One of the highly notable spring blossoms in Japan is certainly plum blossom. In Japanese it’s known as “Ume.” The flower is uniquely beautiful and often overshadowed by the legendary sakura or cherry blossoms. Actually, it is not true at all.

The ones who live outside Japan may think of it such way, but Japanese don’t! Local here highly value its appearance and the impact on their culture. In comparison with cherry blossom viewing, there are not many BEST places to see ume in Japan, though Tokyo and Kyoto are considered the two most popular destinations to view plum blossom in the country.

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Ume blossoms at Kyoto Imperial Palace Garden. Photo Credit: ssedro at Flickr.

Needless to say that Tokyo and Kyoto together offer endless discoveries and breathtaking experiences that you can’t find in other countries. When it comes to talking about Kyoto’s early spring nature, the first thing that comes to my mind is UME (Japanese apricot).

I absolutely admire its utmost beauty, and hunting plum blossom in Kyoto is an amazing outdoor experience. In this post, I feature the things you should know before you arrive in Kyoto to see ume. Let’s explore 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

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Look how beautiful this one is! Photo Credit: Chris Gladis at Flickr.

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 explore the blossoms 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

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Kitano Tenmangu Shirne is the country’s one of the top famous ume spots. Photo Credit: flackblag7 at Flickr.

It is breathtaking when you take a stroll along the garden paths and smell the sweet fragrance coming off the ume petals. Seriously, it happens and your soul and mind definitely would be delighted with the charm of colorful ume flowers. The entire Kyoto prefecture boasts a rich variety of plum blossoms scattered on the grounds of many temples & shrines including public parks in which millions of nature fanatics walk around to enjoy the outdoor nature of early spring beauty to the fullest.

There are some interesting places in Kyoto that are well known to see ume, and you would not mind visiting them one by one. Every place tells you a different story and offers you a lot hidden gems including ume festivals to discover in early springtime. 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

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Splendid ume display at Kitano Tenmangu Shirne. Photo Credit: Teruhide Tomori at Flickr.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is one of Japan’s most notable shrines and dedicated to a nobleman called Sugawara Michizane. It is an ideal place to see both plum blossom in early spring and autumn leaves in the fall. Approximately 2000 plum trees of different varieties can be found at the plug grove of Kitano Tenmangu.

Imagine how wonderful it would be to walk into 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

Ume in Kyoto Imperial Palace garden. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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. It is a massive park, and you have to walk a lot to roam around it and thus how you could enjoy the outdoor nature that it offers to its visitors.

3) Zuishin-in Temple

Zuishin-in Temple. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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. The temple features a wonderful, mind-blowing ume garden in which more than 230 plum trees of different kinds can be seen. Enjoy the peak season in early March!

During my visit to this famous Buddhist temple, I revealed that no one should just visit the place to see ume blossoms instead you deserve to see other wonderful discoveries. 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. Everything you experience there could excite you very much.

4) Nijo Castle

Ume at the grounds of Nijo Castle, Kyoto. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

For foreign tourists, visiting a castle in Japan is kind of a tradition. Your itinerary should include this awe-inspiring adventure when you plan on visiting Japan. Nijo Castle is one of the designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan. Every day, the castle ground is packed with a lot of tourists. So when you think of avoiding a big crowd, try to reach there as early as possible. Early morning is the ideal time for taking great photos in the area.

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 blossom display. 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

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These ume blossoms are yet to be fully bloomed. Photo Credit: Atsuhiko Takagi at Flickr.

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 online beforehand. It would help you to reach remote areas where public transport facility is rated 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. Take a leisurely walk inside an ume grove, then enjoy the lovely floral scene and take a lot of photographs.

How to get to Kyoto?

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Shinkansen – Nozomi. Photo Credit: Tomoaki INABA at Flickr.

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!

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. In addition, you can simply rely on the Kyoto city bus! Their service is just excellent.

Where to Stay in Kyoto?

Inside a ryokan, Kyoto. Photo Credit: hairyeggg at Flickr.

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. Most of the ryokans in the prefecture 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 at 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 satisfied with all the facilities it provides you.

Kyoto Plum Blossoms 2019

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A Japanese white-eye bird and plum blossoms in Kyoto. Photo Credit: merec0 at Flickr.

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. Things are not alike between these two hugely popular tourist destinations! Kyoto is home to many famous Japanese Buddhist temple & shrines, old streets, traditional Japanese gardens, and matsuri. 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 that you 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 forecast).

Make a hotel reservation, 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 it offers you. Have fun there! Thanks for reading.