In Japan, spring is synonymous with blossoms. After the dry and cold winters, spring brings with it a new hope, new joys and warmth. The trees which have worn a barren look in the winter months are filled with buds about to blossom. While the leaves are yet to sprout, the blossoms light up the trees and bring cheer to onlookers.
Spring is known as “Haru” in Japanese. Spring has always had special importance in Japanese culture. Schools and universities begin their new academic term in Spring. Many people make important changes in their life especially around spring. No wonder, spring is associated with celebration. I have in earlier posts written about Sakura and Hanami, two words which give a special meaning to spring in Japan.
While Plum blossoms signify the beginning of spring, Cherry blossoms mark the end of spring.
People anxiously await the blossom season and don’t miss an opportunity to visit the various popular blossom viewing spots. There are many popular blossom viewing spots all over Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Most popular places have a “Matsuri”, seasonal flower festival( usually associated with Sakura- cherry Blossoms) and these events are well received and attracted large crowds.
Like last year, this year too we visited Kairakuen, in Mito city, Ibaraki prefecture to attend the “Ume Matsuri”. “Ume” or Plum blossoms, bloom towards the beginning of spring. Mito’s Kairakuen, holds its annual “Ume Matsuri” between Mid February – March 31st. Built in 1841 by Nariaki Tokugawa, the ninth lord of Mito, Kairakuen is regarded as one of Japan’s three finest landscaped gardens. Built in times when such pleasures were reserved for only the rich and wealthy, the Kairakuen was open for general public and this is one of its rare distinctions.
Kairakuen’s grounds have over 3000 plum trees with over a hundred varieties. Blossoms in shades of white, pink and even green were in full bloom during our visit.
Walking trails around the park offer good views of the blossoms and also the nearby Senba lake.
On our visit to Kairakuen in March 2011, we saw kimono clad ladies posing for groups of photographers, a common sight during such matsuris.
A cedar grove and a bamboo grove can also be seen in Kairakuen. Kobuntei, a traditional Japanese style wooden building also stands on one end of the park.A natural spring inside a granite basin is said to have medicinal powers especially for treating vision problems.
Tokiwa Jinja, a Shinto shrine is situated adjacent to the Kairakuen.
One of the deities enshrined in the shrine is Nariaki Tokugawa, the person who constructed Kairakuen. The other deity is Tokugawa Mitsukuni, the second lord of Mito clan, who was also a grandson of the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, Ieyasu (who is enshrined in the Toshogu shrine at Nikko )
Though the park is open all year round, the Ume Matsuri period is undoubtedly the best time to visit. It is crowded during weekends and parking can be difficult to find. The road leading to Kairakuen is also congested during this time. The Kairakuen station on Joban line functions, only during the Ume Matsuri period to facilitate tourists.
Address: 1-1251, Migawa, Mito city, Ibaraki Prefecture,
Admission : Free entry to Kairakuen, 190 yen for entry to Kobuntei.