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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some trees reach skyward while others "weep" like willows.
The variety of trees is amazing with white, red and pink blossoms.
Blossoms may have single, double, or multiple layers of petals.
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.
You can also buy Ume Bonsai trees. No doubt the blossoms fall off right after you get them home.