Rainy season is here with a vengeance and it can be hard to find motivation to voluntarily leave the cool safety of air conditioning for the steamy, sticky and sweaty outdoors. On Sunday, I went in search of the silver lining to the ever present rain clouds – time to hunt for hydrangeas!
Hydrangeas (Ajisai アジサイ in Japanese) are one of my mother’s favourite flowers and I have a ton of memories from when I was growing up of big vases of fluffy blue clouds decorating our living room. However, the hydrangeas I’ve come across so far in Japan are (sorry, Mum!) some of the biggest, boldest and most beautiful I have ever seen! Apparently the composition of the soil and climate effect the size and colour of each hydrangea plant. Japan’s soil is clearly having an identity crisis because I have seen nearly every colour imaginable, sometimes occurring on the same bush; from vibrant blues, indigos and pinks to dark purple, green and pure white.
I only recently found out about this myself, but one of the best places to hunt down some ajisai is in the Kitasendai area of Sendai City. Kitasendai has a real ‘old Sendai’ vibe, with winding streets lined with a mix of old and new buildings. Getting off the train at Kitasendai Station (Nanboku Line of Sendai City Subway) and heading outside, I felt more like I was in a suburban area of Tokyo, rather than a few minutes from the main centre of Sendai City. Heading south of the station I discovered that the area is full of shrines and temples, the entrances to which lie in between residences and parks, easily spotted by giant Torii gates or leafy green staircases up to temple gates.
It was really atmospheric and difficult to resist the urge to explore each one! But time was of the essence and my destination lay a little further up the road: Shifuku-ji Zen Temple.
I actually took a wrong turn and ended up entering the temple grounds from a back street but this is what you should be greeted with when you arrive! (It was just as beautiful in backwards order)
Really accessible, located only about a 15 minute walk from Kitasendai Station, it is hard to believe that this hydrangea heaven is only really known/visited by locals. It is the perfect place for a leisurely summer afternoon walk or for aspiring photographers to practice their skills. Whilst there were definitely quite a few people about this weekend, it is much less crowded than other famous hydrangea destinations and the perfect size to navigate on foot. Visit during peak hydrangea season (late June, early July) on a weekend and you might even be treated to a live performance at the the main hall of the temple.
Walking out of the temple’s main entrance and turning right, another beautiful location lies just 5 mins walk up the street: Rinnoji Temple (輪王寺）. Up the main path and behind the temple hall is a beautiful Japanese garden that visitors can enter for just 300 yen. Again, it is not too big – the perfect size to take on if you have a free afternoon. I can only imagine how beautiful it is going to look in a few months time when the Autumn leaves start to change their colours (there were tons of momoji Japanese maples dotted about the place)!
It was an absolutely magical afternoon in Sendai, and I can’t wait to take my friends and family to these places when they come to visit.
I guess rainy season isn’t all bad, after all!
SHIFUKU-JI TEMPLE (資福寺)
Take the Sendai Subway Nanboku Line to Kitasendai station (about 6 mins from Sendai Station). Once off the train, head outside of the Southern Exit (南1) turn right and walk past Tsutaya to the intersection, where you should turn left and continue to walk straight for about 10 mins. There are a few temples dotted along the way which might confuse you, but this is what the main entrance looks like:
Google Maps link:
RINNO-JI TEMPLE (Japanese Garden) 輪王寺
Entrance: to the temple – free! to the garden – 300 yen.
Follow the same directions as above! Rinno-ji Temple is located about an additional 5 mins south of Shifuku-ji Temple. You will be greeted with a long walkway through greenery up to the main temple gates:
Google Maps link: