Originally introduced from China, the Japanese plum (~, ume; sometimes referred to as Japanese apricot) has played an important role in Japanese culture for many centuries. Its popularity was eventually surpassed by that of the cherry tree.

The plum is associated with the start of spring, because plum blossoms are some of the first blossoms to open during the year. In most areas of Japan, including Tokyo, they typically flower in February and March. The event is celebrated with plum festivals (ume matsuri) in public parks, shrines and temples across the country.

Like cherry trees, plum trees come in many varieties, many of which were cultivated by humans over the centuries. Most plum blossoms have five petals and range in color from white to dark pink. Some varieties with more than five petals (yae-ume) and weeping branches (shidare-ume) have also been cultivated. Unlike cherry blossoms, plum blossoms have a strong, sweet fragrance.

Umeboshi

The actual ume fruit is more sour than the Western plum or apricot and is usually processed in various ways before eaten. The most popular processed form is the umeboshi, a sour, pickled plum, which is usually enjoyed with cooked rice. Umeboshi is one of the most typical Japanese flavors. Umeshu, a sweet alcoholic beverage made of plums, is also popular.

Some popular plum spots in and around Tokyo

Kairakuen (Ibaraki Prefecture)

Mito Station, JR Joban Line
Ranked as one of Japan's three finest landscape gardens, Kairakuen features over 3000 plum trees of 100 varieties. A plum festival is held from February 17 to March 31, 2018.

Koishikawa Korakuen (Tokyo)

Korakuen Station, Marunouchi Subway Line
Koishikawa Korakuen is a Japanese landscape garden in central Tokyo that features a small grove of plum trees. It used to be the site of a Tokyo residence of the feudal lords of Mito, the city where Kairakuen (see above) is located. A plum festival is held from February 10 to March 4, 2018.

Yushima Tenjin Shrine (Tokyo)

Yushima Station, Chiyoda Subway Line
Located not far from Ueno Park, Yushima Tenjin is a popular shrine among students who wish to pass entrance exams. A plum festival is held annually from February 8 to March 8, with various events on weekends and holidays.

Hanegi Park (Tokyo)

Umegaoka Station, Odakyu Line
A short train ride outside of central Tokyo, Hanegi Park is a small public city park with about 700 plum trees of many varieties. The Setagaya Ume Matsuri is celebrated here on weekends and holidays from February 10 to March 4, 2018.

Some popular plum spots in and around Kyoto

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Short walk from Kitanohakubaicho Station
The foremost shrine devoted to Tenjin in Kyoto, Kitano Tenmangu has about 2000 plum trees in its garden. A special tea ceremony (Baikasai) is held in the garden on February 25.

Umenomiya Taisha

15 minute walk from Matsuo Taisha Station on the Hankyu Arashiyama Line
Plum blossoms are one of the symbols of Umenomiya Taisha, and the pleasant paid garden (550 yen) at the back of the shrine boasts a plum grove at its western end. There are about 450 plum trees of around 35 different varieties in the garden.

Some popular plum spots in and around Osaka

Osaka Castle Park

Short walk from Osakajokoen Station
Located on the eastern end of Osaka Castle Park between the inner and outer moats, the spacious plum grove at Osaka Castle offers almost 1300 plum trees of over 100 varieties. It takes at least 20 minutes to walk through the entire grove.

Osaka Expo '70 Park

10 minute walk from Bampakukinenkoen Station
The large public Expo '70 Commemorative Park offers two areas to see plum blossoms. The main spot is west of the Tower of the Sun and main entrance, and offers around 600 plum trees of about 120 varieties. A plum festival is held here from February 17 to March 18, 2018. The second and smaller spot is located in the Japanese landscape garden at the northern end of the park with about 80 trees of 40 varieties.

Other famous plum spots

Nara Park

15-20 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station
The Kataoka Plum Grove in Nara Park is located in the quieter southwestern end, not far from the Nara National Museum. About 250 plum trees can be found in that area.

Naritasan Park

15-20 minute walk from JR Narita or Keisei Narita stations
There are two plum groves in the pleasant Naritasan Park, one not far from the main hall of Naritasan Temple at the entrance of the park, the other at the base of the Great Pagoda of Peace. Together they have almost 500 plum trees making a walk through the park even more enjoyable when the flowers are in bloom.
Page last updated: March 14, 2018