Living in a small city, it can be easy for residents to run out of fun things to do on the weekend. Once you reach the stage of life in Japan where you feel like you’ve done everything, that’s when you start considering visits to places of little interest that you probably wouldn’t go to unless you are bored of visiting the same old things all the time. That’s how I ended up visiting the Country Park in Kumamoto – it didn’t look like the most riveting of places, yet I was pleasantly surprised by what I found and have even been back for a second visit this year.
The Country Park in Kumamoto was created for three reasons: 1. To develop a place where people could get close to nature and enjoy an open, green space, 2. To develop the interest and understanding of agriculture amongst urban residents and 3. To promote an Agricultural Research Centre to help us learn more about this topic. The top three aspects that the park hopes to promote are ‘learning’ about agriculture, ‘play’ and relaxation through the fun things to do and the ‘feeling of freedom’ found in open, outdoor spaces.
You enter the park through a spectacularly ugly concrete tunnel which looks like some sort of war-time bunker, emerging into the reception area where there is a small shop, selling locally grown fruit and vegetables, local food products such as baked goods, jam, salad dressing and yoghurt, Kumamoto-style gifts (with Kumamon featuring heavily) and local handicrafts.
From the reception area you come out into the Patio Courtyard (the sunken centre of which is flooded in the summer to make for a shallow splash pool that children can paddle about in.) Around the courtyard are various things to do such as visiting the Agriculture Museum (filled with examples of old farming equipment and exhibitions about plant growth – English translations are very limited!), the tropical greenhouses where you can see different types of plants growing in the sultry environment, the events hall and research centre.
Leaving the courtyard you will find yourself in the main part of the park which consists of three grassy areas (ranging from 10,000 square meters to 14,000 square meters each in size.) Turn left up through the small rose garden and towards the archway which is the entrance to the larger rose garden, arranged in a simple circular maze style. This rose garden is very popular, particularly with visitors in the Autumn of their years who often come in groups to have their photos taken with the flowers, which bloom at various points throughout the year.
Behind that, it’s hard to miss the observation tower. Known romantically as the ‘cloud museum’, this tower is beyond hideous. It looks like a modern block of flats, a pile of scaffolding, a spaceship and rubble pile all collided together at once and created this fantastically ugly structure. Nothing about it looks right. Yet, it is the symbol of the park and despite the hideous exterior, the view is worth the climb to the top. On one side you can peer down and take a birds eye view shot of the rose garden (try visiting in different seasons to see how different it looks), and on the other side, you have views out over fields and forests, with greenhouses and misty mountains on the horizon.
Near the edge of the meadows is a play area complete with jungle gym and sandbox for kids of all ages to play in. The Country Park has a short walk that loops behind the back of the observation tower and then going up and behind the play park where you can look down at the cows grazing in the fields behind, and see if you can spot the different flowers growing that the park is famous for.
Aside from this, the Country Park often hosts events and has various things going on at different times of the year. During our first visit to the park, we saw a music video being filmed on the grounds! You can play golf and hire other sorts of games for children from the reception area. You can book the ‘Pizza Making Experience’ where you can make your own pizza and bake it in an outdoor pizza oven (group event – minimum of 20 people booking together, 700 – 1,200 yen per person depending on age). If you make a reservation for “Pizza Making Experience”, you can also make rice using old-fashioned Kamado stove, baum (sweets) and soup.
While there is ample parking, the most interesting way to reach it is by train. The local train goes every half an hour and takes about 25 minutes from Fujisakiguu Mae station; take the train to the last stop and it’s about a 20-minute walk to the park. There are also various buses that will get you there – check the website for details. Entry to the park is 300 yen for adults from March to November and only 100 yen per person during the Winter months of December, January and February, with discounts for groups of 30 or more and free entry to kids of high school age and below. It is open from 9:00 – 5:00 / 6:00 depending on the time of year.
While the Country Park may not sound like the most fascinating place on earth, and it certainly wouldn’t make the hit list of any tourist just spending the day in the city, for any long term residents in the Kumamoto area it’s a nice place to visit, particularly if you don’t get to spend much time outdoors in your daily life. The park is popular for corporate events and it’s not uncommon to see that a private party has hired out the events hall or part of the grounds and are posing for photographs in front of the rose garden.
While the park will clearly be a nicer place to visit in the summer when you can enjoy lying in the warm glass and seeing all the flowers in bloom, a winter visit has its perks too, mainly because the park is guaranteed to be a haven of peace and quiet at that time of year and it’s a wonderful way to escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Take a picnic, enjoy crunching through fallen leaves, wrap up in a nice warm coat and sit in a sunny patch and read a book for a while. It’s no Tokyo Sky Tree or Osaka Aquarium, but sometimes the mundane, simple things can be just as welcomed on a day off as big tourist attractions.