Although it is still pretty cold these days, the first signs of spring are to be seen in many parts of Japan. Apart from the famous cherry blossoms (aka sakura) plum blossoms are a real treat to the eye as well.
A very famous spot to see the first signs of spring is the Yushima-Tenjin (湯島天神), a shrine close to the University of Tokyo and a famous spot for students to pray for exams and good grades in school. The shrine is said to be founded in 458 and rebuilt in the year 1478. The latest restoration took place in 1995.
Every year (usually mid-February to mid-March) a plum festival (梅祭り）is held at the shrine. People gather to sit under the trees or simply enjoy the view while walking the premises. On weekends there are also a few stalls with festival food, sweets and alcohol opening. Bonsai lovers might even be tempted to purchase one of the miniature blooming bonsai plum trees on sale there.
A Japanese garden with a small waterfall can be also found among the plum trees - the perfect spot for some snaps with friends and family.
Another great and well known spot for plum blossoms is the Kameido-Tenjin（亀戸天神). This shrine is located downtown, not too far from the famous Tokyo Skytree, and was built around 1661.
As the name of the shrine indicates (“Kame" means turtle) this shrine is the home of many cute turtles. They can be spotted frequently sunbathing on stones or swimming in the rather large heart shaped pond. Several bridges connect the gate with the shrine and make this place a very beautiful and special one compared to other shrines. The red strongly curved bridges are called “drum bridge” and at this shrine the bigger outer one is called Otoko-bashi (man bridge) and the smaller inner one Onna-bashi (woman bridge).
You might wonder why there are so many turtles living at this shrine... It is told that, since this shrine is a place where people pray for wisdom and success with their studies, many people were thankful after good happenings and brought a turtle to this shrine as a gift. The shrine itself did not ask or initiated the idea at all, it is just that due to its name many people felt inspired to bring a turtle and - since the pond is quite easily accessible for people - released it into the pond.
Koi carps and other animals can also be seen in the pond, however the turtles are dominating the place.
Apart from the plum trees, this shrine is also famous for the dangling Fuji flower which can be seen in May.
If you are interested in visiting these places, you should do it quite soon as the blossoms will be in full bloom around the beginning of March.
The address and directions are as following:
2 min. walk from Yushima Station (Chiyoda Metro Line)
3-30-1 Yushima, Bunkyo, Tokyo
15 min. walk from Kameido Station (JR Chuo Sobu Line)
3-6-1 Kameido, Koto, Tokyo