The land of Camellia, Ofunato City

Ofunato City is known for its diverse coast, which in addition to being blessed with seafood and lovely scenery, would also be key for ILC shipments, due to the port’s close proximity to the ILC site. The ocean brings unexpected blessings to the city as well, however, such as temperate weather and sea breeze that make a lovely environment for flowers to bloom in town—especially camellia flowers. It’s no wonder why Ofunato’s official flower is the camellia, when one sees the natural camellias flourishing in town, such as the camellia garden on Ofunato’s coast, or that the Triple-sided Camellia—the oldest, and largest camellia tree in Japan, is located in Ofunato. In celebration of the flower, Ofunato has even established a camellia museum and festival, and local businesses around town create an array of camellia-based products. 

Camellia flowers are known to bloom during winter, and the wild Japanese camellia flowers in Ofunato bloom primarily from January to March. Ofunato holds the Sanriku – Ofunato Camellia Festival in in sync with the blooming season every year, at the World Camellia Museum – Goishi.

The World Camellia Museum – Goishi


The World Camellia Museum – Goishi, is a must-see for lovers of flowers and nature. The museum grows and tends to over 550 different types of camellias, from 13 different countries. For international readers, you might just find a camellia which is native to your own home. Depending on when you visit the museum, you can see different camellias in bloom. The museum is also venue to the Sanriku – Ofunato Camellia Festival. 2020 marks the festival’s 23rd year, and in 2020 the festival is being held daily from late January to late March, with special events on Sundays.

If there is a certain flower you’re interested in seeing at the museum, you can use the above chart to see when it blooms. The blooming period differs depending on the type of camellia flower, making the museum a charming spot to visit multiple times throughout the winter.

Inside the Camellia Museum

The Sanriku – Ofunato Camellia Festival 

The Sanriku – Ofunato Camellia Festival is an opportunity to not only enjoy viewing the flowers inside the museum, but also to try your hand at floral workshops, and to get a taste of camellias—literally. The festival offers camellia-based treats, such as pastries baked with camellia oil, and tea made from camellia leaves. Visitors can also try Ofunato’s famous camellia crepe at the festival.

Treats at the Festival


The adorable camellia crepe is made with local ingredients, and even used local seaweed to color the chocolate-made-leaf. While the chocolate leaf contains seaweed, it does not actually taste like seaweed, and it comes out to a nice semi-sweet flavor.

“Manju” a traditional Japanese bun with sweet red bean paste inside, served with camellia tea the festival. There are several varieties of camellia tea made in Ofunato, which are made using local camellia leaves. There are options for anyone to enjoy, as some local camellias teas are naturally sweet, whereas others have a more subtle taste.

Activities at the Festival


The festival also offers workshops and activities, allowing visitors to try their hand at different floral experience and crafts. An example of this is the swag-making workshop, where a teacher teaches visitors how they can make their own floral interior décor.

Teachers instruct participants how to make their own floral swags. The workshop provides the materials, and lets people make their own swags to take home, for an additional cost.

A finished floral swag on display at the festival

You can also make your own camellia oil from camellia seeds at the festival, to take home for free. The first step is to sift through the camellia seeds and collect a handful of them. Then, staff will show you how to put the seeds into a device for extracting their oil, and you can press down on a crank to turn them into oil. The silky oil is wonderful for applying to your skin or hair, which attests to why there are so many camellia beauty products sold throughout Japan.

Picture of camellia seeds

A small tub of camellia oil, extracted from the seeds

Camellia oil is also delicious when used in cooking, such as for dressings or baking. However, the camellia oil you can extract yourself at the museum hasn’t been tested for food safety, so it’s recommended you don’t use it in cooking. You can, however, purchase locally made edible camellia oil at the museum, as well as at stores around Ofunato. For those who aren’t looking to make camellia-oil based treats of their own, they can also try dishes cooked with camellia oil at the festival, or purchase treats baked in camellia oil at souvenir shops around town.

Souvenirs from the Festival

Asides from the camellia treats available at the festival, the Camellia Museum also sells camellia plants and locally made floral accessories.

Various different camellias being sold at the camellia museum. If you find a favorite camellia at the museum, out of the over 500 types grown inside, you might just be able to buy your own pot of it to take home.

Locals around Ofunato make their own brands of camellia-inspired accessories, and many can be purchased within the Camellia Museum. Some local jewelry makers make accessories using the petals of camellia flowers, distilled inside of pendants. There are also other unique works, such as camellia-shaped pendants with red-dyed fish scales inside, promoting both Ofunato’s camellias and sea-life. 

Performances and Special Appearances

If you’re not looking to take anything home with you, the festival has special appearances that are sure to stick with you, such as a traditional dance performance from local nursery school children, or a visit from Ofunato’s PR character, Ofunaton.

Local nursery school children performing a traditional dancing play called “Shichifukujin”, or the “Seven Lucky Gods”

The author (left) and friends, with Ofunaton, Ofunato’s official PR character

Ofunaton may look like a pig, but rumor has it that Ofunaton gets angry when someone calls him a pig. This strange creature is actually a camellia spirit—with the yellow part on his head representing the flower’s bulb. Ofunaton’s shape is similar to the traditional Japanese daruma doll, which automatically stands up after falling over. Ofunaton also often falls over, but he always stands right back up. This is symbolic of Ofunato, as the city has suffered great damage from the tsunami in 2011, in addition to damage from multiple tsunamis in the past. The city, however, has persevered to rebuild and recover despite the tragedies it has faced. 

Camellia Spots Outside of the Museum 

Aside from the hundreds of camellia trees grown inside of the Camellia Museum, the surrounding coastal area has wild camellias, which are perfect for enjoying along with a hike or stroll.

The Goishi Coast, where the festival venue is located at, extends for about 6 KM on the southeastern Massaki Peninsula and is famous for its islands, rock formations and nature onshore. The Camellia Garden is also located on the coast, which is a charming spot to enjoy intertwining camellias and pine trees next to the sea.

In addition to being a lovely way to see Sanriku’s ria coastline, the coast is also part of the Michinoku Coastal Trail, which has been showcased on Kitakami Times, in “The Michinoku Coastal Trail opens to the public!”, and “Breathtaking views at the Michinoku Coastal Trail”.

The Ranboya Gorge on the Goishi Coast – a couple-minute walk from the Camellia Museum


The Camellia Garden, on the Goishi Coast


One last camellia treasure nestled in Ofunato, is the “sanmentsubaki” or “triple-sided camellia”, which is said to be the largest and oldest camellia tree in Japan at over 1,400 years old.

The Triple-sided Camellia, which is about a 5-minute drive from the Camellia Museum, is named so, because there were originally three camellia trees planted in the east, west and south and shrine. Of the trees, currently only the eastern camellia remains. The precious tree is located on the grounds of a Shinto shrine, and is also registered as a prefectural natural monument.

The peak viewing season for camellias in Ofunato is until the end of March. Even for some time after then, however, you can still enjoy walking on paths painted in red and pink, once the flowers have fallen. Iwate Prefecture is home to a multitude of unique and diverse flowers, whether they’re along the coastline, or up in the mountains. Ofunato’s camellias make for a lovely starting point to enjoy the charming nature of Iwate.































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