The cherry blossoms have fallen from the trees, replaced by fresh green leaves, but spring is still just getting started in Kobe. The end of April is the beginning of azalea season. Although azaleas don’t have the same deep cultural significance as cherry blossoms do in Japan, they are a lovely and welcome sight each year.
Azalea bushes are a common sight in medians throughout Kobe, adorning the city streets with bright strips of pink, purple, and white blooms. We can also see them in carefully-tended flower pots outside houses and shops.
Well-manicured azalea plants are a beautiful sight in Kobe’s gardens and public parks. At Sorakuen, a botanical garden near Kitano and fifteen minutes from Sannomiya, you can see them at their most civilized along with other native Japanese flowers and trees.
But if you happen to go for a hike in the mountains this time of year, you may have a chance to see azaleas of a very different, unruly sort. Mt. Hiei, between Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, is a famous viewing spot for wild azaleas. With no one to tend to them, they grow to huge proportions and cover the mountainside with color. It is a breathtaking sight that’s well worth the climb.