The ume or plum blossoms were originally introduced to Japan from China, and are traditionally associated with the start of spring in Japan as they are some of the first blossoms to open.
They usually start to bloom in late February or early March in Central Japan and are a wonderful prelude to spring and their more famous rivals the cherry blossoms, which start to peak in late March.
In many ways, I actually prefer the plum blossoms to the cherry blossoms. No! I hear you say. I don’t know when this started to happen, and can’t put an exact date or time to it, but I’ve become to feel this way more and more each passing spring. Maybe, I’m just getting older and beginning to appreciate the finer things in life. I’ll let you make that decision!
Anyway, back to the plum blossoms. Why do I prefer them to cherry blossoms? Well, for a start, the plum blossoms have an amazing strong fragrance that the cherry blossoms just don’t possess. You can smell the sweet fragrance in the air at this time of the year and it just attracts you to them like bees to honey. The flower petals are also a different shape. I prefer the shape of plum blossoms to cherry blossoms. Most plum varieties having five petals, but there are also some varieties called yae-ume (八重梅) with more than five petals, as well as weeping varieties called shidare-ume (しだれ梅).
One of the best places in Central Japan to see the beautiful plum blossoms is right here in Gifu at a spot called Bairin Koen. The name Bairin Koen (梅林公園) literally means plum grove park, and this places certainly lives up to its name. The park originally opened in 1872 as a private estate, and received its cool name when it opened to the public a few years later.
It is plum blossom heaven with around 1,300 plum trees, and 50 different varieties of plum blossoms. There is around 700 trees with white blossoms and 600 trees with pink blossoms. The early season varieties start blooming around mid-January with the majority blooming in late February or early March. The best viewing time is usually early March when they have reached their peak and the park is alive with color. You can even catch the late blooming varieties into late March.
The Bairin Plum Festival (Ume Matsuri) is a famous plum blossom festival held at the park in March every year. The festival features live musical performances and lots of food vendors selling all kinds of tasty Japanese festival food. The highlight of the festival for me is always the traditional Koto (Japanese harp) performance.
On a side note, the park is also home to a magnificent D51 steam locomotive, which was built in Japan around the time of the Pacific War.
Admission to the park is free. If you are around Central Japan and want to see some beautiful varieties of plum blossoms, definitely mark down Bairin Koen as a spot to visit this spring. I hope to see you there.
Open: 24 hours through-out the year
Address: Bairin Minami-machi, Gifu City
Parking: There are pay parking lots located around the park
Access: Buses are readily available from JR Gifu Station. Get off at Bairin Koen mae (梅林公園前). The journey costs 200 yen and takes around 10 minutes.