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!
Fast forward to 2021 and 2022 and quite a bit has changed at Rakusato no Kai. Moreover, by next spring the area will probably go from an off the beaten path location to a better known one. Because since 2021 they are building a new roadside station at the site of Rakusato no Kai. Unfortunately, in the process about
100 200 meters of kawazu early blooming cherry blossoms and hydrangea were lost. But there is still about 800 meters a kilometer of kawazu left and even more in the general area, outlined below. (I edited the figures after personally measuring the distances in March 2023!)
Update February 2023: the roadside station has once again been delayed. They have completed the roads, but still no sign of the roadside station! They have also taken down the billboard advertising the proposed roadside station. (Its back up March 2023!) But according to the Okegawa City website, the roadside station is still in the works, but they no longer show the expected finish date for the project, which at one point said spring 2023. That date is highly unlikely at this stage!
Early Blooming Cherry Blossoms in Okegawa
There are two different type of early bloomers in this area of Okegawa:
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 have not bloomed properly for the last two years. Both this year (2022) and last you could find a few in bloom here and there, but for the most part the trees went to green without blooming.
Update March 8th 2023: they actually bloomed. Whoop! Can’t believe it. I had checked on them twice in February and twice last week and it wasn’t looking promising. But according to a local volunteer, who was actively clearing overgrowth at the site today, bless him, they started blooming on March 6th. There’s a lot of green leaves on many of the trees, so they may not reach full bloom before turning green, but at least they are blooming! Blooming lovely!
Fureai Ikiiki Farm
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 8th 2023, they are about 30% bloom.
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.
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. (However, for the cherry blossoms, its a lot busier)
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
Okegawa is famous for its safflowers. There is a large safflower field to the west of the south end of the Ishikawa Ditch. However, the flowers were not grown there in 2021 and 2022, but they are being grown in 2022. Moreover, for the first time in three years, Okegawa are having their 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|
|Address:||Kawataya, Okegawa, Saitama 363-0027|
Check out this really nice café – cafe N36° – with outdoor seating and a dog run, just a 10 minute drive from the kawazazakura / hydrangea.
There is no official car park. During the cherry blossom season they used to open a temporary car park for visitors, but not in 2021 – 2023. Moreover, due to the work for the Okegawa Roadside Station, the old parking area is gone. If you are visiting in 2023, the safest option is probably to park at Shiroyama park and walk over.
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.