There were only two buses going to the Hanataka Flower Viewing Hill from Takasaki Station, so we made absolutely sure we got there in good time so as not to miss our ride. In the end, we arrived so early that we had half an hour to walk around the stores at the train station.
After taking in the local souvenirs like the Daruma/Dharma dolls (A good luck talisman that's shaped after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism), I hit upon the idea of us getting a bento box each to bring along to the Cosmos Festival. What better than a picnic among flowers?
We were introduced to the Takasaki Cosmos Festival on the same travel show that brought star-gazing on Mt Tanigawa to our attention. It all looked very romantic. The massive field shown on TV was a riot of colour, with row upon row of flowers in all their glory. The way it was presented, we thought that this was a major event on the Takasaki tourist calendar, so it surprised us when we were the only ones to hop on the morning bus headed there.
The bus we took was on the Shorinzan (少林山) route, which brought us on a brief tour of Takasaki, past the City Hall, the Joshi and Takasaki Parks, the main lobby of a hospital, a sleepy housing estate then up the side of the mountain. On our half hour ride, the only other passengers we encountered were retirees, mostly going to or from the hospital. We realized it was the end of the long weekend so most of the local tourists were back at work, but the thought of us as being the only ones at the Flower Festival became an increasingly real fear the closer we got there.
In the end, the situation wasn't that grim. True, most of the events like the sweet potato digging experience and the farmer's market weren't on since it wasn't a weekend, but at least we were joined by a group of tourists who had driven up, so we weren't entirely alone.
So. The flowers weren't as impressive as we'd been led to believe by the television programme. After looking out at the sea of green, we figured they probably angled their camera over the densest patch of flowers, or went when most of the 400,000 cosmos plants were in full bloom.
It was somewhat underwhelming on the whole, so we wound up admiring individual flowers instead. Apart from the cosmos, there were also sage lavender, hibiscus, buckwheat and other flowers. The one shown here is zinnia, which are supposed to be particularly attractive to butterflies. A couple were seen, but I spent most of my time trailing a particularly fat bumblebee. It always amuses me that it took 70 years before scientists managed to prove that it is in fact aerodynamically possible for bees to fly.
D went a little mad after a while, and began to imagine that the return bus to Takasaki wasn't going to come for us. Obviously, this was utter nonsense because the listing clearly stated the time the return bus was due, and you just don't question the well-planned bus routes in Japan. We ended up having to drag him away from the bus stand, where he was panicking.
"If we see a car coming past, maybe we should hitchhike."
"No D, that's utterly ridiculous. Step away from the bus stand."
With little else to do at the Flower Festival, we walked further up the road to see what else was on. Beyond a couple of somewhat interesting looking trees, there was nothing. We despaired until we came across this picture of blueberry parfait, and signs pointing to the store selling them. There were clouds overhead casting ominous shadows over the store, but we went in anyway.
The store was devoid of other people, and its shelves were quite bare save for a few bits and bobs of local produce. We did manage to ascertain that the parfait was being sold though, and bought a couple of cups for the three of us to share. It was some pretty damn good parfait. The milky soft-serve was dispensed over crunchy cornflakes and topped with homemade blueberry jam and fresh blueberries, all for ¥250 a pop.
After asking nicely, we got permission from the lady running the shop for us to have our lunch out on the tables round the back. There was a slight breeze going and the view got better as time passed (When the fog lifted, we could see the mountain range in the distance.), which was pleasant enough that our outing didn't feel entirely like a lost cause. We broke out our lunch boxes and bottles of sake and fruit juice after settling in. It felt like a properly fancy picnic.
Apart from standard bento meals, train stations often have seasonal or local specialties that make for pretty nifty boxes. I picked mine for the packaging alone, which had to do with the D 51 steam locomotives. I hadn't realized at that point that this class of trains had almost exclusively been built during the war era. I was mostly just impressed that even the chopsticks provided fit the theme.
The food itself was amazing. The rice had been cooked with squid ink to evoke images of charcoal used to power the train, which was a nice touch.
M got the Daruma Kitty bento set, just because.
D had sake and individually wrapped pieces of sushi, which he greatly enjoyed.
We bought three cups of their home-made blueberry vinegar drinks to wash it all down after. It was good stuff, more refreshing and less sweet than the blueberry vinegar we used to get from the supermarket.
We were stuck at the Flower Festival for a little under an hour and a half, which seemed like a really short amount of time when we were doing our planning, but more than enough when we were actually there. D looked like he was going to weep for joy when he saw the bus coming over the horizon. It was back to the city, then out again towards the Haruna Pear Road for fruit picking.