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[Hidden Wonders of Japan] Beautiful Plum Blossoms in Tokyo at Peak Season

Japanese plum blossoms are currently in season until early March, blooming in varying shades of white and pink in gardens and shrine precincts across Tokyo.



Ume blossoms in Mukojima-Hyakkaen Garden in Sumida, Tokyo. (©JAPAN Forward by EH Kinmonth)

Spring in Tokyo and its vicinity is marked by a succession of blooming flowers, shrubs, and trees including hydrangea,  baby blue eyes, azalea, iris, shibazakura (moss phlox), roses, and more. Sakura are far and away the most famous but the sakura season has an extended and enjoyable prelude from early February through early March. This is when ume (usually styled Japanese plum but more of an apricot in botanical terms) are in bloom.

An ume tree in Mukojima-Hyakkaen Garden in Sumida, Tokyo. (©JAPAN Forward by EH Kinmonth)

There are two national holidays during the usual bloom period, National Foundation Day and the Emperor's Birthday (February 11 and 23 February in 2024). Their associated three-day weekends provide special viewing opportunities.

White ume blossoms bloom as snow melts in the background in Rikugien Garden, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo. (©JAPAN Forward by EH Kinmonth)

One of the audience rooms in the Imperial Palace is named Ume-no-ma. In 2021, a poem composed by the Empress cited the "hopeful green" of ume fruit looking to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blossoms in different shades of pink in Hanegi Koen. (©JAPAN Forward by EH Kinmonth)

Sakura and Ume

Sakura, which are predominantly a single variety (Somei Yoshino), has a relatively short period in full bloom. In contrast, there are numerous types of ume that bloom over a span of a month or more in any given area. The blossoms are relatively robust and unlike those of sakura, do not easily fall due to the strong winds common during spring in Tokyo.

Family and workplace group picnics as well as heavy drinking are part of sakura viewing. However, ume appreciation is much more individual and sedate although temples, shrines, and parks noted for ume usually have a festival period (matsuri) with performances of one kind or another.

A close-up of white ume blossoms in Mukojima-Hyakkaen Garden. (©JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)

Fragrance is also a part of ume viewing. Unlike sakura, ume have a quite distinct and pleasant fragrance that changes somewhat by variety. It is described as similar to that of jasmine or gardenia.

Ume Viewing Spots

Of the various sites famous for ume within metropolitan Tokyo (the 23 wards), my personal recommendation would be Hanegi Koen. The park is a five-minute walk from Umegaoka Station on the Odakyu Line. 

It stands out for ease of access as well as the sheer number (650+) and variety (60+) of trees. It is also relatively wheelchair friendly.

Other attractive sites include two formal gardens Mukojima-Hyakkaen, Koishikawa Korakuen, and two shrines Yushima Tenjin, and Kameido Tenjin.

The two formal gardens offer a subdued viewing experience while the shrines have street food vendors and buskers.

People wait in line to pray at the Kameido Tenjin. (©JAPAN Forward by Earl Kinmonth)

All offer good photo opportunities although crowding at shrines means competition for good sight lines and the best selfie spots.


Author: Earl H Kinmonth

Photographs by EH Kinmonth. Find other stories about Tokyo and nearby areas by Dr Kinmonth at this link.

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