Yūbetsuchō: Growing Tulips in Hokkaidō
For Love of Tulips
Yūbetsuchō is a town west of Lake Saroma, facing the Sea of Okhotsk in northeastern Hokkaidō. The Kamiyūbetsu quarter of the town, located along the upper reaches of the Yūbetsu River, grew tulips for export beginning in 1957. At one time, this district led the prefecture in terms of tulip production and exports. Prices of tulip bulbs grown in the Netherlands fell on world markets in the late 1960s, however, and Japanese tulip exports collapsed in response. The problem was exacerbated by low levels of domestic demand. Nonetheless, out of sheer love for tulips, people in the area continued cultivating the flowers privately, in home gardens or in small corners of farms. In 1976, the tulip was designated the town flower of Yūbetsuchō, with the aim of ensuring that tulips, which had invigorated local agriculture in the past, would be there for future generations to enjoy as well.
Over 1 million tulips of some 200 varieties are planted in the 7 hectares of fields in Kamiyūbetsu Tulip Park. The park was originally operated as a farm for older people by an association of clubs for the district’s elderly residents. The first tulips were planted in a 200-square-meter plot of this farm in 1975. The fields were gradually enlarged thereafter, and began drawing tourists once they reached some 3,000 square meters. Measures were then undertaken to make the farm into a symbol of the town itself, including construction on a windmill in a classic Dutch style. The area was officially declared a municipal tulip park in 1988.
With facilities including a gift shop, a luncheonette, and a parking lot, Kamiyūbetsu Tulip Park covers a total of 12.5 hectares of land. The annual Kamiyūbetsu Tulip Fair is held here during peak bloom time, from early May to early June. Offerings at the fair include tulip subscriptions and the opportunity for members to personally harvest the very flowers they want, directly from the fields. Some 100,000 domestic and international visitors attend annually.
Lots of Instagramming to Be Had
The garden itself has a distinctly Dutch atmosphere, as the tulip is the national flower of the Netherlands, where more tulips are grown than anywhere else in the world. Upon entering the grounds, one hears the sweet sounds of a custom-made Dutch street organ. One can get a panoramic view of the tulip fields from the observation deck, which is shaped like a windmill and is considered the preeminent symbol of the park. And gigantic clogs, made by Dutch craftspeople and measuring 225 centimeters in length and 300 kilograms in mass, make for a popular spot for souvenir photos. Costumes of Dutch folk clothing are also available for posing for such pictures.
- Address: 358-1, Kamiyūbetsu Tonden Shigaichi, Yūbetsu, Hokkaidō
- Hours: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
- Tulip Fair Dates: Early May to early June
- Admission: ¥500 for high-school students and older, ¥250 for elementary and junior high school students. Group discounts are available.
Nearby Attractions: Furusato-kan JRY, Tulip-no-yu
Adjacent to Kamiyūbetsu Tulip Park is Furusato-kan JRY (pronounced “jerry”), a museum dedicated to the founding and history of Yūbetsuchō. The first floor houses an authentic tondenhei-oku—a dwelling provided for the tondenhei, or Meiji-era (1868–1912) Japanese colonial soldiers stationed in Hokkaidō. Certified by Hokkaidō Heritage, the exhibit gives visitors an insight into what it was like to live in that region during its early modern development. The second floor has documents, dioramas, and other materials depicting the careers of tondenhei in Yūbetsu, from recruitment to mustering out. The land where the Tulip Park now stands was previously used as an assembly area and training ground for these soldiers. Furusato-kan JRY is well worth tacking on to a park visit.
Tulip-no-yu, the Kamiyūbetsu Onsen, is a roadside stop a short drive from the Tulip Park. Here visitors can enjoy the natural hot springs in the form of open air baths, Jacuzzis, reclining baths, and pelting water baths. Saunas are also available, making this just the place to ease limbs worn out from sightseeing. A restaurant and gift shop are also provided for meals, relaxation, and souvenirs.
Kamiyūbetsu Onsen Tulip-no-yu
- Address: 3020-1, Nakayūbetsu nakamachi, Yūbetsu, Hokkaidō
- Hours: 10:00 am to 10:00 pm (last call for bathers 9:30 pm)
- Open year-round
- Admission: ¥300 elementary students, all others ¥500, towel rental ¥100
(Originally written in Japanese. Reporting and text by Laufen Katsu.)