by Sam, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2017/01/16 - Early Blooming in Atami
Atami is a picturesque seaside town on the Izu Peninsula less than an hour from Tokyo by shinkansen. As well as being known as a popular tourist destination with numerous hot springs and ryokan, the city is famous for its early-blooming plum and cherry blossom species that fill the place with color a good while earlier than in most towns and cities across the country.
This year, Atami's early-blooming plum and cherry blossoms have began bursting to life particularly early, making it a great time to visit the town. In the name of catching the most of this floral fantasia, I was particularly keen to see the city's reputed plum garden, as well as to take a stroll along the banks of the Itogawa River that dissects the city and is lined with a number of Atamizakura; the early-blooming cherry trees apparently already adding a pink hue to this scenic backdrop. It is worth noting that the progress of these early-blooming species of flower should not be taken as a sign of things to come with the upcoming regular cherry blossom season.
I arrived at the Atami Plum Garden early to avoid the crowds and see what colors were on offer. Despite some parts of the park looking still bare and wintry, some of the early-blooming plum trees were already in full bloom, a good two weeks ahead of their typical pattern. Accordingly, the garden had smatterings of vivid reds, pinks and purples and made for beautiful scenes as I made my way around the snaking pathways. The garden is open from 8:30 to 16:00 during the plum blossom season and costs 300 yen between these hours, after which entry is free but bear in mind that there is no provision of night-time illuminations.
On my way out of the garden I got chatting to one of Atami's local tourist guides and she kindly imparted her knowledge of the plum blossom season, revealing that although first bloom is here, it will be another couple of weeks before full bloom really takes hold in these parts; after which the blossoms are expected to last around a month.
After my saunter around the plum garden, I took a short taxi ride down to the banks of the Itogawa River that winds up from the coast through the quaint streets of Atami town. The seventh annual Itogawa Matsuri festival is due to commence this weekend on January 21st, and will be held on weekends until February 12th. During these weekends the roads around the river will be closed to vehicular traffic, allowing the crowds to take in the most of the cherry blossoms that line the banks. The river banks will also be illuminated every night (not just weekends) between the two dates from 17:00 and 23:00.
The scenes down by the river are already quite spectacular despite how early in the year it is. Many of the cherry trees were in full bloom, with puffs of pink everywhere! Being early morning, the atmosphere was quiet with not many people around the banks. This is expected to change however when the festivities begin later this week.