The plum blossoms are a great prelude to the cherry blossoms in Japan, and in fact many people actually prefer them to the cherry blossoms.
Plum blossoms or ume (梅) as they are called in Japan were first introduced to Japan from China. They start to bloom during the peak of winter in February here in central Japan which is still a very cold time, but they signal the start of spring and the promise of warmer days ahead.
Many places in Japan celebrate the flowering of plum blossoms with ume matsuri (plum blossom festivals) which are typically held in parks, shrines and temples around the country.
Did you know that the plum blossoms were the first superstars of spring in Japan? They were actually more popular than the cherry blossoms back in the Nara period (710-794). Back then if you said you were having a hanami party, it was to admire the plum blossoms. Some time during the Heian period (794 – 1185) the sakura or cherry blossoms seem to have taken over the show and attracted the most attention.
The plum blossoms have one thing that the cherry blossoms can’t beat and that is an amazing strong fragrance which fills the air during the early spring. I also really love the wide variety of colours of plum blossoms. They range from red, light-red and pink to yellow and white.
Photo : Takahiro MUNEDA on FlickrOne of the best places in central Japan to see the beautiful plum blossoms is at Atami Baien (Plum Grove Garden) in Shizuoka.
Atami Baien (熱海梅園) is free to enter and is famous for having some of Japan’s earliest blooming plum blossoms. The park first opened in 1886 and was built by Mogi Sobeh, a wealthy merchant from Yokohama. It is home to over 450 plum trees of 60 different varieties with some of the plum trees over 100 years old. The plum blossoms bloom from December until March giving you a chance to see both early blooming and late varieties.
One of the best times to visit the park is during the Atami Baien Ume Matsuri, which starts from the middle January and lasts for around two months until mid March. This is the peak blooming time of the various plum varieties. This year the festival will run from January 10 to March 8 with admission to the park ¥300 during the festival.
Photo : Takahiro MUNEDA on FlickrAfter exploring the park and admiring the beautiful plum blossoms it might be time to relax and soak in a hot onsen (natural hot spring).
Photo : Emil Olsen on FlickrAtami is also regarded as being the gateway to the beautiful Izu Peninsula and is a popular hot spring resort for people from Tokyo. In fact, the name Atami means “Hot Sea” in Japanese and the onsen town is ranked “One of Japan’s Three Great Hot Springs”, sandaionsen (三大温泉) in Japanese.
The onsen in Atami date back about 1250 years when hot water springs were discovered in the sea. In fact, the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu was a big fan of Atami onsen and even had the hot spring water transported back to his Edo Castle in Tokyo for bathing.
Photo : Incanus Japan on Flickr
Open: 8:30 am to 4:00 pm
Address: 8-11 Baien-cho, Atami, Shizuoka
Official Website (in Japanese): http://www.ataminews.gr.jp/ume/
Atami is just 50 minutes from Tokyo via the Tokaido Shinkansen. All the Kodama trains stop there as well as some of the Hikari trains.