Plum blossoms, or ume, are as beautiful as they are underrated. Many people head to Japan to view the celebrated cherry blossoms, but few realise that plum blossoms are just as enchanting, and they last longer. While cherry blossoms bloom for two weeks at the most, plum blossoms colour Japan in varying shades of pink and white from February to March. I happened to be in Osaka in February to visit my in-laws, and grabbed the opportunity to check out some of the prettiest plum blossom viewing places in the region.
Located in southern Kyoto, Jonangu is the place to go if you dislike the overly crowded central Kyoto (especially in this sensitive Covid-19 period! Though truthfully, the whole of Kyoto is relatively free of crowd right now because of Covid-19). When we went, it was the peak blossom period for the weeping plum blossoms in Jonangu, and the plum blossoms grew so closely that all we can see were pink and white blossoms around us.
We were rendered speechless by the breathtaking sight of weeping plum blossoms that greeted us in the Spring Mountain Garden. While the garden may pretty small, the intimate size actually meant that the plum blossoms were closer to us. We lost ourselves in its sweet fragrance that permeated the air.
What I really loved about the garden was how fairytale like it looked, perhaps because of the proximity of the plum blossoms. The meandering streams added an even more ethereal feel to the garden.
And the most enchanting spot is near the end of the garden, where you can see the beginning of a mossy forest. Shaded by a canopy of towering green trees, blood red camellia buds lie scattered on a mossy green carpet, against a pink backdrop of weeping plum blossoms. It was like an illustration torn straight from the page of a children’s fairytale.
Getting there: 20 minutes walk from Takeda station via Kintetsu line or Karasuma Subway line.
Garden Admission Fee: ¥600
Nabana no Sato
When you want to see flowers, where should you go? Why, a flower park, of course! Nabana no Sato is located in Kuwana City, Mie prefecture. While it may be most known for its gorgeous winter illumination that starts from mid-October all the way to mid-May (the longest I know so far), we couldn’t make it for the winter illumination and had to settle for just flower-viewing. But it’s alright, for it is also home to a weeping plum blossom grove, which is slightly more spacious than the Spring Mountain Garden in Jonangu.
But the size also seemed to make the trees look sparser in comparison to that of Jonangu, so I wasn’t quite as impressed after seeing the beauty of Jonangu’s weeping plum blossoms. However, there was a particular spot, a wooden bridge flanked by rows of pink weeping plum blossoms, that stood out for me. Having watched one too many Chinese fantasy shows, I could picture a beautiful Chinese deity strolling on this bridge (Eternal Love vibes, anyone?), as a gentle breeze lifts thousands of pink petals into a dance.
Besides plum blossoms though, there are many other flowers to see in Nabana no Sato, such as the early blooming kawazu-zakura (yay I got to see cherry blossoms too), and the indoor Begonia Garden features a plethora of vibrantly hued flowers that can be admired throughout the year.
What I loved the most about the Begonia Garden was the Mikaeri-no-ike (Looking Back Pond), where colourful flowers float on a pond that reflects the hanging blossoms above it.
Getting there: Nabano no Sato is accessible only by car or bus. 40 minutes by bus from the Meitetsu Bus Center at Nagoya station. For those with JR pass, take the train from Nagoya station to Nagashima station, then take a 25 minute bus ride.
Park Admission Fee: ¥2000 including the indoor Begonia Garden if you don’t go for the night illumination. Otherwise, the Begonia Garden costs an extra ¥1000. The ¥2000 also includes a ¥1000 worth of dining vouchers for the restaurants in the park.
The first two places might be rather inaccessible for the casual tourist, so let me introduce you to the final venue which is both convenient and worth to go for plum blossom viewing. It is none other than the symbol of Osaka, the Osaka Castle. The plum grove is situated right at the castle grounds, and is free for all to enter.
There are no weeping plum blossoms to be found in the plum grove, and it was still not the peak blossom period for most of the varieties in the grounds where we were there. So there were still many barren branches, but where the plum blossoms bloomed, the budding petals create a beautiful frame for the majestic castle.
I have always thought that flowers and ancient buildings steeped in history are the most picturesque match. There is something incredibly romantic about it. And with over 1200 plum trees, there were also many varieties, hence I was able to capture some stunning shots of the castle against the multicoloured plum blossoms.
Getting there: 5 minutes walk from Osakajo-koen station.
Garden Admission Fee: Free