2007/03/10

Early Bloomers

This was my third year in a row to view ume blossoms (Japanese plum/apricot blossoms) at Kairakuen park in Mito City. I'll try not to repeat too much information from my 2005 and 2006 posts on the topic, "Ume Festival: When is an Apricot a Plum?" and "Umematsuri - Plum Festival". You can refer to those posts for more information and pictures if you like, but some information bears repeating for the benefit of new readers.

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The Umematsuri or Plum Festival takes place in Mito City's Kairakuen Park overlooking Lake Senba. Three thousand trees of 100 varieties cover the hill where the park is situated and fill the air with their mild, sweet scent. The walking paths meander through the trees and along stands of Japanese ceders or sugi - cue Moody Minstrel's sneeze - and bamboo. The rust colored pollen of sugi trees triggers allergy attacks for many people in Japan.

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We parked across from the south entrance to the park. A fairly new pedestrian bridge complete with glass elevators for those who need them spans the highway and railway tracks (left) to the park.

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We observed certain "traditions" we have established when visiting there, such as eating a picnic bento (japanese boxed lunch) on the grass, and taking my picture with the young women dressed in kimono - Ume Taishi (Plum Ambassadors). I stifled my urge to do a W.C. Fields impression - "Ah, yes my little ume blossoms. Charmed, I'm sure. Doubly charmed." - so didn't embarrass K, or scare them away.

The weather was beautiful with a sunny blue sky scattered with cumulus clouds and a temperature that was cool, but not too cold. A warm winter this year meant that the trees bloomed about two weeks earlier than usual, but there were still plenty of blossoms for us to enjoy.

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The park was developed by the 9th Lord of Mito, Tokugawa Nariaki, in the early 19th Century and is considered to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. His magnificent villa, Kobuntei, built in 1841, is there and one can walk through it for only 190 Yen. We didn't do so this trip as we hope to do so a little later in the month. The villa was a place for the lord's visitors to relax, make music, write poety, and party. The park was first of its kind in Japan to be open to the general public.

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Walking along the paths surrounded by fragrant blossoming trees, one is seemingly transported to another time. We have four ume trees in our yard and their scent is wonderful.

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Some trees reach skyward while others "weep" like willows.

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The variety of trees is amazing with white, red and pink blossoms.

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Blossoms may have single, double, or multiple layers of petals.

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There are some booths in park which sell ume products and other items. Packages of natto are shown hanging above (see Uh oh, Natto! and Natto Breath). Ibaraki Prefecture and Mito City in particular are known for excellent natto. Oddly enough, in spite of my earlier complaints about natto, I have recently started developing a taste for the healthful stuff.

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You can also buy Ume Bonsai trees. No doubt the blossoms fall off right after you get them home.

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Ah, now here's a lovely flower I'd like to take home.


click on "view all images" to see slide show in a much larger format



This Koto and Shakuhachi music from CD "En Affinity" available at Koto Music

17 comments:

The Moody Minstrel said...

*sniff*

Lovely!

nzm said...

What a gorgeous place and excellent images.

Do the cherry blossoms bloom later than the apricot and plum? I seem to recall that we were in Tokyo in May when the cherry blossoms were out.

Swinebread said...

All my stress seems to have just drifted away...

QUASAR9 said...

Awesome Pics Pandabonium
Spring is certainly in the air
Love the Plum Ambassadors, they look like real peaches (and cream) in their kimonos.

It still amazes me that we can have high density population, high pollution heavy industries, Cities like concrete jungles, and still the 'old guard' somehow manages to preserve these environmental wonders, paradisiacal gardens full of beauty & ancient traditions!

Hope you are enjoying the weekend
And yes that is one magnificent bloom!

Pandabonium said...

Moody - thank you. At least my pictures won't make you sneeze.

NZM - my camera has some problems. I have to do a lot of color balance work on each image. Hopefully I'll get a new one in a few months - maybe a small Canon similar to yours.

Kairakuen is a wonderful park at any time of year. Yes, cherry trees blossom about a month later, starting in the warmer southwest of Japan and moving north as the weather warms. City trees bloom earlier due to the extra warmth. In 1987 I came to Japan for the month of April and followed the sakura blooms from Kyoto to Aizu.

By the way, Japanese Plum is actually more like an apricot, so perhaps misnamed. I'm never sure what to call it.

Swinebread - Good. Even superheros need a rest now and then. ;^)

Quasar 9 - thanks. Japan, like most industrialized countries, exports much of its environmental destruction now. Hopefully mankind won't repeat the over shoot and collapse on global scale that so many previous cultures around the world have done in the past.

Everyday should be "a walk in the park", where ever we are. 'Hope your weekend has been enjoyable too.

nzm said...

You won't go wrong with a Canon.

My favourite shop to visit in Tokyo is Bic Camera by Yurakucho Station.

I could get lost in there for hours, even with their little Bic Camera jingle being played over the PA every 3 minutes!

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

What fabulous photos. I like the way the black tree trunks and branches contrast with the delicate white or pink flowers. Truly a place for quietness and reflection away from 'normal' life.
w.

Happysurfer said...

Awesome! The pink flowers remind me of the fake ones we have during the Lunar New Year festival. I always thought they were too pink but now i know the colour is real. Thanks for sharing, Pandabonium.

Martin J Frid said...

That is a park I have to see!

When I lived in Okayama I visited the park there, one of the other three famous parks of that era, when men where men and girls where all peaches (to quote quasar9).

Great photos, hope you get a camera you like, but this one seems fine as far as I am concerned.

Pandabonium said...

NZM - thanks for the tip. Next time I brave the "belly of the beast" (Tokyo) I'll check it out.

Wendy - yes, the contrasts do add to the visual experience and make the blossoms stand out even more. It is amazing how even when the park is full of people (this was a relatively light day for the fesitval) one still gets a peaceful feeling.

Happy - glad you enjoyed them. next month - sakura!

Martin - hope you can see it soon. I've not been to Korakuen in Okayama or Kenr0kuen in Kanazawa. K has visited the latter.

This camera has been OK as a transition from film to digital (Toshiba 3.2 mega pixel), but it has developed some problems in the last year or so and new ones are much improved.

Digital cameras are not designed the way I would go about it, but I doubt they'd take my suggestions. They must be designed by computer engineers, not photographers.

Perhaps I'll do a post about that sometime.

YD said...

Great pics!

Is it just me or do most photos taken in Japan tend to have that old-ish tint that makes everything looks ancient? Is it due to the natural lighting there? I noticed Moody's pictures have the same tint as well.

Oh no, Natto!!

Pandabonium said...

YD - I don't know about Moody's pics, but what you are seeing in mine is one of the reasons I need a new camera!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Well, YD, both my digicam and my camera-equipped cellphone are Japanese models, so maybe they come with that "ancient Japan tint" built in.

Hill said...

Incredibly relaxing to look at.

Hypatia said...

Sorry I've been away so long, have been busy and sick...

Anyhoo, I love spring and the cherry blossoms! This is just my ticket. I usually go around the neighborhood and ask folks if I can cut some branches for our home display.

However this year they bloomed so early, I didn't have time. I'm going to wait for the Crab Apples (which are a little bit later), and then make a flower arrangement!

Happy St. Pat's BTW!

Pandabonium said...

Hill - glad you like them. Cherry blossoms will be along soon.

Hypatia - sorry you've been under the weather. me too, all this week. I don't get sick very often, but it seems to hit me harder these days than in my "yout".

Happy St. Patty's Day to you.

If you're enough lucky to be Irish...
You're lucky enough!

Momo the Wonder Dog said...

NZM - thanks for noticing. Those are my hide and seek pics.