Learn about Fukuyama at the Rose Festival, the city’s largest festival
Each May, the Fukuyama Rose Festival is held as an event heralding the arrival of the first days of summer. As its name would imply, it is the largest event in the city, and while one might think it’s the kind of thing only gardening aficionados and senior citizens would like, it actually draws crowds of all ages from both inside and outside the region. So just what is it about the Fukuyama Rose Festival that people find so fascinating? I paid the event a visit myself to discover why.
The origins of the “City of Roses”
Fukuyama took its first steps towards becoming a “city of roses” after the war. Searching for a means of escaping the confusion after the loss of so many precious lives and the majority of the city center during the air raids on August 8, 1945, the people living near Minami Park (now known as Rose Park) gathered 1,000 roses and planted them in the hopes that it would breathe life back into their devastated home and bring a little peace to everyone’s hearts.
The people of the city carefully tended to the roses and were eventually rewarded with beautiful flowers in hues of pink, red, and yellow. It was almost as if the blossoms summoned more of their fellows, because this in turn led to the city receiving 4,500 roses of 280 varieties, including those donated from nations in the West like West Germany and Canada (there were now 5,500 roses), leading to the birth of “Rose Park”, one of the greatest of its kind in all Japan.
Then in 1956, a group of 47 rose lovers came together to form the “Fukuyama Rose Club” and organized the first rose exhibition for the public at a banking facility in the city with roses on display in bottles. This was apparently the predecessor of the rose festival that we have today. The circle of flowers continued to spread until Fukuyama became the “city of roses” where nearly 500,000 of flowers bloomed each season. Eventually, the city began to properly sponsor a rose festival, with the phrase “rose mind” living on today as a way of cultivating caring, kindness, and cooperation in the heart through the flowers.
In 1992, the main venue of the rose festival was moved from Rose Park to Midori-machi Park, and since then it increased in scale with each successive year by adding on more features like the “Fukuyama Street Entertainers Party” in 2,000 that brings together some of the top street entertainers in Japan followed by the Rose Parade, stages for music and dancing, and a flea market. The rose festival is now the largest festival in the Bingo region, drawing crowds of over 800,000 people. It’s easy to see how much love the locals have put into growing their festival into something truly special.
Let the roses guide you through the streets
I set out on the morning of the Rose Festival with map in hand and found that the city was in festival mode with stalls along the shopping streets and paths connecting the several parks.
There were small stages for street entertainers all over in front of the train stations and department stores and parking lots with families and groups of school children gathered around to watch them. Cheers and clapping would resound with each successful trick, and yells of “Hang in there!” each time an entertainer botched their act. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of it all, and soon found myself stopping to watch, too.
As I followed the roses along the paths, I came upon the “Bingo Wine Festival Vol. 1”, an event organized by Fukuyama Wine Kobo, a winery located on the Ginza Kasumi shopping street (Rose-nade Kasumi). The event brought together wineries from Nagano prefecture and the Bingo region, and it was fun to learn about their products straight from the mouths of the makers.
There were many other events held coinciding with the Rose Festival, and whether it was the “Pain Marche” or the flea market, it seemed like I came across something new on every shopping street I traversed. Before I knew it, I had pretty much walked a circuit of the city.
When I arrived at Rose Park and Midori-machi Park, the main venues of the festival proper, my breath was taken away by the brilliantly colored roses everywhere. Asking around helped me find out that the flowers are apparently cared for by volunteers, so it would seem the wishes of those who came before are being just as carefully preserved as the roses.
Encounters with locals at every turn
Following the roses will lead you through several areas where you can meet and chat with the locals through the events that pop up all over the place during the festival. It truly is an event that embraces the thoughtfulness of the previous generations in Fukuyama along with the current state of the people living there now. Being able to encounter both of them is what makes the Rose Festival so fun.
The Rose Festival will keep you out exploring from morning until the sun sets before you even realize it. Please be sure to give it a look if you happen to find yourself in Fukuyama in May.
Translation : Luke Baker