Plum – or ume – flowers may not be as spectacular as the cherry blossoms, which bloom around a month later and symbolise spring in Japan. Still, these mainly white and pink beauties have been held in high regard for over a millennium, and are renowned for their pleasant fragrance that fills the Tokyo air from early February to mid-March. Plum trees can of course be found all over the city, but the parks, shrines, temples and gardens listed here rank among the top ume-viewing spots, many of which have been popular since the Edo era. Wear your warm jacket and head out to admire these heralds of early spring.
The top ume spots
The beautiful flowers of Hanegi Park’s more than 600 plum trees provide a great excuse for making your way west to Umegaoka in Setagaya before the advent of spring. Expect stalls selling plum-related (and unrelated) snacks, plus music performances, haiku readings and free servings of matcha tea.
Enjoy the Musashino spring at Koganei Park, where around 100 plum trees burst into bloom in February. Volunteers will be on hand to guide visitors around the park, and there will also be performances of traditional Japanese music at a temporary stage set up under the trees. Open-air tea ceremony is available, while classes for calligraphy and decorative knot-tying are set to take place as well.
Constructed under the watchful eye of 17th century Tokugawa daimyo 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. The park's yearly festival also features performances of traditional music, Edo-style street artistry and guided tours of the park.
Kasuga's Ushi Tenjin shrine is dedicated to ninth-century scholar and poet Sugawara no Michizane, who is said to have loved the sight of plum flowers. It's thus only fitting that the shrine grounds feature dozens of plum trees, the blooming of which is celebrated in February. The ancient shrine also houses a cow-shaped sculpture that's said to make wishes come true for anyone who strokes it.
Boasting a total of 500 plum trees, some of them more than 300 years old, Hino's Mogusaen has long been famed as one of Tokyo's best ume-viewing spots. Once frequented by literary greats like novelist Kenjiro Tokutomi and poet Bokusui Wakayama, the park is still an impressive sight in February and March, when the flowers burst into bloom.