Hodosan Nagatoro

General information about wintersweet aka Japanese allspice aka Robai, as well as the latest information for the Wintersweet at Hodosan Robaien (Nagatoro) in January 2023.

In this post:

  • General Wintersweet information
  • Wintersweet in Japan
  • Visiting the Nagatoro Hodosan Wintersweet Grove
    • Festival / Light up
    • Information
    • Access

Wintersweet

Wintersweet, also known as Japanese Allspice, or by its scientific name Chimonanthus praecox, is a winter blooming deciduous shrub that is most loved for its honeyed smell. Not that its appearance is too shabby either. The vibrant yellow of its wax like petals offers beautiful bursts of colour. And the best part is that it begins flowering when little else is, in the middle of winter. In Japan, that period falls in January and February.

Wintersweet Japan

In Japanese, Wintersweet is Robai (Roubai) 蝋梅 ロウバイ which is often translated as “wax Japanese apricot”. It was so named because of its resemblance to the ume tree, which is most commonly translated as a plum blossom but in Japan is said to be a Japanese apricot.

When and where can I see wintersweet in Japan?

Nagatoro wintersweet
Image from the Nagatoro Tourism Official Website (linked in information section)

The wintersweet in the Kanto region (Greater Tokyo area) begins to bloom in early January, shortly after New Year and often when people are still on their New Year holidays. Mt Hodo, Nagatoro, is one of the most popular places to see the wintersweet in the greater Tokyo area. (Kaminagano in Annaka, Gunma, also has a large wintersweet garden).

Other places you can see wintersweet aka robai aka Japanese Allspice near Tokyo (External Website “Must Love Japan). And on this site: 10 places for wintersweet (robai) in Saitama Prefecture.

Nagatoro Hodosan Robaien

A wintersweet garden or grove is called a robaien in Japanese. There are approximately 3000 robai / Japanese allspice / wintersweet in this grove. The Nagatoro Hodosan Robaien is at the top of the 497 meter high Mt Hodo. Beside the Hodosan summit shrine and close to Hodosan zoo. You can get to the top of the mountain and the wintersweet garden by hiking up the mountain or by using the Hodosan ropeway (on weekends):

Nagatoro Tourist Association report on the condition of the wintersweet during the bloom period. According to them, the wintersweet on Mt Hodo, Nagatoro, started to bloom on December 26th 2022. Generally, they start to bloom from around the end of the first week in January until late February. Best viewing is at the end of January or early February. Often you can see both wintersweet and ume plum blossoms together toward the end of February.

Hodosan Nagatoro

January is a beautiful month in Japan. Dry bright sunny days with clear blue skies. The bright yellow against the deep blue is a magnificent sight. And the smell is out of this world. Occasionally you can see snow at the start of January forging an even more impressive scene.

Wintersweet Nagatoro

Nagatoro Hodosan Wintersweet Festival

The Nagatoro Tourism Association were really late releasing information for the wintersweet festival in 2023. Which is quite unusual. Normally, they post information about the annual wintersweet festival well in advance, often before Christmas. Last year, in 2022, for the first time ever they merged the (former) wintersweet and plum blossoms festivals into a combined event they called the “Winter Flower Story“. In 2023, it will once again be a merged event from January 28th to February 26th. During that period the wintersweet will be lit up on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from sunset to 7 pm.

Wintersweet Nagatoro Hodosan Robaien Information

Season: roughly early January to end of February with best viewing late January or early February (will be dependent on weather closer to the time). In 2023, December 26th until at least early February.

Wintersweet light up 2023: the wintersweet will be lit up on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from Saturday January 28th to Sunday February 26th from sunset to 7 pm.

Hours: the mountain is never closed, but if you want to go up by ropeway it generally doesn’t start until 9.40 am. Please note that the ropeway only runs on weekends in January and maybe closed for the first week of January, unless they open especially. More in the access section below.

Cost: no charge for viewing the wintersweet. Facilities and services (including the ropeway) have varying charges.

Official robaien page

Wintersweet Nagatoro Access

The closest train station to Mt Hodo is the Nagatoro station on the Chichibu Tetsudo line (Chichibu railway). The official address of the wintersweet garden is actually Minano, but right on the border of Nagatoro. During the period of the official festival there is usually a free shuttle bus from the station to the foot of the mountain between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.

From the foot of the mountain you can either hike up or take the ropeway. However, in January the ropeway only operates on weekends. Occasionally it will run on weekdays if there are a lot of tourists. Also, it sometimes is closed early January. You can check for information and hours on the official Chichibu Railway website. The ropeway costs 820 yen round trip (410 yen one way) for anyone over six years old.

2 Comments

    1. Weather envy! Thankfully its a bit cooler today – or maybe thats just cause its 5 am! I’ve the worst jet lag of my life, might just kill me! Any tips?

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