The 9 best places to see plum blossom in Japan

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Before the cherry blossoms come to announce spring in Japan, the plum blossoms burst into full bloom first. Put on your winter jacket and head over to the best spots to appreciate these heralds of spring, as selected by Time Out Tokyo staff

Plum – or ume – flowers bloom a full month earlier than the glorious cherry blossoms that symbolise spring in Japan. Still, these mainly white and pink beauties are renowned for their pleasant fragrance that fills the Tokyo air from early February to mid-March, and have been held in high regard for over a millennium. Plum trees can be found all over the city, but there are some parks, shrines, temples and gardens that reign supreme as the top ume-viewing spots, many of which have been popular for centuries. 

Bunkyo Ume Matsuri
Yushima Tenjin shrine has been a popular spot for plum blossom lovers since the Edo period, and crowds still flock there each year to see its 300-odd ume trees in full bloom. The shrine’s annual Ume Matsuri hits its peak towards the end of February and is busiest on the weekends, when the natural splendour is complemented with displays of traditional Japanese music and performing arts – plus the added option of a tea ceremony. Until Mar 8, 3-30-1 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo; city.bunkyo.lg.jp.

Jindai Botanical Garden
The Jindai Botanical Garden’s plum park turns pink, purple and white around the middle of February, when the approximately 180 plum trees burst into flower. There are guided tours during the festival period and visitors can also learn more about traditional plum-growing techniques. Make sure to check out the park’s museum, which exhibits Edo-era (17th to 19th century) plum-themed art. Until Sun Mar 6. 5-31-10 Jindaiji-Motomachi, Chofu-shi, Tokyo; tokyo-park.or.jp.

Koganei Park Ume Matsuri
Enjoy the Musashino spring at Koganei Park, where around 100 plum trees burst into bloom every February. Volunteers are on hand to guide visitors around the park, and there are also performances of traditional Japanese music at a temporary stage set up beneath the trees. An open-air tea ceremony is available for about $32. Feb 13-21, 1-13-1 Sekinomachi, Koganei-shi, Tokyo; tokyo-park.or.jp.

Koishikawa Korakuen Plum Festival
Constructed under the watchful eye of 17th century Tokugawa daimyo – the equivalent of a European noble – Mito Komon, Koishikawa Korakuen’s plum tree garden remains beautiful to this day. The best time to visit the grounds is in late February, when the trees become filled with purple and white flowers. This yearly festival also features performances of traditional music and Edo-style street artistry. From Feb 11-Mar 6, 1-6-6 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo; tokyo-park.or.jp.

Mukojima Hyakkaen Plum Festival
Mukojima Hyakkaen, the only surviving Edo-era flower garden in Tokyo, boasts an impressive collection of ume plum trees that blossom beautifully in early spring. This festival takes place to celebrate the colourful scenery and features performances of traditional arts and dances, including the Sendai-born suzume odori or ‘sparrow dance’. Feb 14-Mar 6, 3-18-3 Higashi-Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo; tokyo-park.or.jp.

Sankeien Plum Viewing
Although best known for its cherry blossoms, Yokohama’s spacious Sankeien garden is also a nice choice for plum-watching. February to March, the park is covered in pink and white blossoms and the 600 or so trees include a few rare varieties. Activities such as mochi pounding, a plum tree bonsai exhibition, performances of traditional music and free barley tea (at the park’s teahouse, 10am-3.30pm) accentuate the experience. Feb 13-Mar 6, 58-1 Honmoku-Sannotani, Naka-ku, Yokohama, sankeien.or.jp.

Setagaya Ume Matsuri
With more than 600 plum trees, the beautiful flowers of Hanegi Park are a great excuse for you to make your way to Umegaoka during this annual festival, which also features stalls selling plum-related snacks, free servings of matcha tea, haiku readings, koto (similar to a Chinese guzheng instrument) and performances. Feb 11-Mar 6, 4-38-52 Daita, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo; city.setagaya.lg.jp

Shiba Koen Plum Festival
Sitting in the shadow of Tokyo Tower, the 70 purple and white plum trees at Shiba Park were actually transplanted from Shinjuku’s Tsunohazu in the early 1900s. This two-day-only festival celebrates their blooming with performances of traditional Japanese music and for $20, you can participate in a tea ceremony that includes confectionery. Feb 19-20. Shiba Koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo; tokyo-park.or.jp.

Ushi Tenjin Plum Festival
Kasuga’s Ushi Tenjin shrine is dedicated to 9th-century scholar and poet Sugawara no Michizane, who is said to have loved the sight of plum flowers. Thus it’s only fitting that the grounds of the shrine feature dozens of plum trees, the blooming of which is celebrated at this festival. On Sundays, take the opportunity to taste some plum-flavoured sweets, umeshu liquor and amazake beneath the purple and white flowers. Meanwhile, Saturdays are when you can sip on traditional ginger tea (shogayu). February 14 is the highlight of the festival, as the sweets stalls are complemented by an outdoor tea service (nodate) and taiko drumming. Until Thu Feb 25, 1-5-2 Kasuga, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo; ushitenjin.jp.

How to get there
Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com) flies nine times a day from Hong Kong to Tokyo Narita and Haneda airport. Return fares are currently available at $4,979 (including tax), or alternatively, ANA has a promotion from Hong Kong to Tokyo starting from $4,058 (inc tax).

Where to stay 
Quaint and elegant, the seven floor and 57 room Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi is offering a special ‘stay and dine’ weekend package for $8,400. The deal includes a weekend stay for two consecutive nights between Fridays and Sundays, which also includes a tasting dinner at its newly unveiled eatery, Motif Restaurant and Bar. 1-11-1 Pacific Century Place, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-6277, Japan, +81 (3) 5222 7222; fourseasons.com. Room rates start at $3,660 per night.

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