Unlike Tokyo, Kyoto, or even Osaka, before coming to Japan, I myself had not heard much (if anything) about Gunma prefecture. Like other businessmen/women or ALTs, I was brought here through work.
Explore your local council’s website, and research what the surrounding towns have to offer. Often you can find lots of cheap/free places to explore a town or two away.
…Though to be fair, it was only through a magazine advertisement, craftily placed on my desk, that I came to know about Hokubu Undou Kouen park.
From Asakusa, you’re looking at an hour and 45 mins train ride, followed by a 30 minute walk from the station (if you’re trying to save money, otherwise it’s a 7 minute taxi ride). However, if taking local Gunma trains, it’s a lot shorter. If you are fortunate enough to have a car in Japan, it’s probably an even shorter journey by car.
Hokubu Undou Kouen park, or Hokubu sports park (on google maps), hosts a variety of shows and festivals – most of them with free entry (except for parking). We chose to go at the end of April, to a Hawaiian Hula dance festival. Even before we had entered the park, we were greeted by cascading hills of shibasakura, or moss phlox as it’s referred to in English.
Whilst this view definitely stopped us in our tracks, the bright pink shibasakura was not the only floral attraction on offer. The Hawaiian hula festival boasted a live band (that played for over four hours straight!) and almost forty brightly dressed, smiling hula dancers. Each song was accompanied by a different set of dancers, each with their own choreographed piece.
Like most festivals in Japan, the main stage was also surrounded with food vendors and shopping stalls. Whilst lunch was a tad pricier than our usual supermarket fare, we splurged on yakisoba, a generous cone of sakura flavoured ice cream and a matcha latte. All of this was enjoyed under a shaded marquee whilst soaking up the Hawaiian-Japanese culture.
As it was around the same time as “Kodomo no hi”, or “children’s day” in Japan, we saw lots of these gorgeous floating fish and squid across the main park. Replicas of these are available in most shops and malls around April and May. Naturally, we indulged in the very “Japanese” habit of taking lot’s of photos with and of the floating decorations.
After lunch, we decided to explore the park itself. Unlike some of the preened gardens of Europe, that appear immaculately carved with each flower bed, Hokubu Undou Kouen park has a semi-natural quality to its layout. True, the flowers are set in their own “patches” but some of the patches contained a semi-wild aspect to it…
Looks like something out of a Ghibli film, right? The moss phlox comes in a variety of colours, from blue, to white, to a vibrant shade of pink that you can see from afar! Whilst you can’t actually sit in the patches of flowers, there are lots of benches to sit and admire the view (and to take lots and lots of pictures!).
All in all, we paid 340 yen for a return ticket, and despite the 30 minute walk each way to the park, we will definitely be visiting this park to see what new and exciting festivals it has to offer!