Spring in Japan is probably the most scenic seasons. It is marked by the blossoms – Apricot, Plum and Cherry. While Sakura or cherry blossom is the most famous of all blossoms, the other blossoms are equally breathtaking. Plum blossoms in mid February mark the beginning of Spring while Cherry Blossoms in mid April indicate the end of Spring. Parks, roads, neighbourhood gardens all come alive with the beautiful blossom colours.
The blossom festivals or “Matsuri” are marked by “Hanami” or “blossom viewing”. Families and groups of friends get together in this annual event as it is believed that blossom viewing enhances one’s life. Tea ceremonies are another common sight during the Blossom viewing season. In the Heian period, the Emperor along with the royal family and the elite participated in blossom viewing parties but over a period of time this spread to the general public and continues till today.
In Japan, viewing “Ume” or Plum Blossoms is more common among the older generation and it is associated with more elegant and sophisticated “Hanami” parties. “Sakura” or Cherry Blossom viewing is associated with modern style “Hanami” parties. During the Matsuri, the trees are lighted up for viewing at night. There are many traditional “Hanami” spots all over Japan and these are popular weekend visit destinations during the season. Infact the weather bureau announces the nationwide blossom forecast each year and locals follow the forecast religiously. The blossom season typically begins from south Japan and moves gradually towards north- i.e Blossom season begins in Okinawa and ends Hokkaido.
Sweet dumplings on a stick called as “Dango” is a popular snack during “Hanami”. There goes a popular saying “Hana yori Dango” which means that people prefer the “Dango” over the blossoms.
This year we had the opportunity to view one such “Hanami” during the Plum Festival – “Ume Matsuri” in March. We visited the Kairakuen in Mito City during its Ume Matsuri, which is held annually between February 20th and March 31st. The Kairakuen is one of Japan’s three finest landscaped gardens.
It was built in 1841 by a local feudal lord and was also open to the general public, which was supposedly a rarity in those days. The Kairakuen has a garden with over 3000 plum trees of over a hundred different varieties. During full bloom it is a beautiful site of pink, white and red blossoms.
During the Ume Matsuri, it is common to see ladies dressed in traditional costumes posing for pictures amongst the blossoms in Kairakuen.
The Kairakuen also has a bamboo grove on the lines of Kyoto’s Arashiyama, but a much smaller version. There is a cedar grove, some small shrines and Kobuntei- a traditional Japanese style three storeyed wooden building.
The Kairakuen also offers a good view of the nearby Senba lake.
The Kairakuen is a good place to visit all year round, though the best period is during the Ume Matsuri. The Kairakuen station on Joban line functions during the Ume Matsuri period when trains stop here for the tourist crowd. The station is located next to the Kairakuen.
Currently due to the damage caused to the ground and the buildings in the garden due to the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, Kairakuen is closed to public.
Address: 1-1251, Migawa, Mito city, Ibaraki Prefecture,
Admission : Free entry to Kairakuen, 190 yen for entry to Kobuntei.