As I mentioned yesterday, this past weekend was a lovely long one, and all of Japan had Monday off. While our fair prefecture has no ocean for us to visit on Marine Day, I decided to stay a bit closer to home and enjoy some of the local sites and amenities. Some friends were headed up to Tanbara Lavender Park, and with Sean out of town I decided to tag along. I’m incredibly glad I did–it was gorgeous!
It’s a bit of a hike, but doable enough for a day trip, even from Tokyo. If you’re coming from the big city, get yourself to Takasaki City first–this is the transportation hub of the prefecture, so there’s a number of ways to do this. Regular train, express, Shinkansen; Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Ueno, etc. Hyperdia is your friend!
In Takasaki, transfer to the Joetsu Line, and about 45 minutes later get off at Numata Station. Walk across the bus turnaround, and you’ll probably see a little line of people waiting for the special charter bus to Tanbara Lavender Park.
This special bus runs only between 7/9 and 8/21, and goes directly to the park. It’s ¥1000 each way, and only runs on a limited timetable (available here) so be sure to plan your timing in advance!
The park itself does double duty as a Ski/Snowboarding facility in the winter, and you notice the hints of winter around the park. Even the lift is still operational to bring you up to the top of the park!
At the base of the hill you’ll notice a large gift shop, a small Japanese Cafeteria-style restaurant, and the first soft cream stand. There’s also the ticket counter–admission is ¥1000.
From the base you can either take the lift for ¥700, or walk up, as we decided to do. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and we decided to save our money to spend elsewhere in the park, so we made the trek! It wasn’t bad at all, though we were a bit hot and hungry by this point…
At the top of the first hill, you reach the park proper. There is a second soft cream stand, another Japanese cafeteria-style restaurant, another gift shop, a hamburger stand (excellent burgers!) and a dog run.
There was also a little area where a gentleman was giving a live performance of soothing flute music, which followed us throughout the park. There was different music in different areas, but it was always incredibly soothing and peaceful, adding to the general relaxing air of the park.
Most importantly, however, were the flowers! Tanbara Lavender Park boasts over 50,000 lavender plants of many different varieties, and the ocean of delicate purple flowers is gorgeous.
The wind sends delicate waves rippling through the plants, and the sight is something to behold. We may not have seen the true sea on Marine Day, but we enjoyed a different sort of ocean on the holiday! There are also tons of various other plants set in rows and gardens, and while the park is quite large it’s still very managable on foot.
The best part about the whole experience is the incredible smell. The scent of 50,000 lavender plants permeates the entire area, dancing on every breeze. Intense and yet delicate, the effect is amazingly relaxing, especially when combined with the peaceful music coming out of various speakers (and performers!) around the park.
The park was very popular with families with young children, older people, and especially people with dogs–it was a very dog friendly place! There were plenty of young women, and some young couples on dates, but mostly of the 20 and over crowd.
The absolute highlight of the day was the special Lavender-flavored soft cream. I’ve mentioned before how Japan loves special, localized soft cream flavors, and Tanbara is no exception. The soft cream was ridiculously delicious–floral, complex, even a bit spicy. It was so nice, we had to get second one before we left! It may have been the best soft cream I’ve ever had. For reals, guys–it was incredible. Oh, and the Lavender かき氷 (shave ice) was fabulous too!
And what trip to a Japanese tourist attraction would be complete without souvenirs? I just brought back a big wave of Omiyage from the recent LA trip, so I didn’t get the big box for work (Shhhh! Don’t tell them!) But I did pick up a few small things for various people!
From the top center there’s Queen’s Lavender Candy, Lavender Tea, Lavender Hard Candy Drops, Chocolates, Lavender Cookies, Lavender Ramune (Lavender soda! How cool is that?) and finally yet another type of Lavender candies. I didn’t even start on the copious array of bath products and scented objects they had available–next time!
Oh, and of course they have their own mascot! I believe this little monkey’s name is Tanbarin. Aren’t they adorable? The girl holding the soft cream is my favorite (wonder why…) but I also love the cheeky monkey that was hanging out on the napkin by my shave ice!
I really wanted a cell phone strap or some stickers, but most of the cute stuff was winter-themed or generic “Gunma” as opposed to Tanbara/lavender-themed. Maybe they’ll have something by the time I get back, as I’m sure I’ll be going again!
So, yes. If you happen to have a spare summer day, I highly recommend taking a day trip up to Tanbara Lavender Park in the mountains of lovely Gunma. Relaxing, refreshing, and some of the tastiest soft cream you’ll ever have!