People in Japan love their seasonal flowers, with perhaps the sakura of spring being the most famous.
When you say “hanami”, most people think of sakura cherry blossoms, but did you know that hanami originally referred to ume blossoms?
Although it’s less well known than sakura, I think that it is equally beautiful!
The peak season for ume is mid February to early March, and they are thought to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
Last winter, I visited one of the most famous spots in Japan for ume, Kairakuen in Ibaraki prefecture.
There are two main ways to get there from Tokyo. The fastest way (good if you have a JR pass) is via the Hitachi-Tokiwa limited express train from Ueno station, which takes around 1.5 hours.
Unfortunately we didn’t have the pass and didn’t want to fork out 3800 yen each way, so we took the cheapo route and used a Seishun 18 Kippu, which only works on local (stopping all stations) trains. This way took us a bit over 2 hours each way.
We walked from Mito station, although there is a temporary Kairakuen station open during the ume season.
After walking about half an hour, we could start to see the park and the flowers.
And with that, we were inside! There were flowers all around us in varying shades of white and pink.
Kairakuen has over 3000 ume trees of 20 different types.
Each type seems to reach full bloom at different times, so some of the trees were fuller than others.
Although ume flowers look a bit like sakura, the key to telling the difference is in the shape of the flower. Sakura have a split in each petal, whereas ume petals are round.
There were various food stalls around the area selling festival style snacks.
Some people were having picnics at the park too.
Next to the garden was a forest of bamboo! It was a peaceful break from the crowds in the garden.
After taking some more photos of/with the flowers, it was time for us to head back to Tokyo.
Ume are just one of the many seasonal flowers that Japan has to offer. If you are planning a trip to Japan in winter or early spring, you might just make it in time for the peak season!