Ume Blossoms, the First Sign of Spring in Japan!
A visit to Dazaifu Tenmangu Shinto shrine from early February to mid-March is breathtakingly beautiful. Planted throughout the shrine grounds are over 6,000 flowering plum trees! Red, pink and white sweetly-scented blossoms permeate the grounds with amazing color and intoxicating scents celebrating the coming of spring! Most people associate the Japanese spring with the Sakura (cherry) tree but, it is the plum or Ume tree, as it's called in Japan, which heralds the spring! Ume trees are the first to flower in early to mid February.
The annual Ume Matsuri (Plum Festival) at Dazaifu Tenmangu is a colorful and exciting event! As you enter the shrine grounds you can't help but be overwhelmed by the beauty of thousands of plum blossoms literally everywhere! The sweet scent of plum blossoms mingle with the aroma of traditional Japanese festival foods being roasted over charcoal braziers. Everywhere, cameras are clicking away accompanied by exclamations of kirei! Beautiful!
You'll see a throng of worshippers lined up in front of the offertory box waiting to cast their coins and pray. There are various Shinto rituals and ceremonies that are held in the main hall, behind the offertory box, giving visitors a glimpse of ancient rituals accompanied by chanting and taiko drumming.
The Japanese plum tree bears a small green fruit that can't be eaten unless it is processed in some way. Like the tree that bears it, the Japanese plum is famous! Plums are pickled, made into a tart-tasting jam and used to make a type of alcoholic beverage called umeshu.
The Ume Festival features an annual umeshu tasting event with over 150 varieties of umeshu from around Japan. For 1,000 yen you can spend thirty minutes in the event tent sampling these amazing varieties. There are so many delicious varieties-ume and matcha and ume and yuzu (a citrus fruit) were some of the favorites. Many of the varieties are available for purchase at a very reasonable price. The atmosphere inside the umeshu tasting tent is fun, friendly and incredibly interesting for anyone who loves this delicious beverage.
Wandering around the shrine grounds you have the chance to view miniature ume trees or bonsai trees that are displayed by various gardeners. You can even purchase a bonsai tree of your own! Be sure to sample some festival food while you are there, Chicken BBQ sticks called Yaki Tori, Yaki Soba-a kind of stir-fried noodle dish and Dazaifu's famous Umegae Mochi!
Umegae mochi is a delectable sweet grilled rice cake filled with red bean paste that is best enjoyed with a steaming cup of matcha or green tea.
The Ume festival is annually held from about late February to mid March. Even if you miss the Ume Festival, spring blossom viewing is still the main attraction until about mid-March.
Dazaifu Tenmangu is about a five minute walk from Dazaifu station. The scenic brick road that leads to the shrine is filled with wonderful teahouses, souvenir shops and delicious restaurants. Opposite the shrine entrance is a visitor's center that has informational brochures in several languages as well as restroom facilities.
From JR Hakata Station:
Take the Kuko Subway Line to Fukuoka Tenjin Station. In Tenjin take the Nishitetsu limited express to Futsukaichi Station, transfer there to the Dazaifu Line and get off at Dazaifu Station.
Address: Dazaifu Tenmangu 4-7-1 Saifu, Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture 818-0195
HyperDia - searchable transportation timetable and route schedule