9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 1 (Part 1): Kawachi Fuji Gardens 河内藤園

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Starting the Kyushu posts with a similar mental state as to how I  started my trip: feeling half asleep. The Kyushu trip, a result of a red-eye flight. Today, a result of awaking up in the middle of the night for the England - Russia Euro match. Either scenario, I'm not at my best, but yes, it shall be done. So here it goes!
Brief introduction to Kyushu
On a map, Kyushu (九州, pronounced as jiu zhuo) would be the most south-westerly island of Japan's 4 main islands. Kyushu is also the third largest. While it's Chinese name literally translates to mean 9 provinces, there are only 7 main prefectures in Kyushu:
1) Fukuoka
2) Nagasaki
3) Kumamoto
4) Oita
5) Saga
6) Miyazaki
7) Kagoshima
9 Days in Kyushu
For this trip, I brought my parents on a 9-days tour of Northern Kyushu, covering the following prefectures:
1) Fukuoka
2) Nagasaki
3) Oita
4) Saga
Originally, I had also included Kumamoto in our itinerary. However, just before we were due to fly, Kumamoto was struck by devastating earthquakes. Hence, there was some really quick changes to the itinerary and hotels done.
This time round, I finally convinced my parents to let me bring them on another mode of travel instead of joining a group tour. After that Hokkaido round, I just couldn't tolerate another round of rushing through Japan. However, bearing in mind that my parents were elderly, plus my mom has knee problems (and hence difficulties with walking, stairs and inclines), I opted this round for a customised private tour.
While this option was more costly, at least my parents enjoyed themselves a lot more. My parents now understand the joy of a more "free-and-easy" mode of travel. They have since agreed to let me repeat the following mode should I bring them travelling again.
The itinerary
While I'll eventually put up an overall itinerary post, I'll like to point out a few things about this Kyushu trip.  
This itinerary was meant to be elderly-friendly. I only covered a few attractions each day so as not to tire my parents out. We also retired to our hotels and/or ryokans after dinner for them to rest, hence this itinerary did not include night activities.
The itinerary was planned with my parents' interests in mind, which were mostly sight-seeing and some amount of shopping. Also, my parents are the sort who require variety. Hence, the itinerary cannot be skewed towards being too temple-heavy or too landscape-weary.
Lastly, this was a customised private tour. Which means the itinerary can be adapted for a self-drive tour.
So with this in mind, let me start the Kyushu series!
Day 1: Fukuoka Airport --> Kawachi Fuji Garden --> Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine --> Karatsu Castle --> Ryokan
If you were to ask me what would be the one thing I would change about our itinerary for this trip, I'll tell you that it'll be the red-eye flight that we took to Fukuoka. We were booked on the Singapore Airlines flight that departed at the ungodly hour of 0120 hrs. As I had just come off a gruelling week at work, I was hoping that I would be tired enough to KO on the flight. Additional plus, the flight was not full, hence my parents and I managed to score rows to ourselves. That alleviated the cramped-space issue.
Unfortunately despite the added space, only my dad managed to catch some sleep. Well, he was lucky to have an entire row of 4 seats to lie down. Mom and I were too disturbed by the roaring of the plane's engines and the repeated flight announcements. By the time we landed in Fukuoka at about 0830 hrs, I was feeling feverish and cranky. What made it worse was that we arrived on a rainy Fukuoka day. Not the best start really. In fact, this marked the start of my flu and I was sick the entire 9 days in Kyushu.
At Fukuoka Airport, we were greeted by our driver and then it was off to the first stop on the itinerary: Kawachi Fuji Garden (河内藤園).

Now, to be honest, while planning the itinerary, I did think that the Kawachi Fuji Garden was out of the way. It would have been easier for us to just head straight to Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine from the airport. In addition, I would be arriving at the end of the wisteria season and I wasn't too sure if it would still be worth the trip.
However, I was swayed by the wonderful photos online and on Instagram. Plus, my mom loves her flowers. So I took a gamble and added this into the itinerary despite knowing that we would already be tired from the flight.
Boy. I'm glad we made the trip.

In Japan, wisteria is called Fuji (藤) so if you hear this uttered, at least you know what it means. There are 2 main wisteria or Fuji gardens in Japan. Of course, that doesn't mean that wisteria can't be found in the rest of Japan. There are still some places with wisteria trellises e.g. Karatsu Castle.
However, the 2 wisteria gardens, Ashikaga Flower Park and Kawachi Fuji Gardens, are the biggest (and naturally) have the largest population of wisteria. The better known of the 2 gardens is the Ashikaga Flower Park in the Tochigi prefecture. However, I understand that only the Kawachi Fuji Gardens has the wisteria tunnels.
That kind of makes it a MUST to visit.
Kawachi Fuji Garden is a private wisteria garden located in Kitakyushu (北九州). Google states that it was opened by Masao Higashi in late 1977. However, this is one garden that is otherwise elusive on the Internet. I could barely find any information on it (which of course added to the anxiety of whether to include it in the itinerary).
Apparently it seems that local were trying to protect the garden from extensive damage that may come with thronging tourists. Hence the lack of advertisement and information.
Despite the lack of advertisement, it appears that the Kawachi Fuji Gardens is still jam-packed during Japan's Golden Week! I later learnt that during peak season, traffic to the garden is horrible. Some would even opt to hoof it up the mountain in order to beat the terrible traffic jam to the garden. If that's the case, at the very least, that hike would have been scenic. There's a pretty amazing view of a reservoir along the way (which I wasn't able to snap since I was in a moving car).

By the way, in case you were not aware, Japan also has a Golden Week that is similar to China's Golden Week (a week of public holidays). Hence, you can expect crowds of even local Japanese tourists during their Golden Week. At the least, you know that the Japanese are extremely polite and well-mannered, so it would only be more of a space issue.
Japan's Golden Week runs between the last week of April to the first week of May. You'll have to check the calendar for exact dates.
The unfortunate thing here though is that wisteria season runs through Japan's Golden Week. And peak wisteria blooms happens to usually be during the Golden Week. So if you want to visit during peak bloom, the ground staff advised to come early morning. "Less people, more flowers in photo" - that's what he said.
This year though, due to the warmer climate (climate change!), the flowers have bloomed earlier. Of course, that meant that the flowers had also withered earlier, which coincided with the time we arrived.
A new way to pay for admission was also in effect this year. For those who visited during Golden Week, you would have been required to purchase a pre-admission ticket at 500 yen. Purchase of these pre-admission tickets were done at convenience stores. This in essence, would also have served to limit the number of visitors to the garden each day.
With the pre-admission ticket in hand, upon arrival at the Kawachi Fuji Garden, you may still be required to top up for admission. This top-up depends on the flower blooms and can range anywhere between 300 to 1,500 yen. Well, if you had paid 1,500 yen, take heart. It means that the wisteria is at its best. Yup, you got it. Price of admission depends on the flower blooms.
However, as we had arrived the day immediately after Golden Week, we were spared from this process and could directly purchase tickets at the entrance. Our admission price was at 500 yen per person, which meant that while there were still flowers, as it was past their peak, they were not at their best.
Upon admission, you will be greeted with the entrances of 2 wisteria tunnels. The one to the left runs approximately 80 metres long while the other tunnel is at 110 metres. To be honest, it doesn't really matter which one you start with first (unless of course you only have time for one). Both tunnels eventually lead to a really huge wisteria trellis set-up.
Here. I've included a photo of a map I cropped off a photo of a brochure they gave me. (Haha. That's quite some sentence). It's not the clearest (don't have a scanner with me so it's a quick iPhone shot), but I think that gives you an indication of the grounds.
As you can see, the 2 tunnels (denoted by their length) would lead to a huge wisteria trellis garden (that's the purple zone). The 2 bluish boxes flanking the sides of that huge wisteria trellis garden denote more wisteria trellis. These were further down a slope. As you can see, the entire garden can be completed in a circuit.
And in case you were wondering, that green box on the map denotes a resting area. Do note that there's no food sold in the garden. So please don't go expecting to get fed there.
It's a good thing that I grabbed the brochure. The fact that it was pouring quite heavily (plus a tired, feverish and cranky girl) meant that I could hardly take any notes for the blog. You tell me lah, how to take notes on top of balancing an umbrella and a camera and trying not to get my sandals too muddy?
Oh yeah, which brings me to the next thing to share with you guys. Fukuoka during May can be quite rainy. So if you're intending to visit, please make sure you're prepared with a brolly or a raincoat. If you intend to visit Kawachi Fuji Garden and it is raining, please do not wear sandals or you'd end up like me, with muddy feet. Well, it is a garden after all that you're visiting (which I conveniently forgot). I had to clean off my muddy feet in the car.
Also, during rainy days, toilets are provided near the entrance of the garden instead of within the garden.
Oh and for Christ's sake. Please do not ever wash your feet in their sinks provided near the toilets. Those are meant for washing hands. You really don't want people around you shaking their heads at your poor manners and hygiene. Unless you're really that thick-skinned like a tourist we saw.
Got to say though, precisely because it was raining so heavily, these photos were edited and ended up with a really dreamy feel.
In reality, if you brush aside the fact that we had to view the wisteria under our umbrellas in the rain, it really was quite pretty. Ok, brush aside the fact too that the flowers were past peak and in some parts, even withering.
Even then, there was still enough for us to appreciate its beauty. I thought my photos still turned out pretty decent despite all the rain and withering portions of the garden (see photo below for what I meant).

Our guide shared with us that there were at least 20 (brochure states 22) species of wisteria planted. Colours in peak, would have ranged from pink to lavender to blue-violets to white and even yellow! The wisteria would also come in different lengths, short to long. Apparently, at peak, you could literally be smelling them (in your face!) while walking through the tunnels and trellises!
Even in the wet and withering state that we visited, I could just imagine how much more fantastic it would have been had the sun been shining that day. And I definitely could imagine how spectacular they would be at full bloom.
If anything, this particular visit only reinforced the thought that I must come back again for full bloom.
Tourist Information
Kawachi Fuji Garden
Please note that the garden is also famed for it autumn foliage. As the garden is only open during wisteria season and autumn foliage season, this is strictly a seasonal attraction.
I've also included photos of the brochures below.
For wisteria season:
Late April (usually last week) to Early May (usually first week)
Opening hours: 9 am to 6 pm
Admission fee: 300 – 1,500 yen, in addition, re-admission tickets have to be purchased at convenience stores during peak season (Golden Week).
For autumn foliage:
Mid to end November.

Website: http://kawachi-fujien.com
DID: +81 093-652-0334
Address: 2 Chome-2-48 Kawachi, Yahatahigashi Ward, Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture 805-0045, Japan
Local address: 〒805-0045八幡東区河内2-2-46

According to the brochure, there is free parking for 200 cars.


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