The fabulous flower season that happens when nothing else is blooming

Plum blossoms in snow at Koshikawa Korakuen garden

February in Japan is not fun. Cold and gray, its only festival involves demons, dry beans and smelly sardines. There would pretty much be nothing to look forward to, if it weren’t for the…

Plum blossoms!

And although their blooming doesn’t promise no more snow, plum trees bloom while every other flower and leaf is no more than a tightly clenched bud, reminding us that winter may still be here, but spring is coming.

Plum blossoms at Jindai botanical garden
Plum trees don’t deliver the same clouds of pinkitude that cherries do, but their fragrance is one of the sweetest in all of creation

And up close, I actually think the flowers are far more beautiful than cherry blossoms, in both their single and double varieties

Pink plum blossoms
White plum blossoms
Double pink plum blossoms
Dark pink plum blossoms
Double pink plum blossoms

Plum trees bloom less profusely than cherries, but some varieties still put out enough flowers to block the sun

Plum blossoms at Yushima Shrine
The trees at the Yushima Shrine always bloom with great profusion
Plum blossoms at Nisharai Daishi temple
Nishiarai Daishi temple has some exuberant white plums that burst forth the same time as the kanzakura early pink cherries
Plum blossoms on Kappabashi street
And this beauty was just randomly blooming along Kappabashi street

Because of their dark, angular branches, plum trees in bloom give a more austere impression than cherry trees, so they’re prized in a different way by painters and poets

Plum tree at Jindai botanical garden
An artfully gnarled specimen at the Jindai Botanical Gardens
Plum blossoms at Shinjuku Gyoen
Casting a melancholy mood at Shinjuku Gyōen
Plum blossoms at Kairakuen garden
The shadows they cast are almost as beautiful as the trees themselves
Plum blossoms at Hama-Rikyu Teien
The plum grove at Hama-Rikyu Teien still manages to pack a punch of color
Plum blossoms at Kyu Shiba Rikyu Teien
And I can never tear myself away from the rare mixed pink and white blooms at Kyu Shiba-Rikyu Teien
Plum blossoms at Ikegami Honmonji Bai-en
At Ikegami Honmonji Bai-en, the treetops burst forth in a riot of color
Overview of plum blossoms at Kairakuen garden
And there could be no more peaceful vision of spring than this panorama of Kairaku-en Garden

One of the biggest bonuses of plum hunting is that so many of them are at excellent shrines

Plum blossoms at Kanda Myojin shrine
The Kanda Myōjin shrine is also home to many kinds of plum trees
Plum blossoms at Nisharai Daishi temple
And there is a fine selection of exotic plum varieties at Nishiarai Daishi temple too
Plum blossoms at Kameido Tenjin shrine
Kameido Tenjin is more famous for its wisteria, but it’s still a mighty contender for sheer variety of plum blossoms planted on the grounds
Plum blossoms at Kameido Tenjin shrine
Its sanctuary has a typical feature of “Tenjin” shrines, which are dedicated to education: there is a white plum tree planted on one side, and a red plum on the other
Plum blossoms at Yushima Tenjin shrine
But my favorite is Yushima Tenjin
Plum blossoms at Yushima Tenjin shrine lit up at night
Because they light their plum trees up at night

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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