Spring in Japan undoubtedly conjures up images of cherry blossoms but there is one bloom that precedes it to truly usher in the season: the plum blossom. Varying in color from light pink – causing it to be regularly confused with the cherry blossom – to vibrant magenta, the plum blossom begins blooming during the wintry month of February and reaches its peak by the end of March. The fragrant blooms and bright colors make for excellent flower viewing or hanami. Skip the crowds without sacrificing the view and check out these spectacular places to enjoy Japan’s harbinger of spring.
Just north of Tokyo in the Ibaraki prefecture, Mito's Kairaku-en is perhaps the destination most synonymous with the plum blossom. Classified as one of Japan's three great gardens, Kairaku-en's grounds contain 100 different types of plum blossom and over 3,000 trees. The garden also plays host annually to the largest plum blossom and plum sake festivals in Japan. Make a day of strolling the grounds and taste some of the over 150 different types of plum sake available. If you really find yourself in the plum spirit, try some plum ice cream or pickled plums known as umeboshi.
Mito Plum Blossom Festival: 2/20 – 3/31, 2017
Japan Umeshu Festa in Mito: 3/3 – 3/5, 2017
Learn More: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/gardens/kairakuen.html
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto
Kyoto's Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is a must visit spot for plum viewing. The shrine's dedicated Bai-en or plum garden opens to the public as soon as it begins to bloom. If you find yourself visiting during the Plum Blossom Festival in February, you’re in for a special treat as Maiko and Geiko (Geisha) join the festivities to perform a tea ceremony and serve sweets. The shrine’s 1,000 year history and gilded structures make it worthy of a visit all year round but the plum blossoms are the real stars of the year.
Plum Blossom Festival: February 25th, 2017
Learn More: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/shritemp/kitanotenmangu.html
Odawara Ume Matsuri, Kanagawa
The Odawara Plum Blossom Festival takes place annually at the Odawara Castle Ruins Park in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. If the spectacular views aren't enough to lure you in, engaging festival entertainment such as lantern dances, horseback archery demonstrations, and traditional musical performances should do the trick. There are also plenty of vendors selling delicious festival food and plum products such as sake. This is a perfect way to enjoy both the culture and natural beauty of Japan while the close proximity to Tokyo makes it an easy day trip!
Plum Blossom Festival: 2/4 – 3/5
Learn More: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/regional/kanagawa/odawara.html
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