Seven hundred year old wisteria, a natural monument of Saitama Prefecture, in spring and hydrangea backdropped by Japan’s tallest pagoda in summer. At Aobaen in Saitama City, just North of Tokyo.
In the most unlikely of places in Saitama City there are three 700 year old wisteria that are a designated natural monument of Saitama Prefecture. The wisteria are on the grounds of Aobaen cemetery. The first privately owned cemetery to be built after World War II. Although the cemetery is privately owned, the wisteria are open to the public. They are right by the main gate. There are also other “attractions” (for want of a better word) at the cemetery…
The cemetery is huge, approximately 15 hectares, with several points of interest dotted throughout. Including a beautiful pagoda, shrine and various statues. Moreover, there are other wisteria trees throughout the grounds, even some in one of the car parks. Furthermore, there is even a lovely little garden with a rest house by the famous wisteria. And in the South Car park there is a “Wisteria” cafe! However, due to the Coronavirus that is currently closed.
Obviously as it is a cemetery there are people who are there to pay their respects to family and / or their loved ones. If you are visiting the location you need to obviously be aware of and respectful of that. There are no signs up, that I saw, that say “do not enter”. Actually on the contrary, there are signs up pointing in the direction of the attractions in the cemetery, such as the hydrangea garden. The hydrangea at the cemetery are also renowned locally. Its actually thanks to the hydrangea that I found out about the cemetery in the first place! For the record, there are cherry blossoms too.
The wisteria are estimated to be approximately 700 years old. Incredibly, they were transplanted to their current location when they were already ancient relics. The three trees were grown from seeds taken from Sashiogi, (current day) Kita Ward and Ageo City. In 1953 they were designated a natural monument of Saitama Prefecture as the “Wisteria of Omiya”, as at the time they were planted in Omiya, at the central Omiya Post Office.
The three wisteria, two purple and one white, were moved to their current location in 1963. They are in the same 10 x 13 meter garden where their clusters blossom on the same supporting trellis. As they are of the noda variety, their draping clusters can grow to about 1.5 meter at full bloom. They came into full bloom today, April 26th 2021. According to the official website (linked in information section), that is about ten days earlier than “normal”.
Wisteria Light up
The wisteria are lit up in a normal year. This year, 2021, they only lit up the wisteria for one night, which has already passed. It was Tuesday April 20th.
There is a pagoda on the North end of the cemetery. At 31 meters, it is the tallest three tier pagoda in all of Japan. It is made from Japanese cypress in the style of the Kamakura period. Moreover, as it is on a hill, so you have a good view of it from most of the cemetery and many parts of Nishi ward too. However, it can’t be seen from the ancient wisteria as some of the buildings and conifers obscure the view.
Hydrangea and Pagoda
If you are looking for somewhere to get a photo of hydrangea backdropped by a pagoda, look no further! Aobaen has a hydrangea garden on the west side of the cemetery grounds. It is not particularly large, but the hydrangea are stunning. Furthermore, if you angle it right, you can get a photo of the hydrangea with the pagoda in the distance. Moreover, you can also get a photo of the pagoda with hydrangea beside it as there are more hydrangea bushes at the around the pagoda. You can find small displays of hydrangea on the east side of the cemetery also.
If you go to Aobaen to see the hydrangea, I really recommend visiting the nearby “hydrangea shrine“. The two are only five minutes apart in the car – they would be closer if the area wasn’t so built up! Also, there are quite a few one way streets, but Google Maps directed me smoothly. You can walk too. It is only about 20 to 25 minutes on foot from the shrine to the North West gate of Aobaen.
Please note, a few of the other wisteria in the cemetery are already past prime peak. For example, “the Mother and Child Wisteria” in the center of the cemetery. Also, the wisteria in the West car park are drying up. The few that hang close to the west side of the pagoda also seem to be past prime. There are some other seasonal blooms to enjoy in the cemetery. (That sounds so wrong, doesn’t it!). In the South west corner of the cemetery there is a beautiful display of azalea with some moss phlox (shibazakura) too. There is also azalea in the garden beside the wisteria. They are in full bloom right now.
There are about a dozen statues on the grounds of Aobaen. Including some busts. I’ve no doubts the busts of are famous people. Unfortunately, there is little information online in any language to fill in the blanks. The only one I recognized is Doraemon! There is a small doraemon in the garden by the wisteria. I was particularly intrigued by the statue in front of the wisteria of a woman in just a shirt with her hair tied back. As well as the statue of a woman and wolf in front of the torii at the pagoda. Research and a post for another day!
|Address:||5 Chome Mihashi, Nishi Ward, Saitama, 331-0052|
|Phone:||048-623-2111 (cemetery phone number)|
|Hours:||7:30 am to 6:30 pm, however the car parks close earlier. The South car park closes at 4.30 pm.|
|Online:||Aobaen Cemetery official wisteria web page|
The cemetery is located close to national route 17. You head west at the crossroads for Mihashi Park. Mihashi park is to the east of the crossroads. There are four car parks. The South car park is large. It also has a wisteria in it. And a cafe called “Wisteria”! However, the cafe is currently closed due to the pandemic. If you are using the South car park, please be careful as you are coming out of the cemetery – there is no foot path and the road is narrow so you step out onto the road! The West car park is the car park where you can park under the wisteria. However, that particular wisteria either didn’t really grow this year or is past its prime.
The closest station is JR Omiya Station. You can get buses bound for Nishiasuma from platform numbers 4 and 5 at the West exit of Omiya Station and alight at the “Mihashi Sougo Koen minami guchi” bus stop. Alternatively, you can walk from the station. However, it takes about 40 minutes on foot.