Peninsula Nanohana Festival
Summer in Japan means the period from June to August, but from the end of June to the middle of July, it's the monsoon season (tsuyu in Japanese). The end of monsoon marks the start of what most people think of as summer proper. It gets hotter, the sun gets brighter, and hot days of over 30°C are common. Even more than the temperature, the Japanese summer is characterized by its high humidity. You might be amazed at the buckets of sweat you shed in the hot, humid weather. Special care is needed over hydration, which is crucial for any outdoor activity.
Fun things on the menu in this season include summer festivals, fireworks shows, swimming, and camping. Japanese schools have a summer vacation of around 40 days from late July to the end of August, so it's a time when people get active.
Sunflowers — Sightseeing Farm Hana Hiroba (Minamichita Town)
Lying in warm Minamichita Town, Hana Hiroba is a sightseeing farm where you can enjoy seasonal flowers. It grows poppies, hydrangeas, cosmos, and a wide variety of other flowers, but its sunflowers are especially popular.
They're known as summer flowers, but Hana Hiroba staggers the planting into 12 rounds—a clever way to have them in bloom for longer. Thanks to this, visitors get to enjoy them from late June all the way through to early December. The farm is filled with the sight of some 140,000 sunflowers blooming like a veritable carpet of yellow. It's so romantic and beautiful that many people propose and take their wedding photos there.
Besides its sunflowers, summer is also the season to admire the farm's pretty bright-pink moss-rose purslanes.
The admission fee lets you pick up to 10 per person of any of the flowers growing in Hana Hiroba and take them home with you for no extra charge.
[AichiNow] Sightseeing Farm Hana Hiroba
The summer heat sometimes lingers on into early September (when it's called zansho, literally lingering heat), but both temperature and humidity gradually recede, ushering in a more comfortable season. People change, too—from short sleeves into long ones.
Ask Japanese people what this season is all about, and most of them will answer "autumn leaves." Autumn foliage (koyo in Japanese) is a phenomenon whereby the leaves of deciduous broadleaf trees turn red, yellow, and so on before they fall. When autumn comes around, Japanese people have a custom of going to admire beautiful koyo spots, an activity called Momiji-gari (literally, autumn foliage hunting). The scenery created by the once lush green foliage as it turns red, yellow, and orange is so incredibly beautiful that people throng to places where they can enjoy it in all its glory.
Also called "autumn of appetite," this is the season when foods harvested in Japan are at their most delicious.
Autumn Foliage — Korankei Maple Festival (Toyota City)
When it comes to autumn foliage, Korankei is one of the most famous places in the whole of Japan. There's a temple there that has 4,000 or so maples of 11 species planted all along its riverside approaches and right into its precincts, and when autumn comes, they lend the landscape a gorgeous palette of colors. The wealth of photogenic sites includes the red Taigetsukyo Bridge and the Maple Tunnel, both arguably symbols of the gorge. You can also explore the evocative old streets of a former post town across the Asuke River.
[AichiNow] Korankei Maple Festival
Autumn Foliage — Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens: Maple Hunting (Nagoya City)
Period: Mid-November to early December
Higashiyama Botanical Gardens are one of the city's most famous spots for autumn foliage. The hills on which the botanical gardens are located boast natural forests that are home to 500 beautiful broadleaf trees, among them Japanese red maples. Needless to say, the autumn foliage is spectacular. The illuminations during the season are also fantastic, and the greenhouses and western-style gardens (themselves important cultural properties) are lit up to recreate the same warm glow as the lights used when the place first opened. And if it's some Japanese ambience you're after, then look no further than Okuike Pond and the traditional gassho-style house. The old residence was relocated from the village of Shirakawa in Gifu Prefecture, and you can see "upside-down maples" reflected on the surface of its pond.
[AichiNow] Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens - Maple Hunting
Autumn Foliage & Shikizakura — Obara Shikizakura Festival (Toyota City)
Period: Mid- to late November
Most cherry blossom trees in Japan only bloom in spring. "Shikizakura" however are a rare kind that blooms twice: once in spring, then once again from autumn to winter. Famous for being the home of Japanese paper, the Obara area also boasts over 10,000 shikizakura trees. They start to bloom around October, but the best time to admire them is around November. Then, the trees around them have also assumed their seasonal colors, creating a mysterious collaboration between the cherry blossoms—symbols of spring—and autumn foliage—symbols of autumn. Shikizakura festivals are held all over the area.
[AichiNow] Obara Shikizakura Festival
Gingkoes — Sobue Ginkgo Yellow Leaves Festival (Inazawa City)
Inazawa City's gingko nuts are among the most famous and bounteously produced in all Japan, and most of them come from the Sobue area's more than 10,000 ginkgo trees. The golden views from an avenue of ginkgoes or observation deck are literally dazzling! Held from the end of every November, Sobue Gingko Yellow Leaves Festival features a wide variety of events and nighttime illuminations to boot and is the most bustling the town gets all year. The main venue is Sobue Ginnan Park, which is noteworthy for being home to four major varieties, and the monthly Marché.
[AichiNow] Sobue Ginkgo Yellow Leaves Festival
In winter, the temperature plummets, and people feel the cold. Aichi Prefecture's mountainous areas see heavy snowfall, and people flock to Mt. Chausu Plateau's ski slopes for winter sports.
In this season, many households eat nabe hotpot dishes, and restaurants also have various examples of it on their menus, such as yose nabe, chankonabe, sukiyaki, and tonyu nabe.
Snowy Scenery — Yotsuya's Senmaida (Shinshiro City)
Yotsuya's Senmaida are rice field terraces that stretch down the side of Mt. Kurakake. Around 20 farms have been protecting the rich nature there ever since the land was cleared some 400 years ago.
Rising in sequence from an elevation of 220 meters up to 420 meters, the rice terraces built with stacked stones change their appearance with the seasons. The best seasons to see them are from early summer in June when the rice planting is over until mid-July, and from early to mid-September, when the ears are ripe and colorful before the harvest. However, they also look wonderful covered in snow.
[AichiNow] Yotsuya's Senmaida
Winter Stars — Mt. Chausu Plateau (Toyone Village)
Mt. Chausu Plateau is the highest sightseeing destination in Aichi. It affords such a clear view of the night sky that you can even see sixth-magnitude stars with the naked eye. Its location far from any residential areas means their lights and exhaust fumes barely reach it, so the stars are amazingly clear. How about treating yourself to this natural planetarium?
[AichiNow] Mt. Chausu Plateau