Plum Blossoms


Brown-eared Bulbul in the plums at Zuishin-in temple.

Though Japan may be famous for its cherry blossoms, those knowledgeable about their greenery are aware that there are actually many more flowering trees and plants that are popular for seasonal viewing nationwide. 

Plum blossom garden at Kitano Tenmangū shrine.

The precursor to the blooming of sakura, ume (plum trees) were introduced from China hundreds of years ago and come in shades from pure white to a dark pink.  Plums are a popular food in Japanese cuisine and you will find them in many forms from your tea to pickles in the center of your rice balls.  In addition, plum trees were thought to ward off danger, and it was once common to plant them in the northeast corner of gardens, that direction being considered most susceptible to misfortune. 

Light pink plum blossoms at Kitano Tenmangū shrine.

Plum blossoms may be difficult to distinguish from cherry and peach to the untrained eye, and similarly to those other flowering trees they have a somewhat short lifespan.  Plum trees, however, bloom slightly longer and are usually visible from the colder month of February down through March.  Several sites in Kyoto are popular for viewing these colorful blossoms, including Jōnangū, Kitano Tenmangū, the Imperial Palace, Zuishin-in, and Nijō Castle.  Events such as plum viewing and tea ceremony are also held around this time.  If you’re in Kyoto during this season, be sure to keep your eye out for these cheerful flowers blooming despite the chill in the air.