In this time with Covid, off the beaten path scenery is increasingly in demand. To that end introducing one of several spots in Kawajima Town, Saitama Prefecture, that are completely off the tourist trail. The embankment near Tenjin bashi (Tenjin Bridge) in Kawajima Town, attracts photographers in both Autumn and Spring. I am not a photographer! Just someone who likes taking photos and LOVES finding off the beaten path locations. In Autumn the photographers come for the Lycoris radiata aka Red Spider Lilies. And in Spring they come for the rapeseed aka canola flower. Jump to Spring scenery photos.
Update September 2021: this year the embankment was not maintained and you can’t see the spider lilies. They grew, but they are hidden by overgrowth.
Off the beaten path scenery in Saitama
Lycoris radiata / Spider lilies / Higanbana
The lycoris radiata of Kawajima popped up on Thursday, but its only today – Saturday September 19th – that some of them have come into bloom. It will be another couple of days before you can see the dramatic contrast of the red against the green. And unfortunately as it was a dark and rainy day it was hard to get a good photo. 今日、川島町天神橋の彼岸花が咲いてきました。
Some say Lycoris are native to Japan, but they actually originally came from China. However, they have been in Japan for hundreds of years. In Japanese they are most frequently called Higanbana 彼岸花. Higanbana is most commonly translated to “equinox flower” as it is close to the literal translation. Higan means the equinotical week. It also means the “other side”, which contributes to this flower being associated with death. Please note too, that these flowers are poisonous and shouldn’t be touched.
The flower can also be referred to as manjushage in Japanese. Manjushage 曼珠沙華 was supposedly taken from a Buddhist Lotus sutra that describes an imaginary flower in heaven. These are just two of supposedly hundreds of names used for the Lycoris Radiata in Japanese.
In English they have several names too, including:
- Paradise lilies
- Red Spider lilies
- Cluster amaryllis
- Cluster belladonna
- Hell flower
- Hurricane lilies
- Naked ladies
- Equinox Flower
Paradise / Hurricane / Spider lilies 2020
Saitama is the home to the most famous spider lilies in all of Japan. Frequently listed in the top ten scenes of all of Japan, the red spider lilies of Kinchakuda are one of those must visit locations if you are in Japan in September. However, in 2020 the Manjushage festival at Kinchakuda was cancelled. And earlier this week they actually cut all the flowers to prevent more people coming to admire them.
With Japan’s most famous Higanbana / Red spider lily / Lycoris spot being off limits in 2020, if you want to see the flower of many names this year it will have to be one of the smaller spots. Saitama has two other famous cluster amaryllis locations. One in Satte, the other in Yokoze. However, the latter, the cluster amaryllis at the Terasaki Terraced Rice Fields in Yokoze, have also said they are going to cut the flowers to prevent more people visiting. Gongendo park in Satte is currently open and they haven’t indicated an intention to cut the flowers.
Apart from Gongendo Park in Satte, there are dozens of places you can see smaller displays of the equinox flower throughout Saitama. Thankfully we have several good viewing spots in the Hiki district of Saitama. Moreover, one of the larger of those is near me in Kawajima Town. And in neighboring Yoshimi city, only a short drive away from Kawajima, there is a lovely display at Yoshimi Sakura Tsutsumi Park.
In Kawaijma the area at Tenjin Bridge near Hachiman Danchi is the best known. You can see the lycoris backdropped by a picturesque water pipe bridge. However, if you walk along the Oppe River embankment there are more places to see the beautiful autumnal flowers. For example, by the entrance to the Kawajima swan’s habitat and down by the Sakura Hiroba:
Tenjinbashi / Tenjin Bridge / 天神橋
The area at Tenjinbashi has a large display of red spider lilies. Once only known among locals, in recent years the area attracts more visitors from further afield. I visited yesterday and there was just stems mostly. Today, there are several of them in bloom. Unfortunately as it was raining quite heavily at the time it was hard to get a good photo.
As the flowers have only started to really come into bloom today, they don’t quite have that dramatic look yet. But at the height of their bloom both sides of the embankment from the Tenjin Bridge to the water pipe bridge is colored red. It has attracted attention because the water pipe bridge looks very picturesque in the background.
Tundra Swan’s winter habitat
Every winter a flock of about 100 swans come to Kawajima. Some years there is twice that. The swans have attracted so much attention that the town put in a car park and public toilet near the site and in recent years hundreds of people come to see them. Myself included! You can read all about it here.
Near the car park for the swans, along the embankment, there are hundreds of red spider lilies that bloom annually. However, today, even though the Tenjinbashi area has quite a few in bloom, the swans area are currently only stems. Red spider lilies seem to open almost magically overnight, so there is high likelihood you can see the spindly red flowers there too by tomorrow. Walking from Tenjinbashi along the embankment it takes about 15 minutes on foot to here.
A short walk down from the entrance stairs to the swans on the embankment, heading east, there is a short avenue of sakura trees called sakura hiroba. Its on Google maps and mapped below too. Just past the avenue on the right hand side at the corner of a business car park there are more sakura trees. Under them there is another display of the hurricane lilies that look very picturesque when in bloom. Today, they were stems with the flower closed, they may even open by tonight.
Fueki Shoyu Kinbue Soy Sauce Park
If you continue walking down the embankment with the river on your right, you will eventually come to the back of Fueki Shoyu. Its about two kilometers from the Sakura Hiroba to Fueki Shoyu. When I wrote this post there was still no sign of the spider lilies, but I revisited on September 24th and they are blooming. The Kinbue Soy Sauce Park at Fueki Shoyu is a lovely spot for a drink or ice-cream or even a bit of lunch:
|Kawajima Town is the largest producer of Ichijiku – Japanese figs – in all of Saitama. During the period of bloom you can purchase Ichijiku nearby. There is one place right by Tenjinbashi that sells from its garden! And Houkou Ichijiku farm is a ten minute drive away. They have a picking event in November.|
Rapeseed / Canola Flower / Nanohana
At Tenjin Bridge detailed above, you can see rapeseed in spring. They bloom for a long time. They normally start around mid February. However, in 2021 they were late. And they normally bloom right up to mid April, even May if they are not mowed down. However, the embankments are usually mowed around the middle of April, rapeseed and all. Please note, sometimes they do mow it earlier / later. This location does not have a website, so I suggest you check Instagram for the latest photos from the location. However, as it is off the beaten path, there are few posts about it. And those that do post do not put up the location tag. What you can look for is #Kawajima and #rapeseed. The ones that have the water pipe bridge in the background are Tenjin Bashi!
|Kawajima Town is also a great spot for off the beaten path cherry blossom viewing. Check out this secret hanami spot with stunning cherries and only a handful of visitors daily.|
Off the beaten path scenery information
The biggest problem with the Kawajima lycoris radiata is access. There is no official parking at any of the locations. Even at the swan habitat – they have the car park chained off so you can’t get in. I go by bike most of the time, but as it was raining today I went by car. I parked by a tunnel under the Tenjin bridge, but others drove up onto the embankment and down the other side. A few cars were parked under the Tenjin bridge there. As it is not official parking, you park there at your own risk. Update March 2021: however, the area has been made more parking friendly since Autumn. They put cement down so you can now park there.
By public transport, you can get a Tobu bus from JR / Tobu Tojo line Kawagoe station east bus terminus to “Hachiman danchi” and walk about eight minutes to the Tenjinbashi area. From the bus stop at Hachiman the swan area is about a ten minute walk too. The ‘sakura hiroba’ is about a 13 minute walk. A bus also goes from Higashimatsuyama station, bound for Kawagoe station, alight at Hachiman danchi. Finally, from Wakaba station on the Tobu Tojo line, you can get a bus bound for Hachiman danchi. For this one if you get off at the stop after the bus goes over the bridge, its only a 5 minute walk to the spot.
|Off the beaten path scenery Saitama|
|Address:||〒350-0164 Saitama, Hiki District, Kawajima, Fukizuka, Route 74 Tenjinbashi|