One of the highly notable spring blossoms in Japan is certainly the plum blossom. We call it ume. Does the name of it sound so cute? Whatever it is, the flower is uniquely beautiful. Often it is overshadowed by the legendary sakura or cherry blossoms. Actually, it is not true at all. In fact, those who live in outside Japan think of it such way, not us! People of Japan highly value its appearance and the impact of it on the culture they have. In comparison with cherry blossom viewing, there are not many BEST places to see ume in Japan, though Tokyo and Kyoto are said to be the two most popular destinations to enjoy delicate ume blossoms.
When I say Kyoto, you say Tokyo! This sounds like a lyric, right?! However, nevertheless to say that together they offer endless discoveries and speechless exciting experiences that you can’t find in other parts of the world. When it comes to talking about Kyoto’s early spring nature then the first thing that comes to my mind is the UME (Japanese apricot). I absolutely admire its utmost delicate beauty and hunting plum blossom in Kyoto is pretty amazing. In this post, I am here to feature the things you should know before you arrive in Kyoto to see ume. Explore about the best time to view plum blossom in Kyoto, ume matsuri, the best spots to view them including travel tips and many more.
Best Time to View Plum Blossoms in Kyoto
You might have seen photographs of frosted ume blossom elsewhere on the web. This sounds like they are winter flowers in Japan. Indeed they are but we recognize them as late winter and early spring flowers. You can expect to see plum blossom in Kyoto from early-February to late-March. This is the exact ume blooming forecast!
For a great ume flower exhibit, I highly recommend you head to Kyoto on time and catch the awesome actions there in the public parks/gardens, and on the grounds of sacred temples & shrines. Don’t you forget that whenever you are in Kyoto, visiting temple & shrine is a must thing to do!
Best Places to See Plum Blossoms in Kyoto
It is really breathtaking when you take a stroll through the garden path and smell the sweet fragrance coming off the ume petals. Seriously, it happens and your soul and mind definitely be delighted with the charm of colorful ume. The entire Kyoto prefecture boasts a rich variety of plum blossoms scattered among the grounds of temples & shrines including public parks in which millions of nature fanatics like to gather in to enjoy the outdoor nature of early spring to the fullest.
There are some awesome places inside Kyoto that you could make a visit separately – in order to experience beautiful ume blossoms. Every place would tell you a different story and offer you a lot hidden gems to discover in early spring time. You should take a good look at the plum blossoms at one of the many ume festivals that are held across Kyoto prefecture. Make sure you don’t miss a thing and I hope you won’t feel sorry yourself in the end if you visit the following spots that I recommend you. Come along!
1) Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is one of Japan’s most notable shrines and dedicated to a nobleman called Sugawara Michizane. It is perfect for viewing both plum blossom I early spring and autumn leaves in the fall. It is said that the shrine plum grove is filled with about 2000 plum trees of different varieties. Imagine how wonderful it would be to walk around the plum grove when all of them are in their full glory! Every year, it hosts a lovely ume matsuri, held only on February 25th. Outdoor tea ceremony (Baikasai) here is absolutely gorgeous. There you can drink matcha tea, meet real geisha and maiko, watch stage events and explore a pretty lovely flea market. For more info about this popular ume spot, visit here.
2) Kyoto Imperial Palace
Once you are in the vast Kyoto Imperial Park there a number of pleasant things are waiting for you to discover. One of the most iconic landmarks of this park is the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyōto Gosho). It was used to be the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family until 1868. The plum groves, located on the west side of the palace are particularly impressive on the first week of March. In addition, you must pay a visit to Sento Imperial Palace, Itsukushima Shrine, and Kaninnomiya Mansion. As it is a vast park, make sure you that you have to walk a lot to roam around it and thus how you could enjoy the outdoor nature that it offers.
3) Zuishin-in Temple
Often Japanese say that the shape of a plum flower is really exotic. Do you know why? To find the answer you must head towards Yamashina Ward where the Zuishin-in temple is located. It was founded by Ningai in 991. And it is believed that the famous poetess Ono no Komachi spent her later years of her life. She was a beautiful woman with great skill in Waka poetry. Have you ever read this sort of poetry? If not then read some Waka poems written by Ono no Komachi here. By the way, the temple features a wonderful, mind-blowing ume garden in which more than 230 plum trees of different kinds can be found. Enjoy the peak season in early March!
During my visit to this famous Buddhist temple I revealed that no one should just get there to see ume blossoms instead there is much more than that. Say for example, the beautiful gardens on the temple grounds, the pond, the bamboo grove, and Memorial to Ono no Komachi, including the temple’s hall. The outdoor nature you find there is pretty peaceful and relaxing. In fact everything there could excite you very much.
4) Nijo Castle
Visiting a castle in Japan is kind of a tradition especially for foreign visitors. Your itinerary should include this awe-inspiring adventure when you plan of traveling Japan. Nijo Caste is one of the designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan. Every day, the castle ground is packed with a lot of tourists. So try to reach there as early as possible and it would offer you less crowds and definitely it is the ideal time for taking great photos.
The ume orchard of the castle provides beautiful floral display and sweet smell when most of the plum trees are fully bloomed. I actually like walking along the several strolling paths and enjoy the plum blossoms. In addition, the whole castle grounds offer many wonderful things to discover such as the Ninomaru Palace, Ninomaru Garden, Karamon Gate, Honmaru, Stone Walls and Moats. Anyway, everything there is well preserved and it worth a visit year round!
Useful Travel Tips for a trip to Kyoto in early spring
1) Early spring in Kyoto means you may encounter snowfall there. The temperature often drops severely. Therefore, bring your winter clothes that warm your body, add extra layers. And don’t let the cold weather spoil your trip.
2) Just like you, I always prefer online hotel booking – please book your room in advance and of course before you land in Japan. Please find out the best hotel deals in Kyoto!
3) You can rent a car at an affordable cost instead of buying a JR Pass. Find your best Japan rental car deals here. It would help you to reach to remote areas where public transport system is poor. But if you are thinking of visiting other prefectures along with Kyoto (long distance travel such as Kyoto to Tokyo) then buying Japan Rail Pass would be economical and budget friendly.
4) Try eating traditional street foods from food vendors including the delicious local dishes.
5) Put some money in the donation box when you visit shrines and temples. Also follow the basic rules before entering inside a temple or shrine.
6) Apart from visiting all the best ume spots described above I highly recommend you to discover rest of the most famous sightseeing spots such as the Arashiyama Bamboo Groves, Kinkaku-ji temple, Ryoanji Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Tenryuji temple and many more.
7) Walk, walk and walk! This is the ideal way you could make your trip memorable. Keep walking inside an ume grove, enjoy the lovely floral scene and take a lot of photographs.
How to get to Kyoto?
Getting to Kyoto either by train or highway bus is really easy. If your itinerary tells you to get there from either Tokyo or Osaka then take the trains that go directly to downtown Kyoto. All the fares are covered by a valid Japan Rail Pass. If you have it, there is no need to buy any ticket! If you have not ordered your JR Pass yet then order it here.
Once you reach there, check into hotel (especially the ones adjacent to the station) then decide yourself which spot you would like to go first. Please note that some visitors also prefer self-drive option to explore the famous attractions of Kyoto. If you are interested in it, find great cheap car rental deals here. In addition, you can rely on the Kyoto city bus!
Where to Stay in Kyoto?
Staying in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese style inn) would be a perfect choice than staying in a hotel. Kyoto features many impressive ryokan for its visitors and all of them are scattered around the prefecture.
You would never know and feel the joy of staying (at least a night) in ryokan until you make it on your own. In fact, this is one of the top reasons why visitors from outside Japan have to visit Kyoto/Japan. Most of the ryokans in Kyoto provide onsen facility to its customers so take this opportunity as taking a bath in a hot springs has various health benefits.
Would you be staying in this ryokan? I stayed there and based on my own experience, I have to say that it is one of the best ryokans in Kyoto. You would definitely win and be pleased with all the facilities it provides you.
Kyoto Plum Blossoms 2017
Sometimes it seems to me that every destination in the land of the rising sun is different from each other. For example, it is really hard to compare Kyoto with Hokkaido. After all things are not alike between these two hugely popular tourist destinations! Kyoto is home to make famous temple & shrines, old streets, traditional Japanese gardens, and matsuri, while on the other hand Hokkaido is famous for its snow festivals, ramen, summer flower field of Furano, wildlife, hiking and mountains. Have you noticed the big differences here?
However, Kyoto’s endless attractions of each season with wonderful nature are just a perfect destination you that should consider visiting this year in early spring. Anyone who is searching for a perfect holiday destination to enjoy an early hanami atmosphere there must arrive on time (based on the blooming time). Book your hotel’s room, order your Japan rail pass as quickly as possible, pack your things nicely, and make yourself a perfect itinerary – you can ask me to help you making one. Once everything is well set up, fly to/drive to Kyoto, and enjoy everything if offers you.
Copyright 2016 @ takkhis