Culture Spring Travel Guide

Plum Blossoms in Japan | Ume Matsuri 2024

Japanese plum (ume) blossoms bring an important message for all of us that spring is coming very soon. It appears in late winter when snow starts melting.

Significantly it has an important role in Japanese culture. Festivals are held throughout Japan during this blooming season.

Japan attracts thousands of tourists during the plum blossom season (from early February to mid March). This is the time when ume matsuri are held in many parts of Japan. Mito’s ume matsuri in Ibaraki Prefecture is one of the top places to see plum blossom in Japan.

Plum blossom is the sign of ending deadly cold winter and beginning of early spring. It is the best time for the Japanese people to organize first picnic party of the year before Hanami arrives.

People in Japan recognize plum as Ume/Japanese Apricot. Do you know that Japanese plum is native to some Asian countries, such as in China, Taiwan and Korea? In fact, plum is the national flower of Taiwan.

These are not Cherry Blossoms but Plum Blossoms! Photo Credit: [cipher] at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.
Everyone waits for Hanami, many events and parties are scheduled all over Japan for this yearly spring festival. While on the other hand, Ume (Plum) blossom festival is not that much popular but still it has significance on Japanese culture.

In fact, ume blossom festival is overshadowed by Cherry blossom festival but it does not mean it is not charming at all.

Absolutely both ume and hanami matsuri are delightful to participate in. You can read this article: Difference between Cherry Blossom and Plum Blossom.

Moonlight Plum Blossom. Photo Credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

However, here, we would read about Japanese ume, its history, significance, symbolism and some most popular Ume Matsuri spots just to help you where to go to see Ume blossom across Japan.

About Japanese Plum Blossom

What do you know about Japanese plum blossom?

Viewing plum blossom is very amusing and an interesting thing to remember it for forever. Japanese plum has many varieties such as white, dark pink, pink and even we see yellow plum blossom.

I like this flower very much because the flower shape is round. You can see five petals of plum blossom in japan but don’t be surprised seeing more than five petals because they do exist.

Hamarikyu Garden’s Plum Blossom in Tokyo. Photo Credit: Jody McIntyre at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Japanese plum blossom has a sweet flowery fragrance. The tree leaves become purple, they don’t have green leaves just like cherry trees have.

In order to recognize a plum tree, just look at its bark, if you see it is darker and the flower is round with not split at the end of each petal then it is a plum tree.

Ume fruit is very popular in Japan and other parts of Asia. I know Ume blossom has a sweet fragrance but it does not mean the fruit is very sweet and tasty to have. It is sour and it is processed in many ways before eaten.

Beauty of Japanese Plum Blossom! Photo Credit: Toshiyuki IMAI at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

One popular processed form is called umeboshi. At this time fruit is pickled and it is very delicious having with rice. Plum fruit is also used for making alcoholic beverage and vinegar.

Plum themed accessories are widely used by many people inside and outside Japan. It also appears as decorative motifs such as in Kimono (Japanese traditional dress), paintings, wall posters, jewelry, ivory, wood, and kitchen accessories.

You can find this in stories, folk songs, novels, and poems. Plum blossoms make people to be proud of it.

Japanese Plum Blossom History

Ume festival history in Japan

Japanese White-Eye in the Plum Blossoms, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Photo Credit: Richard Fisher at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Reading history of everything interests me very much. So, it is time for me to tell you about history of Ume blossom.

In the 8th century plum trees were introduced to Japan from its neighbor country China. In Nara period (710-784) flower viewing was referred to plum blossom not the cherry blossom.

Japan’s emperor used to held plum blossom viewing party each year. I will be a great liar if I say plum blossom is seen only in China and Japan. Rather, it spread to other East Asian countries such as in Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Plum Blossom and Water Drops! Photo Credit: joka2000 at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

There is an interesting fact that plum trees are believed to be ward of danger as a result in the past time many plum trees were planted on many older plots of land in Japan.

Basically they were planted near “Demon’s Gate” that means in the northeast corner, from where evil and danger are believed to enter.

This belief makes people to incorporate the Ume blossom into their design at home. When it was brought from China plum trees were planted at many Buddhist temples, shrines and public parks.

Now these places have been great places where Ume Matsuri take place.

Sugawara no Michizane – Famous Japanese Scholar

A well known Japanese scholar called Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) who was also a poet, politician, Shinto god of learning and plum blossom lover in Heian Period.

In Kyoto, Ume festival started as a ceremony of prayer of the repose of this scholar’s soul. It is believed that Fujiwara family did not like his presence because he had influence over Emperor Uda.

You Can See White Plum Blossoms at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. Photo Credit: kuribo at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

After Uda died, the new emperor was forced to exile Michizane. He believed, he might be displaced from his throne by Michizane.

Incidentally, Michizane was exiled from Kyoto to an Island known as Dazaifu. After few years later, he died and became a ghost. Many natural calamities struck Kyoto city thereafter.

Emperor’s son died mysteriously, lighting struck imperial palace, lands became insufficient for cultivation because of drought. People thought his angry spirit should be appeased by building a shrine.

This shrine is called Tenjin Shrine (Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine), many visitors and students visit this shrine during the plum blossom festival.

Plum Blossom Symbolism in Japanese Culture

Setagaya Ume Matsuri! Photo Credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

I would just like to introduce its symbolism from Japanese point of view. Mainly, it symbolizes three things, they are as follows:

1) Spring sign
2) Protection and
3) Spirit of health

Spring sign: Most of the people recognize this Ume blossom as the end of winter and beginning of spring.

Usually main flower season starts in Japan at early spring but Ume trees bless Japanese nature with its flower before spring arrives. Is not it very amazing?

Plum Blossoms at Itsukushima Shrine, Japan. Photo Credit: heuristicus at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Protection: As I have already mentioned you that, Ume trees are referred as a protector of demons and evils. This belief does exist in Japanese culture.

Spirit of health: Health is wealth, everybody knows this. The people of Japan believe Ume blossoms work as a spirit of health.

It brings something new that makes us to start our new life in a better way. However, plum blossom is also seen as symbol of luck.

Ume (Plum) Blossom Festival in Japan

Japanese Ume Matsuri and its traditions

Indeed Ume festival has different meaning than what cherry blossom festival means to us. In fact, Ume blossom comes out in early February while on other hand we all know that Sakura (cherry blossom) begins in spring (April).

The festival starts in February and ends exactly right before the Hanami festival begins. That means ume festival ends in late March. Based on this festival many cultural events are held in public parks, temples, and shrines across Japan.

Plum Blossoms in Yokohama, Japan. Photo Credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

As it is the sign of end of winter so obviously it also brings a good message for all of us that famous Cherry blossom (Sakura) festival will arrive very soon. Is not it a sign of regenerate of a new life with a new hope?

I do believe it is. The sun is shining, it is not gloomy anymore and that is the perfect time to bloom this wonderful creature as well as a great time for celebrating Ume Matsuri.

Plum blossom season is very short just like cherry blossom. You can view Sakura all over Japan when its season begins but it is impossible to find Ume blossom everywhere.

Japan has got number of Ume blossom spots across the country, the numbers of spots are not that much few though. So to see Ume blossom you have to get ready in advance and don’t miss out since it appears once in a year.

Deep Red Plum Blossom at Kitano Tenmangu, Japan. Photo Credit: Chris Gladis at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Now let’s talk about what Japanese do on this festival. During the festival time many events and ceremonies are held such as outdoor tea ceremony, kodan and rakugo comic storytelling, koto performances, haiku classes, photography sessions, amazake drinks and so on.

Drinking tea outside can’t make you board because the weather still remain cold and just like everybody else I do enjoy having cup of tea in such type of weather.

Many horticulture shops and fast food stalls are seen in Ume festival spots. They sell and offer traditional delicacies, bonsai, flowers, plants and more.

Don’t miss out all these events and ceremonies in order to full fill your Ume blossom festival viewing dream.

Here Is Other Japanese White-eye Bird! It Looks Gorgeous. Photo Credit: kuribo at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Plum (Ume) Blossom Festival Spots Across Japan

Let’s Find Out The Best Places to View Plum Blossom in Japan

Most of the popular Ume spots are located in the great city of Tokyo. Though, I want to you to visit Kyoto’s ume spots where you would have chance to visit beautiful gardens, shrines, and Buddhist temples.

The ume spots I have mentioned here are the best ume spots to view plum blossom in Japan.

1) Setagaya City Hanegi Park (Tokyo)
2) Inabe Plum Grove (Mie)
3) Atami Baien Ume Matsuri (Shizuoka)
4) Odawara Plum Festival (Kanagawa)
5) Mito Kairaku-en (Ibaraki)
6) Haruna Plum Grove (Gunma)
7) Suzuka Forest Garden (Mie)
8) Umeno Park (Tokyo)
9) Kyodo-no-Mori Museum (Tokyo)
10) Koishikawa Korakuen (Tokyo)
11) Yushima Tenmangu Shrine (Tokyo)

Plum Blossoms at Koishikawa Korajuen Garden, Tokyo. Photo Credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

12) Baji Koen (Tokyo)
13) Kyu Shiba Rikyu (Tokyo)
14) Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (Kyoto)
15) Kaju-ji (Kyoto)
16) Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine (Fukuoka)
17) Ushi Tenjin (Fukuoka)

Read about Japan’s 12 Best Places to See Blossoms in details.

Plum Blossom Decorating Ideas

Ume is a delicate flower. It is hard to forget its beauty. Plum tree is one of the highly valued trees in Japan.

It comes in a variety of colors such as white, pink, red and yellow. Plum blossom is considered as a popular decoration for wedding and early spring decor.

A Beautiful Plum Tree Bonsai. Photo Credit: Chris Gladis at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Plum blossoms themed home decor accessories are widely used. You can decorate home putting plum blossoms branches in a flower vase.

You can combine other seasonal flowers with it. If you are interested in Asian floral agreement then you can try this out.

I always love to see flower wreath in our home. This idea shows me how to decorate a home with it. You can buy or collect circular plastic wreath mold and floral foam.

You have to sock the foam into water and then insert it to the plastic wreath mold. It is time for lining the wreath edges with plum blossom branches around the inside and outside diameter.

You can fill the wreath’s center with other flowers. Now get it and hang the wreath on the front door.

Plum Tree Bonsai Makes Your House Beautiful! Photo Credit: Chris Gladis at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Have you ever thought of decorating home with plum blossom bonsai tree? Indeed, this is a great decor idea. Plum bonsai can be purchased by you. After purchasing it you have a responsibility to take care of it.

Find useful information online about growing a bonsai at home and read books related to this subject. Put the bonsai tree on a table in your living room.

Umeboshi – Japanese Pickled Plum

What is Umeboshi?

Umeboshi means Japanese salt plums or pickled plums. In my opinion, where there is no plum tree there would be no umeboshi as well.

You can eat it anytime you want but you better have it with rice balls. It will be tasty then, otherwise taste of umeboshi could make you crazy enough not to try it again in the future.

It is very sour and salty so we prefer to have it with rice balls. Here you can buy pickled plum umeboshi.

Picture of Umbeboshi! Eat Umbeboshi with Rice. Photo Credit: Kanko* at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

There are many delicious umbeboshi recipes you can learn reading articles online. Except this you will learn about eating benefits of umeboshi, how to preserve them, where to find umeboshi and more.

1) What is Umeboshi? – This is a great page of learning and knowing about Umeboshi. learn how to make it from a ripen plum fruit and how actually they are eaten by Japanese.

2) Homemade Umeboshi (Japanese salty pickled plums) – Want to make homemade umeboshi? Then read this article, it is very informative!

3) Umeboshi Plum Health Benefits – Read about the health benefits of Umeboshi.

Travel To Japan During Ume Matsuri

Spring Travel Tips to Japan

Don’t you think you should travel to Japan in early spring? In my opinion, everyone should visit Japan at that time.

Let’s not forget that it comes once in a year, so if you miss this season then you will have to wait for a year! That would be awful, would not it be?

Colorful plum blossom could blow your mind up showing their utmost beauty in a cold weather. If you get a chance then join in a picnic party under plum blossoms.

Each and every year my friends and I organize a cool picnic party, we all love it!

Girl Under Plum Blossom Tree. Photo Credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Comparing to cherry blossom season where a lot of tourists arrive here in Japan sometimes that could make you feel board because what if you don’t get a room in a hotel on time?

During Hanami season most of the hotels rooms are booked by visitors in advance. Plum blossom season is totally different; you can easily get rooms and apartment to stay at.

The weather out there is very cold in February, so you better bring warm clothes with you. Make sure you have a map if you want to explore Tokyo’s plum blossoms spots.

A few important Japan travel tips could make your whole trip memorable. If you desire to see ume outside Tokyo then I suggest you to buy Japan Rail Pass. It will save your time and money.

Visit Japan and See Ume Festival

Beauty of Mount Fuji and Plum Blossom at Soga Plum Orchard, Japan. Photo Credit: joka2000 at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Your visit to Japan in late winter will be memorable. It also can inspire you to wait for cherry blossoms which is about to come right after falling plum blossoms

The ume matsuri will begin in different locations throughout Japan from early february. Are you coming or staying at home?

Get here and smell the sweet fragrance of plum blossom before spring arrives. Get the taste of early spring even when there is cold in Japan.

Why you should visit Japan?
Answer: The answer is given here in this article.