Rakusato no kai kawazu zakura cherry blossoms

Information for the seasonal blooms and new Roadside Station at Rakusato no Kai, an off the beaten path flower spot in the Kawataya area of Okegawa.

Sometimes it pays to get lost. I was attempting to go to one of the three safflower fields in Okegawa today. The safflower were nowhere in sight and I thought that both I and Google had remembered the place incorrectly. So I opted to abandon Google maps direction and let destiny direct us. We didn’t find the safflower – as it turns out they didn’t grow the safflower in this particular field this year. But what we did find was infinitely better: 620 hydrangea lining a small river and stretching for about 400 meters (of a one kilometer ditch).

Rakusato no Kai

I didn’t recognize the site, but when I got home to research it I realized I had visited it years ago to see the cherry blossoms there. It is a flower viewing area maintained by volunteers. The cherry blossoms stretch for even further than the hydrangea – for the full kilometer of what is called the Ishikawa Ditch (also sometimes referred to as the Ishikawa River or Naka Ditch). At that time the sakura had only just been planted so they didn’t look much. But seeing pictures of them from 2020, they had come on a lot. There are other seasonal flowers at the ditch too, all outlined below.

Okegawa Roadside Station coming soon!

A sign board indicated the site of a proposed Okegawa Roadside Station in the Kawataya area of Okegawa, June 2021
A sign advertising the new roadside station, June 2021

They started building a new roadside station at the site of Rakusato no Kai in 2021. Its still not completed in 2024! Initially they were aiming to complete it by spring 2023, but it has had many setbacks and the finish date has been pushed right back to 2025. Unfortunately, the roadside station site took about 200 meters of kawazu early blooming cherry blossoms and hydrangea were lost. But there is still about a kilometer of kawazu and hydrangea left to enjoy!

Early Blooming Cherry Blossoms in Okegawa

There are two different type of early bloomers in this area of Okegawa:

Kawazuzakura

The first to bloom (when they do bloom) is the Kawazuzakura which normally bloom late February to about mid March. The Kawazuzakura line either side of the Ishikawa ditch for a full kilometer. Unfortunately the kawazu at Rakusato no Kai do not bloom properly every year. Often you can find a few in bloom here and there, but sometimes the trees go to green without blooming. When they do bloom they are beautiful. The photos in the gallery above were taken on March 5th 2024. At that time, the kawazu were at about 30% bloom.The feature photo at the top of the post was taken on March 9th 2021. The photos below were taken on March 8th 2023, two days after they started blooming, but they turned green a couple of days later!

Fureai Ikiiki Farm

Early bloomers at Fureai Ikiiki Farm Kawataya Okegawa

To the west of (and in view of) the ditch at around the half way point of the line of Kawazuzakura there is a little community vegetable patch called Fureai Ikiiki Farm. Along one side of the vegetable garden there is a beautiful line of white colored early blooming cherry blossoms. A nice contrast to the pink color of the Kawazuzakura. They seem to bloom from around mid March. Unfortunately, I don’t know what variety they are, nor did anyone I visited with or any of the (several) people we asked! In 2022, I saw them in full bloom on March 16th. As of March 5th 2024 they are not blooming.

Hydrangea, Okegawa

The hydrangea bloom in June. The day when I rediscovered the place, it was thanks to the hydrangea as they caught my eye from afar. As their bright bursts of color were clearly evident, set off by the fresh green of the cherry blossom trees. I thought my eyes were deceiving me to be honest. I thought that when I pulled over it would turn out to be just that cluster of stunning hydrangea. But there were hundreds of them (620 hydrangea to be exact) stretching for as far as the eye could see to the North. And they are on both sides of the river ditch, framing it with their vibrant bouquets. I am so glad I pulled over to investigate.

hydrangea okegawa in Saitama Prefecture, Japan

How I had never heard of these hydrangea? The cherry blossoms are on the web and social media, but the hydrangea are not. Its amazing how these beautiful hydrangea managed to stay obscure for many years. But I imagine when the roadside station is completed this place will become better known. However, it was a fortunate stroke of serendipity for us to discover the hydrangea in 2020 during the pandemic. At that time, there was only one other family there the whole time we were at Rakusato hydrangea Okegawa.

Other annual blooms at Rakusato No Kai

  • 160 wintersweet in January
  • 320 kawazu cherry blossoms late February – mid March
  • 320 primrose jasmine in May, in 2021 there are some tall bearded Iris
  • 620 hydrangea in June
  • 50 crape myrtle in August
  • 50 heavenly bamboo in November
  • Safflowers…

Okegawa is famous for its safflowers. Unfortunately, one of the safflower fields was also lost to the roadside station. But there are still at least three other fields. During the period of the flowers bloom, Okegawa have a safflower festival:

Rakusato no kai Information

The river / ditch has agriculture roads either side of it. They are quite wide and not used by regular traffic so it is easy to walk comfortably along the side of the picturesque river. There are two places along the route where you can cut across to the other side. And then at the top and the bottom you can also cross over. When they have events on they often put tarped booths along this road.

Rakusato no Kai 楽郷の会 / Ishikawa Ditch 石川川沿いの河津桜並木
Address:Kawataya, Okegawa, Saitama 363-0027. View on Google Maps.
Hours:24 hours
Cost:Free
Online:Official website

Check out this really nice café – cafe N36° – with outdoor seating and a dog run, just a 10 minute drive from the kawazazakura / hydrangea.

Access

There is no official car park. During the cherry blossom season they used to open a temporary car park for visitors, but not between 2021 and 2024. Moreover, due to the work for the Okegawa Roadside Station, the old parking area is gone and you can no longer walk over from Shiroyama park either. Well you can, but its just a much longer walk than it used to be! Moreover, its the only option as there are no coin parking lots in the area.

By public transport the nearest bus stop is probably Kawataya Shisho bus stop at the intersection of route 12 and Ageo Road. It is about a five minute walk from Rakusato. Bus “Kawagoe 04” stops here once to twice an hour. The bus goes between JR Kawagoe and JR Okegawa stations.

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