February 22, 2021
When you think you of Japanese flowers, sakura (cherry blossoms) are probably what comes to mind. However, after living in Japan for nearly 2 years we’ve come to learn that Japan has different famous flowers for every season and winter is no different. The plum blossoms are famous for blooming at the end of winter in Japan and they are every bit as beautiful as the cherry blossoms!
Winter in Tokyo is fairly mild. Not cold enough for snow, but not warm enough to be pleasant. Fairly sunny, but quite cold for us Queenslanders. For this reason, the blooming of the plum blossoms (ume 梅 ‘oo-meh‘) is pretty exciting as they signal the end of winter. Not to be confused with their spring-time cousins the cherry blossoms, plum blossoms bloom at the end of winter and have a few key differences by which you can identify them. Plum blossom trees have a stronger fragrance and round petals, while the cherry blossoms have little intents in the end of each petal.
The weekend we visited was forecast for two 20-degree days so we decided to head out to one of the well-known plum blossom spots in Tokyo to catch them at their peak. While there are a few famous plum blossom groves in Tokyo, we went to Yushima Tenjin Shrine which is home to hundreds of plum blossoms. The shrine has so many plum blossoms because the man enshrined there wrote his very first haiku poem about plum blossoms. There were quite a few people admiring and taking photos of the beautiful flowers and there was even a news crew! (We were later told by Maddy’s colleague that we had accidentally made it into the back of one of the news shots that was aired on TV!)
Yushima Tenjin is a ‘scholar’s shrine’ and many students go there to pray for good exam results. The shrine was surrounded by thousands of ema (wooden tablets) with prayers on them for good results on university entrance exams. They also have all kinds of plum blossoms and colours, from white to pink, to red, and the weeping plum blossoms that are our personal favourites.
If you can’t come to Japan during cherry blossom season, plum blossom season is definitely a nice compromise!