5 Ume-zing spots to view plum blossoms in Japan
Depending on where you are, February can be considered the tail end of the winter season in Japan, when the snow begins to thaw and the first signs of spring begin to show. While the ever-popular national flower of Japan, sakura (桜), usually doesn't make an appearance until a full month later, February and early March see the blooming of another, equally beautiful kind of pink flowering tree—in the form of the ume blossoms!
Ume flowers bloom directly on the main branch and tend to have rounder petals (left), while sakura flowers bloom from green stems which connect to the main branch with petals that have jagged edges or little cuts on the tips (right). (Image credit: Pakutaso & photoAC)
Ume (梅) blossoms, or plum blossoms, may not have the same international reputation as their sakura counterparts, but are certainly no less romanticised and prevalent in Japanese art and culture. Originally imported from China, the elegant plum is said to be a protective power against evil spirits, and are thus planted in gardens and eaten in breakfasts to stave off misfortune. If you’ll be in Japan a smidge too early to join the cherry blossom crowds then never fear, for here are five recommended places you can visit to drown in clouds of pink plum flowers instead!
1. Kairakuen, Ibaraki
February is the best time of the year to visit Mito City. (Image credit: JNTO)
It’s not a top 5 ume list without a mention of Kairakuen (偕楽園) in Mito (水戸市), Ibaraki (茨城県 Ibaraki-ken). A stone’s throw away from Tokyo (東京), here in this city is a garden known as one of the greatest in all of Japan thanks in no small part to its giant plum blossom orchard. Built and treasured by a former feudal lord, as many as 3,000 plum trees can be found blooming here in February!
A month-long plum blossom festival (梅まつり Ume matsuri) is also held in Kairakuen around this time to enjoy and celebrate all things ume, including guided tours of the garden, food stalls, vendors selling ume-related goods, and a fireworks display. Don’t forget to stop by the souvenir stores to buy some Mito no Ume (水戸の梅), Mito City’s top-selling souvenir sweet.
Address: 1-2 Tokiwa-chō, Mito, Ibaraki 310-0033
Nearest station: Mito Station (水戸駅) / Kairakuen Station (偕楽園駅)
Access: Take a 20-minute bus ride from Mito Station North Exit and alight at Kairakuen-mae Bus Stop, followed by a 3–5 minute walk. During the plum blossom season, Kairakuen is a 1-minute walk from Kairakuen Station.
Opening hours: 6am–7pm (Mid-February to 30 September), 7am–6pm (1 October to mid-February)
Admission fee (Kairakuen): ¥300 (Adults), ¥150 (Children)
Tel: +81 29-244-5454
Note: Kairakuen Station is only open during the plum blossom season. The 2023 edition of Mito Ume Matsuri (水戸の梅まつり) will be held from 11 February to 19 March.
2. Koishikawa Korakuen, Tokyo
Another garden built by the same family line which established Kairakuen, Koishikawa Korakuen (小石川後楽園) is a hidden oasis smack right in the heart of Tokyo City, located not too far from the bustling Tokyo Dome (東京ドーム). Not to be confused with the larger Korakuen (後楽園 Kōrakuen) from Okayama (岡山), this Korakuen is beloved for its vibrant ginkgo trees in November and picturesque plum trees in February.
Designated as a special historic site and place of scenic beauty, free garden guides are held in the mornings here on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and public holidays, with one conducted in English every Saturday at 10am!
Koishikawa Korakuen (小石川後楽園)
Address: 1-6-6 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 112-0004
Nearest station: Iidabashi Station (飯田橋駅) / Suidobashi Station (水道橋)
Access: 5-minute walk from JR Sobu Line Suidobashi Station West Exit, 3-minute walk from Toei Oedo Line Iidabashi Station Exit C3
Opening hours: 9am–5pm (last entry 4:30pm)
Admission fee: ¥300 (Adults), ¥150 (65 and above), Free entry (Children aged 12 and below)
Tel: +81 3-3811-3015
3. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto
Allegedly, every Tenmangu shrine scattered across Japan should have a plum blossom by its entrance. (Image credit: photoAC)
Kyoto (京都 Kyōto) is home to several excellent gardens and temples which host plum blossoms, a prominent one among them being the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (北野天満宮). A long time ago a scholar known as Sugawara no Michizane (菅原 道真) was enshrined as a deity of learning, and thousands of shintō shrines were built dedicated to him, chief among them being the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.
Aside from having a beautiful plum garden of its own, an impressive tobiume (飛梅) or flying plum tree stands next to the entrance of the offering hall, due to a legend in which a plum tree loved by lord Suga flew from his residence to join him in exile.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (北野天満宮)
Address: Bakuro-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-8386
Nearest station: Kitano Hakubaicho Station (北野白梅町駅)
Nearest bus stop: Kitano Tenmangu-mae Stop (北野天満宮前)
Access (By rail): 5-minute walk from Kitano Hakubaicho Station.
Access (By bus): Take the Kyoto city buses (bus no. 10, 50, 51, 55, 203) and alight at “Kitano Tenmangu-mae” bus stop.
Opening hours: 6:30am–5pm (Refer to their official website for more info on hours)
Opening hours (Plum Garden): 9am–4pm (last entry 3:40pm)
Admission fee (Plum Garden): ¥1,200 (Adults), ¥600 (Children aged 12 and below)
Tel: +81 75-461-0005
Note: The Plum Garden is only open from early February to late March. Please refer to the website for updated dates.
4. Inabe City Plum Grove Park, Mie
An enchanting escape that’s worth the long trip. (Image credit: Mie Photo Gallery)
While more out of the way than the other locations on this list, Inabe Plum Grove Park (いなべ市梅林公園 Inabe-shi Bairin Kōen) has a reputation for being one of the largest plum festivals in West Japan. Located within the Agriculture Park (いなべ市農業公園 Inabe-shi Nōgyōkōen) in Inabe City, Mie Prefecture (三重県 Mie-ken), It is one of the largest plum gardens in the country with over 4,500 plum trees, spread across a hundred different varieties.
Come back a few months later after the plum blossom festival to experience plum-picking (梅のもぎ取り体験 Umenomogitori taiken)! Held usually on the last weekend of June, visitors will get to reap the fruits borne by the beautiful plum trees and bring home kilograms of plums (~¥1,000/bag).
Inabe City Plum Grove Park (いなべ市梅林公園)
Address: 3071 Kanae, Fujiwara-cho, Inabe, Mie 511-0501
Nearest station: Nishi-Fujiwara Station (西藤原駅) / Ageki Station (阿下喜駅)
Access: From Nishi-Fujiwara Station, take a 15-minute taxi ride to the park entrance. From Ageki Station, take a 20-minute taxi ride to the park entrance.
Opening hours (Plum Grove Park): 9am–4pm
Admission fee (Plum Grove Park): ¥500 (Adults), Free (Children aged 12 and below)
Tel: +81 59-446-8377
Note: The 2023 edition of the plum festival will be held from 23 February to 21 March.
5. Anou Plum Forest, Nara
5,000 seedlings were planted here a hundred years ago, and they’ve grown into the grove that persists here today. (Image credit: Tamago Moffle / CC BY-SA 2.0)
If the previous spots filled with thousands of plum trees weren’t enough for you, then how about 10,000? While not located within the confines of any park, festival or temple grounds, the Anou Plum Forest (賀名生梅林 Anou Bai Rin) is nonetheless an impressive sight once the plum blossoming period rolls around, typically between late February to late March. A veritable forest of plum blossom trees which snake through the winding hillsides of the Anou Region, this quiet little farming community is a must-visit if you find yourself in Nara Prefecture (奈良県 Nara-ken)!
Anou Plum Forest (賀名生梅林)
Address: Nishiyoshino-cho, Gojo-shi, Nara 637-0115
Nearest station: Gojo Station (五条駅)
Nearest bus stop: Anouwada Kitaguchi Bus Stop (賀名生和田北口)
Access: From Gojo Station, take a 20-minute Nara Kotsu bus bound for Anou Wada Kitaguchi Bus Stop (賀名生和田北口). From there, it’s a 10-minute walk to the entrance of the plum forest.
Opening hours: 8:30am–5pm
Admission fee: Free
Tel: +81 747-33-0301
Which plum blossom viewing spot do you want to visit most? As you can see from the examples above, a plum blossom viewing trip can absolutely be just as beautiful and significant as a cherry blossom one, so don’t count yourself out if you plan to travel the country in February and March! For more amazing seasonal flower spots during spring in Japan, check out this article to see how flower-viewing is so much more than just one or two colours!
Header image credit: JNTO