The picturesque Hakone Tozan Railway becomes an international sensation from mid-June through July, when thousands of spectacular hydrangea plants bloom along the tracks.
The Hakone Tozan Railway is a functioning train route offering transportation between Odawara and Gōra stations, while a 10-minute cable car extends the journey from Gōra up to Sōunzan Station by another 1.2 kilometers.
From June through July, this pastoral passageway is embellished with tens of thousands of exquisite hydrangeas that temporarily transform the railway line into what’s better known as the “Hydrangea Train.”
The flowers mark Japan’s rainy season, known as tsuyu, which yields arresting technicolor blossoms. The species on view include both native and non-native varieties, though it’s believed that the hydrangea plant originated in Japan. Passengers can enjoy all manners of hydrangeas—from lacecaps to mopheads—in a variety of colors, which are determined by the soil’s acidity.
According to Nippon.com, one of the best places to view the hydrangeas is the 16-kilometer stretch between Hakone Yumoto and Sōunzan Station, where the cable car stops. There, thousands of hydrangea plants flank the train’s pathway until it reaches a maximum altitude of 750 meters, where passengers are met with stunning views. Lower temperatures, due to altitude, prolong the blooms into mid-summer.
The hydrangeas were purportedly planted in the 1970s by railway workers to replace the wild vegetation growing along the tracks. As they spread over the years, the blooms became a point of interest for locals and tourists from around the world. Train line employees take great care in keeping the hydrangeas well manicured to ensure their longevity in the seasons to come.