Odawara Ume Matsuri is an incredible Japanese early spring festival, held in Odawara city. This is one of the most popular yearly events in Kanagawa prefecture and top plum blossom viewing spots in all over Japan. When the coldest month of Japan “January” is about to say “goodbye” – then we could all receive a message from it that – “soon ume is going to be bloomed.” This is such great news that we all expect in early spring. Actually this is what happened in Odawara. The plum festival in Odawara begins from the beginning of February to early May. If you are an ume aficionado just like me then I highly recommend this beautiful ume viewing spot to you.
I don’t belong to Kanagawa prefecture, as you can see that most of my articles are written based on Hokkaido and Northeastern part of Japan. Though, I was quite impressed when I first visited this splendid ume matusri. In my life, I have visited Kanagawa prefecture several times and discovered the beauty of Yokohama, Hakone, Kamakura and majestic view of Mt. Fuji summit. As Odawara is a historic city which was ruled by the Hojo family during the 15th century, you should come here at least twice during hanami and plum viewing seasons. I will be sharing my travel story that I experienced on my very first visit to Odawara plum festival. Make sure you read it from A to Z so that it helps you to have a great trip to this event. Let’s explore together!
Joshi Koen Park and Soga Bairin
Odawara ume matsuri is held in two distinct places which are known as Joshi Koen Park and Soga Bairin. The main festival usually held in Soga Bairin (Ume Grove) consisting of three gardens: Nakagawara, Bessho and Hara gardens. According to an Odawara local which I spoke with about the total number of ume trees – he told me that the plum grove has approximately 35,000 trees. That’s quite impressive and sort of a unique plum grove in all over Kanagawa Prefecture. You can experience plenty of things along with viewing ume for example stage performances like lion dance & lantern dance and Yabusame (horseback archery). Everything sounds awesome though horseback archery is a kind of sport which could overwhelm you with their amazing performances. That’s thrilling the way they approach riding on horseback and successfully throw an arrow to a target point.
On the other hand, Joshi Koen Park (Castle Ruin Park) is part of the Great Odawara Castle with approximately 250 ume trees. Even though the number of ume trees are less compared to Soga Bairin, it looks magnificent when all the ume trees are in full bloom. In fact a lot of photographers visit this castle throughout the whole year but during hanami season it gets real crowded. The castle grounds look very decorative with ume blossoms and you could smell a sweeter fragrance coming off the ume trees all the way till you leave the park area. Outdoor tea ceremony – served by Maiko (apprentice geisha), poetry reciting and other entertaining shows take place here during the festival time. They are simply amusing to watch and experience.
About the Festival
If you are destined to see Japanese apricot or so called plum blossom in February in Kanagawa prefecture then the one and only – Odawara ume matsuri could fulfill your dream. This year, the festival will begin on 6th of February and will be ended exactly on 6th March, 2016 in the land of Soga brothers. The festival door is open for all for 30 days. I would better share some interesting experiences I have experienced throughout my journey to this festival. I myself have visited all the top 10 recommended ume viewing spots in Japan. I don’t know how many more ume viewing spots would I visit in future? Time will tell!
The festival takes in two different beautiful places in Odawara city: Castle Ruin Pak in Odawara Castle and Soga Bairin. The first one that is seen to be one of the great historic castles in Japan impresses you with its Castle and the hundreds of ume trees. As a visitor you could do three things there when you get there during the festival time. The first thing is that – along with viewing the castle from outside you can get inside the castle even to the top floor and enjoy an outdoor view from it. When I was there inside, I felt like I went back to 15th century. That was quite amusing!
The second thing is – you will be impressed seeing the collection of armors, weapons, and artifacts of the museum. In fact the castle itself a museum now, you must get in there in order to experience it. The third and last thing is – the ultimate experience “viewing colorful delicate ume blossoms” that you have intended to see in Odawara. Oh my god, I was wrong! There is another thing to do there which is connected with the festival. That’s probably the outdoor tea ceremony and poem reciting. These are remarkable festive cultural events that could be thoroughly enjoyable. It is enough staying here in this place 2-3 hours and then head to Soga Bairin.
When I was moving toward Soga Bairin by train I gazed at the beautiful landscapes through the window. I felt a real countryside atmosphere throughout the way till I reached to the JR Shimo-Soga Station. A-10 minute walk from the station was pleasurable. As I was alone before getting in the garden I was thinking I should have been there with my friends instead. I missed them a lot seeing others who were there and having picnic party together with joy under beautiful plum blossoms trees. You could do it and just don’t follow me at least for this trip! However, being alone for sometimes is great, I understood it here. It is lots easier to get attached with nature when you are real alone. I was able to concentrate my mind on those ume blossoms – how wonderful they are!
About 35,000 plum trees can be found here in this plum grove including weeping ume trees. It is a massive, no doubt about that. A mind blowing ume sweeter fragrance is everywhere inside the plum groves. You can have your lunch there from the food stalls you find there. They offer a variety of delicious Japanese dishes, just take a look at a menu and then order some. Don’t walk faster along the stroll path rather try to enjoy surrounding natural wonders, please take your time! In fact you will bother yourself and won’t insist your mind to walk faster anymore when your eyes stuck onto the majestic Mt. Fuji peak.
Apart from this you could experience an amazing view of Hakone Mountain’s ranges. Soga Bairin itself quite a popular place for viewing Mt. Fuji peak. So, don’t miss a thing like this when you have a golden opportunity. Take as many as photos you could from different angles of the Mt. Fuji peak with the branches of plum blossoms. There are guys wearing traditional attire with horses who perform a delightful display of their skills with bow and arrow. I think they could be chosen as samurai worriers for any action movies. You can fully enjoy their horseback archery performance.
In addition, there are other entertaining shows such as Lion dance, Odawara lantern dance, Koto playing, traditional Japanese drum performance, and other amusing stage performances. A festival looks awkward when there is no footstall around it. Just to inform you that Odawara plum festival offers this exclusive idea, later I will tell you what to eat there. There is no way of enjoying a cosy evening here because the ideal time for this is on day time. I was lucky that the day I went there was very sunny. In fact this is what you should pray for. Viewing ume in a sunny day is much more enjoyable than seeing it in a cloudy day. The festival would stay there for 30 days long; therefore check the weather forecast before heading toward Soga Bairin.
Things to Eat and Buy during the Festival
Don’t just enjoy the view of delicate plum blossoms there rather try to figure out what to eat and buy from the food stalls and souvenir shops. They offer a wide range of delicious Japanese street foods and cute things to buy as souvenir. Make your choice depending on your budget. I don’t care whether you eat udon, Japanese confectionery or other dishes and drinks there but the things I do care about are Umeboshi (pickled plum fruit) and odawara mandarin/oranges that grow in Soga Bairin. Try umeboshi at least once, but I can’t guarantee you that you would like its taste. What – afraid of taste it hearing that? I hope nothing bad would happen.
You can buy a pack of dried umeboshi, plum jam, green tea, mandarin orange juice, and other edible things. You even could buy plum bonsai, use them as a décor accessory and they would bright your house with their cute appearance and shapes. When I visited Soga Bairin, I bought a nice looking Plum bonsai for my parents. Though, it is under supervision of my mother who cares it most of the time. If you don’t have any idea how to care a bonsai tree then you could read this book.
A Perfect Place for Artists and Photographers
Odawara is a perfect place for both professional and armature artists and photographers. Ume blossoms dominate the whole city during early spring time. Being one of the best cities to see ume blossom, Odawara attracts many tourists coming from all over the world. During my visit to Soga-Bairin I met with an artist who was sketching Mt. Fuji and Plum Blossoms on a white art paper. I was stunned seeing his work and I had to ask him whether it was his passion for drawing beautiful landscape. He replied “I was born in Hakone and I was raised in an area from where the beautiful Mt. Fuji peak can be seen. I don’t draw from living but the nature around it makes me to be an artist.” The words from that man made so happy to realize that he really loved the surrounding landscapes.
Most of the people who visit Odawara ume matsuri bring their own camera or cell phone to capture the moments they want to memories later. Both Soga-Bairin and Odawara Castle Ume Grounds offers various photogenic spots for visitors. Beautiful red, pink and white plum blossoms along with the castle as well as Mt. Fuji peak look visually attractive. Be proud of yourself taking photos of beautiful nature you find there.
How to Get There?
Some travel experts who have visited these sites would give you advice visiting Soga Bairin first then to Castle ruin park. But I would tell you the opposite. You first get to Odawara castle’s ruin park and then go to the main spot of the festival – Soga Bairin. That’s the right direction for me and I hope it would be right for you too. Though, it is all up to you.
JR Odawara station is the gateway station to Hakone. Any visitors who would like to explore Hakone would go through this station. For example, if you are coming from either Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka, get off here at JR Odawara Station first. You have to walk for 10 minutes to get to the Odawara castle. When getting to Soga Bairin, get back to the station again and take a train to JR Shimo-Soga Station. It is the most nearest station to Soga Bairin. From there it takes only a-10 minute walk to reach to the plum groves.
Important Things to Know
I would be pleased to let you know that you should go there wearing a jacket and a hat. It is really cold there, may even start raining and snowing there. Though, if snowfall occurs and rains come down the festival venue will remain close. So you better check out the weather report of Odawara city and then decide to come there.
Venue/Place: Soga Bairin and Joshi Koen Park
Official Website: http://soganosato.com/
Period: From 06 February to 06 March, 2016
Parking Lot: Free and Paid Parking Space is Available
I have tried my best to make you curious of this festival. If you are interested in visiting this place in 2016 then don’t be late. It is January now and February is coming soon. You should make a quick Japan travel plan to make your dream come true. Thanks for reading.
Copyright 2016 @ takkhis