Winter in Japan: Plum Blossoms

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.

 

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Ume at Kairakuen

 

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.

 

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The path from the station

 

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Met some swans along the way

 

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Black swan on its nest

 

After walking about half an hour, we could start to see the park and the flowers.

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Park building

 

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Bridge leading to the park

 

And with that, we were inside! There were flowers all around us in varying shades of white and pink.

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Trees in full bloom

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.

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Pink and white flowers

 

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.

 

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Here you can see the shape of the flower clearly

 

There were various food stalls around the area selling festival style snacks.

 

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Snacks for sale
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Intricately decorated choco-bananas

 

Some people were having picnics at the park too.

 

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Picnic area
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Enjoying the nature

 

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Scene inside the park

 

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Pink blossoms

 

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Posing with the flowers

 

Next to the garden was a forest of bamboo! It was a peaceful break from the crowds in the garden.

 

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Heading inside the bamboo forest

 

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Tall bamboo trees

 

After taking some more photos of/with the flowers, it was time for us to head back to Tokyo.

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White ume blossoms

 

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!

 

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Taking one last photo with the ume trees

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