Every year in August, the entire surface of Lake Izunuma and Lake Uchinuma in northwestern Miyagi Prefecture, becomes a dreamy carpet of bright pink lotus flowers.
Izunuma and Uchinuma (‘numa’ 沼 means ‘marsh’ or ‘wetlands’ in Japanese) are two interconnected freshwater lakes that lie in an alluvial plain of the Hasama River, which extends from the Kitakami River running through northern Miyagi Prefecture. The area was recognised under the Ramsar Convention (an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands) in 1985 and plays a vital role in sustaining the livelihoods of local residents.
Due to its shallow waters (the deepest part measuring only 1.6 metres) the wetland has created the perfect environment for lotus flowers to flourish in summer, and the perfect habitat for migratory birds to shelter in winter. The area experiences little snowfall meaning the waters do not freeze and the surrounding rice-fields provide ample food for various species of White-fronted Geese, as well as the Whooper Swan and Tundra swan (80% of these birds who migrate to Japan in winter will visit the Izunuma area).
Photo credit: Tome City Homepage
Without a doubt the best way to experience the flora and fauna of Izunuma up close is to take a cruise in a pleasure-boat – a service offered only during the months of July and August every year, during the Izunuma-Uchinuma Lotus Festival. The boats are driven by local fisherman and cruise along a path deliberately cut through the carpet of lotus plants. The boat is literally surrounded by lotus as far as you can see on both sides, throughout the duration of the cruise.
It is incredibly relaxing as you float along, almost as if you were a bird flying in and around the flowers – an experience you won’t find elsewhere in Japan! The ride takes about 30 mins for a round trip and will cost you just 700 yen.
According to our friendly boat captain, the lifespan of a lotus flower is a mere four days! The flowers will open up in the morning and close their petals again in the afternoon (so it is highly recommended to visit during the morning to catch the flowers at their best)! After four days, the petals will gradually drop leaving only the stem and seed pods. However, the sheer number of lotus plants growing across Lake Izunuma means that there is a constant bloom of flowers throughout the entire festival period, with the final flowers usually closing their petals for the last time at the end of August/early September.
Once off the boat, take the time to explore the view from the banks of the wetlands – the perfect opportunity for some dramatic photography.
Whilst you’re in the area, you can also check out the wildlife museums dotted about the place. We visited the Izunuma Sanctuary Centre which houses some interesting exhibits about the migratory birds that visit the area, and also a birds-eye view of the wetlands from the second-storey windows.
Coming from southern Australia, this was the first time I have ever had the chance to see lotus as big and beautiful as these up close! When most people think of flowers and Japan, it is usually parks of cherry blossoms that spring to mind, so this almost tropical scenery was not something I had expected to discover in the mountainous countryside of Miyagi. But I can assure you, it is well worth the trip. Come and see it for yourself for a different unseen Japan experience!
Getting there (without the tour):
Izunuma-Uchinuma Lotus Festival
Dates: July 20 ~ August 31 (2017) *May change according to bloom
Time: Boat cruise in operation between 8am and 4pm daily
Address: 〒989 – 5504 宮城県栗原市若柳上畑岡敷味17-2
Map of boat-pier: http://www2.wagmap.jp/kurihara/MAP?linkid=5151C41171E13
Access: The boat pier is located around a 5 minute drive from the Izunuma IC (interchange) along the Miyagi Prefecture Northern Expressway (みやぎ県北高速幹線道路) or a 10 minute drive/taxi ride from Kurikoma-Kogen Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen. Alternatively, it is a 5 minute walk from Nitta Station on the local JR Tohoku line.