One thing most people who are interested in Japan and Japanese culture notice rather quickly is the fact that cherry blossoms (sakura) are a big deal here. Every year at the beginning of spring, the nation eagerly awaits their favorite season to finally hit the parks with picnic baskets and barbecue sets. So much so, that the blossoming of the first cherry trees not only makes the national news but is also the subject of regular reports to keep the public informed about the advance of the “sakura front”. This is the time when hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, officially starts. Or is it?
Literally translated “hanami” simply describes the act of “flower/blossom viewing”. So, although the term “hanami” is strongly associated with cherry blossoms, it may also refer to other types of blossoms, for example, plum blossoms. Speaking of which, it is actually the plum blossoms (ume) that are the first to bloom each year. Ume typically flower any time from the end of January to the beginning of March, and every year people celebrate them as they herald the start of spring. Plum festivals, or ume matsuri, in shrines, temples, and parks are also a common sight during this time.
So, why not start your hanami early this year with some of the most beautiful plum blossoms in Japan? Here are five great spots for you to visit.
Located in Ibaraki Prefecture, Kairaku-en is famous for being one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens. It features over 3000 plum trees of 100 varieties, and every year a plum festival is held from late February to the end of March.
This small city park in Tokyo includes about 700 plum trees of several varieties. Between mid-February to early March, the Setagaya Ume Festival is celebrated here with haiku classes, tea ceremonies, rice cake pounding, and other events held on weekends and holidays.
Over a thousand years old, Kitano Tenmangu is one of the most important of a few hundred shrines across Japan dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, a scholar, poet, and politician of the Heian Period. Its garden consists of about 2000 plum trees, which can be seen in their full glory in February to early March.
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This 4.5km long promenade located in Hachioji features six plum tree forests with over 10,000 red-and-white plum trees.
As the name suggests, this park surrounds Osaka castle. It is especially popular for hanami, with about 100 varieties of plum trees coming into bloom one after another, from early bloomers to later types, painting the area around the castle in beautiful shades of pink.
Hopefully, one of those beautiful plum blossom spots is close to you, so you get to enjoy a dream of white and pink sooner than you might have thought. If not, don’t worry! There are plenty of great spots out there, just keep your eyes open.
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