Information for Hanashobu, Ayame, Kakitsubata Iris flowers in Japan. In addition, information on when and where to see them in Japan. Plus bonus content for Saitama Prefecture. Moreover, the 2022 bonus content was changed on May 15th from Tokigawa to Saitama’s largest iris garden.
Iris are quite a popular and significant flower in Japan. Their bloom is said to mark the start of summer. Irises were traditionally believed to hold protective powers and, as “shobu” can also mean militarism, reflected the spirit of Samurai warriors. As such, Iris were put in the baths of boys on Boy’s Day, because historically it was on the 5th day of the 5th moon (around June 7th). But nowadays it goes by the Gregorian calendar so it is celebrated on May 5th annually. Thus, the boy’s festival, now most commonly called Kodomo no Hi or Children’s Day, is actually earlier than the period of bloom of Iris.
“There is nothing to equal the Festival of the Fifth Month, when the scents of the iris and sagebrush mingle so charmingly.”from the famous 10th Century “Pillow Book”.
Iris flowers in Japan
There are three main varieties of Iris in Japan. Collectively they are generally referred to as “Japanese Iris”. Of the three, Hanashobu is most commonly called ‘Japanese Iris’ outside of Japan. Hanashobu is Iris Ensata. Ayame is Iris Sanguinea and Kakitsubata is Iris laevigata. Just to confuse things more, there is actually another type of Japanese Iris. Iris Japonica or, more commonly, Butterfly Flower. It is native to Japan and China. However, it is not usually bunched in with Hanashobu, Ayame and Kakitsubata. Possibly due to its distinct appearance.
❀Japanese Iris flowers❀
With the exception of the Butterfly flower, they are all very similar and I would lying if I said I could tell them apart easily. However, there are some hints to distinguishing them….
Hanashobu, “Japanese Iris” or Iris Ensata, were supposedly named due to their similarity to Sweet Flag which is called Shobu in Japanese. They are a water loving Iris. Their lower petals are larger than ayame iris. They come in shades of purple, including a red purple. They have a very clear “artery” or vein on the petals, which you can see in the photo above. The biggest giveaway is the yellow streak in the center of the flower. Hanashobu bloom from early to late June. In Japan’s flower language “hanakotoba” they mean happy news or a gentle heart. They also say they represent elegance.
In Tokyo you can see Hanashobu Japanese Iris flowers in the Iris garden of Kitayama Park, Higashimurayama City (🔗Seibu Railways). You can also see 200,000 Iris plants in Mizumoto Park in Katsushika Ward (🔗Japan Travel). In Saitama, there are 20,000 Iris flowers in Someya Iris garden in Saitama City. More information on Someya Iris garden at the bottom of the post in “bonus content”!
Photo – clockwise from top: Ayame, Hanashobu, Kakitsubata.
The Ayame variety, Iris Sanguinea, of Iris grow on dry land. The featured image at the top of the post is an ayame Iris. Ayame bloom earlier than the other two Japanese Iris featured in this post. (But the Butterfly flower which I mentioned briefly, is even earlier again). The Ayame, Iris Sanguinea, variety bloom from mid May to Mid June. In some places you can actually see them in early May. They are generally shades of purple. In the English language Ayame represent hope, friendship and wisdom.
Perhaps the most famous place for Irises in all of Japan is Suigo Ayame Itako Gardens in Ibaraki (🔗Japan Travel). It is also one of the longest running Iris festivals in all of Japan. Their is a fabulous tradition in the park of brides, riding down the river in their stunning traditional wedding outfits. Yokosuka Iris garden (🔗Must Love Japan) is also very famous and one of the largest iris gardens in all of Japan. In Saitama, Kuki city has several different Iris gardens. The Iris is the flower of the city. For Ayame, Shobujoshi park and Ukiya no Sato in particular come to mind.
Iris Laevigata aka Kakitsubata
Kakitsubata have the shortest bloom period of the three Japanese iris flowers. They bloom from mid to late May. Kakitsubata can grow in water or on wet land. They come in shades of blue, purple and white. They have a white streak near the center of the flower that helps distinguish them from ayame and hanashobu. You don’t really hear much about kakitsubata or Iris laevigata in English. Even in Japanese, the main references are to hanashobu and ayame. In the hanakotoba, Kakistubata mean “happiness will surely come”.
I think the most famous place specifically for Kakitsubata Iris (Iris Laevigata) is in Aichi Prefecture. There are thousands of Kakitsubata at Yatsuhashi Kakitsubata Garden. The prefecture has detailed information in the English language here (🔗Official Aichi Tourism website).
Other famous places to see Iris around Japan:
- Yokosuka Iris garden, Kanagawa, with approximately 140,000 iris flowers – it is one of the biggest in all of Japan. 🔗Official website (Japanese language) | 🔗Information in English on Must Love Japan
- Horikiri Shobuen Iris Garden, Tokyo (🔗 Official Tokyo Travel Guide)
- Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo (🔗Official English webpage)
- Korakuen, Okayama (🔗Official English web page)
- Nanrakuen Garden, Ehime (🔗Japan Travel)
- Koiwa Iris Garden, Tokyo (🔗Must Love Japan)
Other Places to see Iris in Saitama
- Ukiya no Sato
- Shobu Castle Iris Garden and the Blue Festival | KUKI
- Chikozan Park including the Chikozan Park Greenery and Iris Festival
- Ageo Maruyama Park
- Heisei no Mori Park
- Kawazuzakura and Iris at Yamazaki Park
- Nanbata Castle Park | FUJIMI
- Tokigawa Iris Garden
- Someya Hanashobu Garden – please see next paragraph “Bonus Content for Saitama”
Bonus Content for Saitama
Someya Iris Garden in Saitama City
One of the best places to see Iris in Saitama Prefecture is in Saitama City. At the Someya Iris Garden. There are approximately 20,000 iris flowers of 200 different varieties. Which, as far as I know, also makes it the largest iris garden in Saitama Prefecture. Generally they open from around the last week of May. In the past it opened from 1st of June to 30th of June annually, but in recent years the iris have started to bloom earlier so the start date is earlier. The garden only opens to the public during the period of bloom. As such, they don’t release the dates until they know the bloom period. On May 23rd 2022, they released the dates for 2022. Someya Iris garden will open from Wednesday May 25th 2022.
Update: Someya Iris Garden closed the 2022 season on Monday June 20th. Until next year…!
The garden is particularly picturesque with wooden boardwalks and garden pagodas. In one area the boardwalk is raised into a dais, which gives a great view of the colorful garden. The pagodas also serve as rest areas, so you can sit among the flowers. In addition, there is also a dedicated rest area, even a traditional tea house! Unfortunately it is not open during the pandemic. But it adds a nice aesthetic.
Someya Hanashobu Garden Access
Address: 2 Chome-248 Someya, Minuma Ward, Saitama, 337-0026
2022 dates: May 25th 〜 June 20th 2022
Hours: during the bloom period they generally open everyday.During the bloom period you can access the garden between 9 am and 5 pm.
Cost: 500 yen per adult, 200 yen for elementary school aged children and people over 75 years old. Parking costs 300 yen per car.
Access: a Kokusai Kougyo bus bound for Someya Shindo from Omiya Station. The garden is about a ten minute walk from the bus stop. By car the nearest interchange is Shin-Toshin Nishi on the Shuto Expressway Saitama Route.