The lotus has been admired for its beauty and purity for thousands of years. Buddhist writers used the lotus as a symbol of enlightenment, emphasizing the way it rises unblemished from the muddiest pondwater. Sometimes the gradual unfolding of the lotus blossom was even likened to specific stages on the path to liberation.
Japan is full of ponds where lotuses bloom in profusion each summer, and outings to admire these blossoms from late July to mid-August have a place in the calendar of most seasonal flower-watchers. Here are four of the best lotus ponds in the Kanto region in and around Tokyo. Remember—most lotus blossoms open in the morning and close around midday when it gets too hot, so make sure to visit early in the day!
Tokyo Lotus Central: Shinobazu Pond, Ueno
Ueno Park has a long and storied history. It was originally the grounds of Kan’eiji temple, only becoming a park after the temple’s destruction in 1868 by pro-imperial forces eliminating the last resistance by loyalists to the shogun. Shinobazu Pond has been on the site all along; although it has been shaped by human hands, it is originally a natural feature.
Today Shinobazu Pond is divided into three distinct sections: the Boat Pond, the Cormorant Pond, and the Lotus Pond, with Benten Island in the middle. Located at the south end of the pond, the Lotus Pond is so full of lotuses that when they are in bloom the water cannot be seen at all. In most years, lotus season also coincides with the multiple-week Ueno Summer Festival, with outdoor antique markets, live music, and other attractions.
Access: Ueno Park is a 5-minute walk from Ueno Station on the JR Yamanote Line.
Ancient Oga Lotuses in Chiba Park, Chiba
One prefecture east of Tokyo lies Chiba Park, a beloved sanctuary for residents of Chiba City, and its walking paths are artfully laid to showcase the finest flowers in every season. From July to August, the star of the park is the Oga Lotus, sometimes called the “world’s oldest flower.”
The Oga Lotus derives from a handful of seeds found after World War II following an estimated two thousand years of dormancy. The seeds were coaxed back to life by paleobotanist Ichiro Oga and today are a Natural Monument of Chiba Prefecture. They have been shared with many other locations in Japan—including the next destination on this list!
Access: Chiba Park is a two-minute walk from Chibakoen Station on the suspended Chiba Urban Monorail.
Isanuma Park, Kawagoe: A Family-Friendly Lotus Spot
Isanuma Park is a favorite destination of many Saitama families, with adventure equipment that can keep children happily entertained for hours. But the numa in the name means “marsh” or “pond,” and the area for walking and playing adjoins an enormous pond several times its size. In summer the northern end of the pond is filled with blooming Oga Lotuses. The L-shaped deck allows easier viewing.
If you’re looking for more historic lotus varieties in Saitama, you might also consider visiting Gyoda Ancient Lotus Park (Gyoda Kodaihasu no Sato). This park is devoted to a different type of ancient lotus, grown from seeds discovered in Gyoda and estimated at 1,400 to 3,000 years old.
Isanuma Park: By bus from Kawagoe Station on the JR Saikyo Line.
Gyoda Ancient Lotus Park: By bus from Gyoda Station on the JR Takasaki Line.
Symbolic Lotus-Scaping in Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
As one of Kamakura’s most famous shrines, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu offers a different kind of setting for lotus-viewing from the usual parks. The arched red bridge leading into the shrine’s precincts has a lotus pond on either side. These ponds were created in 1182 by order of Minamoto no Yoritomo, who would go on to found the Kamakura Shogunate a decade later and cement the city’s place in history as Japan’s “warrior capital.”
The ponds are named the Genji Pond and Heike Pond (collectively the “Genpei Ponds”), referring to the two ancient clans that struggled for supremacy over Japan during the Genpei War of 1880–1885. Yoritomo belonged to the Genji clan; accordingly, the Genji Pond is twice the size of the other. According to legend the number of artificial islands in each is also meaningful: the Genji Pond has three (san, meaning “fertility, increase”), and the Heike Pond has four (shi, “death”). Originally, the ponds also had lotuses of different colors in them—red (well, pink) for the Genji and white for the Heike—but the years have muddled this distinction and now both colors can be seen in both ponds.
Access: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is a 10-minute walk from Kamakura Station on the JR Yokosuka Line and Enoshima Electric Railway (Enoden).