by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2013/02/25 - Tokyo Plum Blossom Report
Today the entire office headed down to Tokyo to check out this year's plum blossoms. The plum trees (ume in Japanese) usually bloom several weeks ahead of the cherry blossoms, and may open as early as February and last through March. However, this winter has been slightly colder than usual and the blossoms are a little behind average.
Our first stop of the day was actually a quick side trip to the Bunkyo Civic Center across the street from Tokyo Dome City. The 25th floor has a free observation deck with great views of Mount Fuji behind the skyscrapers of the Shinjuku District. In the opposite direction you can see the Tokyo Skytree. Luckily we had some exceptionally clear weather this morning with cloudless views all the way out to Mount Fuji.
Our first plum reporting stop today was Koishikawa Korakuen, one of the oldest and most popular gardens in Tokyo, and among the city's best cherry blossom spots. The garden also has a nice plum blossom grove with a large variety of plum trees. It is still early in the season for Koishikawa Korakuen, however, as most of the blossoms have only just opened.
Our next stop was Yushima Tenjin Shrine (aka Yushima Tenmangu) an important shrine dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, the Shinto deity of education. Michizane had a great love of plum blossoms, and shrines dedicated to him usually have plum trees planted around the grounds. Yushima Tenjin is no exception, and has become one of Tokyo's most popular spots to view the plum blossoms.
The shrine has a nice atmosphere during the season, and holds a month long plum festival with lots of food stalls set up around the grounds. Today it was mildly crowded with visitors who were strolling about enjoying the blossoms, eating festival food from the food stalls, and watching some of the street performances that were being held. This year's plum festival will end on March 7th; however, the large variety of plum trees at the shrine and the relatively late start to the season means that some of the later blooming trees should still be worth a visit beyond that date.
As Sugawara Michizane is associated with education, his shrines are also very popular among students who seek support for passing their exams. They write their wishes for success onto wooden placards called ema which they leave at the shrine. Today thousands of ema could be seen all around the shrine since it is now the season when many students sit entrance exams.
Afterwards we headed over to Ueno Park to see if any of the early blooming cherry trees had started to blossom yet. We were able to find a nice Kanzakura tree near the statue of Prince Komatsu Akihito that had already started blooming. The regular Somei Yoshino trees, however, were still completely barren and are not expected to start opening before late March.