Kinchakuda Higanbana Fields & Mount Hiwada, Hidaka, Saitama Prefecture 高巾着田, 被和田山, 日高市
by Johannes Schonherr
Five Million Higanbana Flowers and an Excellent View of Tokyo
Driving out of Hanno city on Route 299 towards Chichibu, you see a large shopping complex dominated by a Mami Mart to the left. It marks the end of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. Right after the giant store, the road gets narrower and curvier. Forest lines the road on both sides, small roadside temples invite to a stop. You are about to enter the mountains of western Saitama Prefecture.
Turn to the right just before the mountains pile up and you reach the heart of the old Koma District. The area was first settled by refugees from Goguryeo, an ancient kingdom in what is now North Korea in the early 700s A.D. The Koma Shrine and Shoden-in Temple a few kilometers down the road were founded shortly upon the arrival of the Koma people, Koma being the Japanese name for the old kingdom of Goguryeo. Both are well worth visiting and have a very interesting history.
To the north are the mountains, to the south the slightly hilly woods on the outer edge of the Musashino Plain. The road crosses the Koma River and if you are not careful, you will cross the river again after a few hundred meters. That would mean that you missed Kinchakuda. Make sure to turn to the right just behind the Seven Eleven convenience store.
Kinchaku translates as "old-style coin purse", the sort of coin sack a medieval merchant would carry around. That's exactly what the lay of the land here looks like on a map. The Koma River takes a bend that is almost a full circle, enclosing a sort of peninsula. That river peninsula is called Kinchakuda (coin purse field).
The peninsula must have been a gem for the old Koma folks. The land is absolutely flat and irrigation was easy - a rarity in an area generally not very hospitable to rice growing. On Kinchakuda, rice had ideal growing conditions.
By the early 1960s, however, the rice fields had largely been abandoned, the area becoming overgrown. The city of Hidaka acquired the land in 1965 and began to clear it. Once the municipal workers rooted out the shrubbery beneath the trees lining the embankment of the Koma River, a treasure started to bloom: the biggest Cluster Amaryllis fields in Japan.
The higanbana, to cite the Japanese name of these bizarre flowers, always blossom in the second half of September. They are considered as exceptionally beautiful in Japan but their beauty comes with a decidedly dark side.
The plant higanbana is originally from China and traditionally it has been grown alongside paddy fields and graveyards to keep rodents away with the plant's poisonous qualities. Did the old Koma people bring the bulbs of the higanbana sprouting here to protect their fields from mice and rats? Then, in over a millennium, they replicated themselves to the enormous numbers seen today? Nobody knows for sure, but it sounds rather likely.
In the second half of September every year, the Kinchakuda is open as Japan's largest higanbana park. The amount of red and, in a few cases, white amaryllis is overwhelming. The flowers completely cover the ground under the trees close to the river. It's an incredible sea of Spider Lily, to cite another name of the flowers.
Five million of them, according to a count by Hidaka city officials. There are sections blossoming early, there are sections blossoming late. Even if you don't arrive at the key time (around September 23rd), you will always find plenty of the plants in bloom.
Expect large crowds, though, especially on weekends and national holidays. Seibu Railways, the company running the railway line from Tokyo to here, is heavily advertising the flowers in all their trains during the season.
Not all visitors are Tokyo weekenders in leisure clothes. The dark beauty of the higanbana flowers is also a magnet for Tokyo cosplay girls. They like to dress up in their weirdest fashion and come out here in full costume to contrast their Shibuya and Harajuku outfits with the brightly-colored red flowers.
The higanbana flowers are not the only attraction of the area. Just a half hour hiking away is Mount Hiwada. With a height of only 305m, Hiwadayama is not exactly a tall mountain but since all the land south of it is more or less flat, it offers a great view onto the whole of the Tokyo skyline with the Sky Tree, the high rises of Ikebukuro and Shinjuku and beyond even on slightly hazy days. Mount Fuji can also easily be spotted from up here.
Cross the main road in front of the Seven Eleven convenience store, enter the road towards Koma Shrine and turn left after about 3 minutes walking. Signs are posted but they are only in Japanese. The guide map every visitor receives at the Kinchakuda during the higanbana season can be of great help here - it shows the kanji characters of the mountain. The small residential street soon turns into a hiking path.
You enter a shrine gate and the trail splits. To the left is the "men trail", to the right the "women trail". As you would guess, the "men trail" is a lot steeper and rockier but not necessarily shorter.
Shortly below the Kotohira Shrine close to the summit, both trails converge. The Kotohira Shrine itself is not much of a sight. There is a gate and a small locked up building behind. But the view outwards from the shrine is gorgeous: from here, you can see the exact layout of the Kinchakuda right below; the whole horizon towards the south is one long stretch of Tokyo skyscrapers.
A bit to the right, behind some low mountain ranges, you get a clear view of Mount Fuji. Weather permitting, of course. But you don't need a crispy clear winter day for the view, pretty much any sunny day should do.
The summit of the Hiwada is a little further up behind the shrine. The view from up there is however in no way better than the view from the front of the shrine. The summit is surrounded by trees, allowing views towards Tokyo but not towards Mount Fuji.
Koma Old Town House
Back down on the main road, walking east for a minute or so, you will encounter the Koma Old Town House, the marvelously restored historic residence of the Arai family, one of the richest families belonging to the ancient Koma clan. Koma Old Town House was built in the mid-19th century, at the end of the Edo Period, and it has been kept in (or rather returned to) its original design in loving detail. Koma Old Town House can be visited for free.
Access - how to get to Kinchakuda and Hiwadayama
By car: Drive Highway 299 from Hanno city towards Chichibu, turn right at Dai (台) intersection, then turn right at Rokudaibashi (鹿台橋) junction. Kinchakuda is a few hundred meters down the road. Turn right after the Seven Eleven convenience store to enter its parking area. The free parking lot also serves Hiwadayama.
By train: From Ikebukuro Station: Take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line to Hanno, change to the Seibu Chichibu Line local train, get off at Koma Station. Total journey time on the train is just under an hour to cover the approximately 50km. The fare is presently 530 yen (2014). Then walk about 15 minutes to Kinchakuda.
Google map of Kinchakuda. The Hiwadayama is not marked on the map, it is however only a little walk up from Kotohira Shrine (which is on the map).
Kinchakuda website in Japanese.
Further reading on the higanbana flowers
Entrance fee to the higanbana section of the Kinchakuda during the blossom season in the second half of September is 300 yen. You get a guide map of the peninsula and its surroundings with your ticket.
Koma Old Town House website in Japanese
Essential information in English is given via machine translation.
Opening times: Daily except Monday and Tuesday from 9am to 4pm from April through November, 10am through 3pm in winter. Admission is free.
If Monday is a national holiday, the residence is open for visitors.