The First Signs of Spring – Ume no Hana
As the cold winter season comes to a close, the time for ume no hana—Japanese plum blossoms— is finally upon us! Once again, my city has come alive with these beautiful, colored flowers. The first time I saw plum blossoms flowering, I actually mistook them for cherry blossoms.
Plums or Cherries?
There are actually quite a few differences between these two flower species. For one, plum blossoms bloom a little earlier than cherry blossoms. Where I live in Gunma Prefecture, plum blossoms usually start flowering from early February to late March. When these cute little petals emerge from their cozy buds, it’s a sure sign that spring is right around the corner!
Another interesting difference is the range of colors! While cherry blossoms tend to be light pink or white, plum blossom have a more colorful range. In my city alone, you can see many different petal hues. Varying shades of pink, red, white, and even bright yellow blossoms can be spotted along the streets and in the mountain groves.
The Akima Ume Grove (秋間梅林)
One of my favorite places to view plum blossoms is the Akima Ume Grove (秋間梅林) in Annaka City. Here, you’ll be able to take a stroll through an amazing plum grove decorated with a dazzling array of 35,000 flowering trees. The Annaka City event’s page (only in Japanese) provides a map of the grove pathways and some information about the festivals that take place here every spring.
Umeboshi: A Sweet and Salty Delight
Plum trees not only provide us with these lovely, scenic views, but certain varieties also produce plums that can be harvested and transformed into some interesting delicacies. One of my favorites is umeboshi (梅干), or pickled plums.
After being salted and soaked in vinegar, these little fruits are transformed into an incredibly sour but satisfying treat. In my opinion, they’re the perfect mix of sweet and salty goodness. They tend to be an acquired taste, but if you’ve got a heart for adventure, you should definitely try them out! (And if you’re obsessed with Salt and Vinegar chips like me, then you’ll probably love these little suckers, too).
Make Time for March’s Nature Spotlight
If you’ll be in Japan around late February or March, I highly recommend that you make some time for plum-blossom viewing. It’s a fun and relaxing way to spend the day, and plum groves provide a perfect background for some marvelous photo opportunities!