Information for both the Iris Garden at the site of the former Shobu Castle and the annual Kuki City Blue Festival.
Iris Garden at the Former Shobu Castle
This is one of Google Map’s funniest auto translate locations; on Google Maps the site is called “Iris Castle Toe Iris Gardens”! They’ve translated “Shobu” to Iris, which in one way is correct as 菖蒲 can also be read as Ayame. Ayame is the Japanese for iris. But in this case it is the name of the castle so it is just called ‘Shobu Castle’ even in English. I have no idea where the “toe” is coming from! Other sites online, such as TripAdvisor and the likes call it Shobujoshi Ayame Garden.
The castle no longer exists. In the place of the castle they created an iris garden. Iris is the official flower of Kuki City. Apart from the Iris, a gate, commemorative stones and a rest area, there is nothing at the old site of the Shobu Castle. But the site is the main area of the Iris flowers for the Blue festival. There are approximately 16,000 Iris of 50 different variety.
Kuki Blue Festival
No, it’s not missing an “s” and its nothing to do with music; the blue festival in Kuki is in celebration of blue (or blue-ish!) flowers that bloom at this time of year. It amalgamates two long running flower festivals – the Iris festival, at the aforementioned Shobu Castle, and the Lavender festival. There are approximately 11,000 lavender blooms near the castle grounds. The lavender have a post of their own here.
The “festival” is held annually in June. However, in both 2020 and 2021 the event was cancelled on account of the Coronavirus. But great news in 2022; it is one of several events going ahead this June. The festival will start on Sunday June 12th and runs until Sunday June 26th. The main area of the festival is around the Kuki City hall Shobu branch office car park, which where the lavender is. (Map below)
During the period of the festival they have a campaign on in Kuki City. If you spend more than 500 yen at participating stores or restaurants you will get a voucher. The voucher can be exchanged for flowers at the Kuki City branch office building beside the lavender fields. This is limited to between 9 am and 3 pm during the festival period only.
The event dates really indicate the period of the bloom rather than an actual event in the typical sense of the word. However, there are some events on the weekends during the festival period. Again, they will take place around the Kuki City Hall Shobu Branch Office. In 2022 there are some live performances scheduled:
- Sunday June 12th: a band will perform from 11 am and from 1 pm there is an Okinawan (Eisa and Taiko) performance
- Saturday June 18th: from 1 pm there are a Hula and Hip Hop dance performances
- Sunday June 19th: from noon there is Yosakoi dance
- Saturday June 25th: Ukulele performance
- Sunday June 26th: Kids dance and band performances from 11 am. Dance Studio MOON will perform from 3 pm.
Blue Festival Kuki Locations
Shobu Castle Iris Castle, Kuki City Hall Shobu Branch Office (main festival site), Shobu branch office lavender fields, Shirasagi Park mapped:
Access the Blue Festival
The festival area is approximately a seven minute drive from the Shiraoka Shobu exit of the Ken-o expressway. There is a small free car park that fits around 10 cars at Shobu Castle. Before the pandemic they had parking for the festival, for up to 700 cars, at the nearby Shobu Junior High School. However, this year there is no mention of that. They just say there is parking for 350 cars, presumably around the Shobu Branch Office.
By public transport, pre pandemic there was a special bus and temporary bus stop during the period of the festival only. However, that has not been available since 2019. You can get a regular “Asahi” bus from either Kuki Station or Okegawa station. The bus from JR Takasaki Line’s Okegawa station (east exit) stops at the Shobu Castle Garden. The main festival area is about a ten minute walk from the iris garden.