Plums, called ume in Japanese, are arguably more a part of Japanese culture than the cherry blossoms. The sakura are so short-lived that I feel like if you blink you’ll miss them, and then it’s all over for another year. Whereas the plum blossoms stick around for a good month or more. But not only is the flower popular, the plum fruit itself is well integrated into Japanese cuisine! You are guaranteed to find an umeboshi (pickled plum) in almost every bento lunch box, sitting on top of the rice. It’s too sour for me, though. My hiking buddies often snack on sour, dried plums as an energy boost! Another common way to have it is as furikake seasoning sprinkled on top of your rice. You can not only eat it, but drink it, too. Umeshu is sweet alcohol made with plums and is always listed on the drink menu at restaurants (I love it!).
While the famous cherry blossoms bloom when the weather is much warmer, the plum blossoms start to show their faces towards the end of winter. I actually saw the first plum blossoms just starting to bloom in mid-January! Since early February, they have taken over the streets and parks of Tokyo. Lots of public gardens have official plum festivals, but you don’t necessarily need to go to those places to see these beautiful flowers. There are so many trees randomly all over the place, in people’s backyards, next to train tracks, even growing in alleyways! The flowers range from white to pink to red to yellow. They are like splashes of colour all over the city.
Looking through the photos I’d taken over the past month, I noticed there were lots of images showing the different stages of blooming. I think the little buds are adorable! And then, when they burst into life, it’s really a spectacular vision. One day I want to do a timelapse video of this! For now, I’ve decided to do a little ‘life of a plum blossom’ photo story. Enjoy!
Then, everyone joins the party! The whole park comes alive with a distinct, sweet fragrance filling the air!…
The flowers stay like this for a few weeks before falling to the ground. Then it’s time for the fruit to grow!
I don’t remember enjoying the plum blossoms as much in any other year I’ve been in Japan. For some reason this year I’ve really taken notice of them. I love how they have the power to draw so many people, but at the same time they make each person slow down and stay a while to enjoy their beauty and sweet smell. Nature is pretty remarkable!