2008/06/13

Ume Ume Everywhere...

And Even Some To Drink! - "Rhyme of the Ancient Plum Blossom"

March was ume (Japanese Plum) blossom season and while there are many plum trees in our neighborhood and even four of them in our own yard, there is nothing like a visit to Kairakuen - Mito City's hilltop park with 3,000 ume trees of 100 varieties overlooking beautiful Lake Senba - to celebrate Ume Matsuri. We went twice this year, as we often do, in order to see the blossoms in different stages. The air is filled the sweet scent of the blossoms ~ heavenly. No wonder this park was an inspiration for poetry during the Edo period.

(There also sugi trees (Japanese cedar) adding their pollen to the air, bringing allergy attacks to some folks, like the Moody Minstrel.)

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In addition to the Japanese plum trees, there is a grove of cedars and another of bamboo, plus gardens, ponds and Kobuntei - a villa which you can walk through, built in 1841 by 9th Daimyo (Lord) of Mito, Tokugawa Nariaki. You can read about the history of the park in one of the previous posts here: Umematsuri - Plum Festival

The blossoms were awesome, there were the usual young women dressed in Kimono as "Ume Abassadors" to pose with visitors, various shops selling delicious bento lunches, potted ume plants (K bought one which she is shown holding in our St. Patrick's Day post), that infamous fermented soy health food "natto" for which I have actually acquired a taste, ume flavored tea, and more. The post office even sets up a booth and sells stamps featuring the park and other stamps showing flowers of different parts of Japan.

As for "even some to drink" - there is "umeshu" (plum liqueur), pictured at the top of this post, which is made with whole plums in shochu (distilled spirits from rice or sweet potatoes), and honey. A bit sweet for my taste, but very good none the less with a definite aroma and flavor of ume. A lot of people make their own and in our neighborhood tarps can be seen under plum trees to collect the falling fruit. Plum wine is also popular.

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Our view as we sat on a log railing eating our bento lunches.

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People enjoying a picnic with Kobuntei in the background. The first picture was taken on February 23rd and the second on March 8th when the blossoms were closer to full bloom, thus more people. The large tree represents a cherry originally given to Tokugawa Nariaki by Emperor Ninko as a wedding gift upon his marriage to Imperial Princess Tomiko in the mid 19th Century. The original tree died and in 1963, a request was made to the Imperial Household Agency to replace it. This tree was then transplanted from the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

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Ume Ambassadors



This spring called "To-Gyoku-Sen" (to eject-jewel-fountain) has been in use for centuries. The water tastes excellent, and is said to cure eye diseases. The current stone was placed there in 1989 and is marble from Mt. Mayumi, north of Mito.

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These two ancient cedars have stood guard over To-Gyoku-Sen for many centuries, no doubt benefiting from its waters.

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Bamboo grove - I like the fence too.

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K buying a potted ume tree.

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Pandabonium, holding K's ume tree flanked by Ume Ambassadors.


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One of the gates within the park.


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Some visitors get their photo taken with characters in Edo period costumes in front of Kobuntei.


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In neighboring Tokiwa Shrine, I found this lion statue which looks like it was modeled after one of Momo the Wonder Dog's Shi-tzu (lion dog) ancestors.

A slide show of some of this year's blossoms...




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



17 comments:

The Moody Minstrel said...

The costumed people in the "Edo period costume" photo are dressed as characters from the "Mito Komon" TV series.

I always seem to get to Kairakuen too late or too early to see much...and it has rained EVERY TIME...

Maybe one of the Tokugawa ghosts hates me.

Pandabonium said...

Moody- thanks for that info. I think K told me about that program. Are those the guys who are sort of 3 musketeer types catching corrupt officials and such and flashing the Tokugawa crest like an FBI badge?

As for rain, view it as a blessing. Your visit will not be marred by crowds and the ume gods will smile upon you for your dedication.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

What beautiful photos and.... the world is an amazing place. Thank you for a view into a different world.
w.

Don Snabulus said...

Looks like it was a beautiful day. The blossoms are very nice and the music was right in tune with the scene.

It is a good reminder for us to visit our local rose/Japanese/Chinese/rhododendron gardens before everything blooms out.

Martin J Frid said...

That is such a lovely park, good to see it again. Enjoyed visiting it and the shrine that same day!

Pandabonium said...

Wendy - thank you. I'm pleased that you enjoyed the post. The world is amazing.

Snabby - it was beautiful weather. They also have azaleas at the park, but I've never been there for that. Your comment about rhododendrons reminded that I should do that sometime.

Martin - was it the same day last year? We really enjoyed sharing it with you guys that day.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Are those the guys who are sort of 3 musketeer types catching corrupt officials and such and flashing the Tokugawa crest like an FBI badge?

Exactly! Actually, it's like a cross between the 3 Musketeers and Robin Hood, and it's based in small part on a true story...or at least an old legend!

Tokugawa Mitsukuni, retired vice-shogun and daimyo of Mito (and a blood member of the Tokugawa family obviously) apparently really did dress as a commoner and wandered about his lands. He had a reputation for being a benign lord, and stories began to circulate that he often helped the common people during his travels and weeded out corruption among his samurai. These stories became legend in the Edo period and later a novel in the 20th century, which in turn inspired the TV drama.

The TV series is often criticized as being a "one-pattern drama", i.e. the plot always follows the same formula, but that hasn't stopped it from continuing for far longer than the real Mito Komon wandered the lands of modern-day Ibaraki!

Pandabonium said...

Moody - interesting. as for the criticism, I imagine the answer is, if the formula works, don't fix it. Book 'em, Danno.

Olivia said...

Japan NEVER fails to fascinate.

By the way, tonight my dinner was some yummy maki sushi, wakame salad and aloe vera juice with bits in it.

Which is probably why I am unusually hungry now....a little bento sounds pretty good, washed down with some shochu (which I have tried once)...

Pandabonium said...

Olivia - sounds good. I used to be pretty good at making makizushi, but it's been a while. Now days I only get it from a restaurant or when K's mother makes some. Yum.

jam said...

Simply breathtaking!

Happysurfer said...

Beautiful dark pink flowers in the second picture - reminds me of Chinese New Year.

I'm fascinated by the ochre shade of the ground. Is it bare soil? It looks like a carpet. Lovely.

Potted ume plants - cool! Do they bear fruits?

Thanks, PandaB, for sharing the beauty.

Pandabonium said...

Jam - thanks. glad you enjoyed it.

Happy - Ochre. Ah, you tropics resident, you. :) That is grass, but as it was February/March, it was still dry from the winter. Later it will turn green. It is like a carpet, but if you want to picnic, bring a ground cover or your behind will be covered with dried grass when you stand up!

As for fruit from the potted ume...hmmm. Don't know. This year none. I suspect the tree "knows" it doesn't have the ability to supply enough nutrients to grow fruit. We did get nice blossoms though.

Swinebread said...

Amazing pictures! You never fail to impress panda!

I'm always asking my wife about the places you visit!

It's funny because I watched a little of Mito Komon that last time I was in japan and picked up a touristy Tokugawa crest. It' one of my father-in-law's favorite shows.

Pandabonium said...

Swinebread - thanks. Kairakuen is a great park and provides endless possibilities for picture taking.

Happysurfer said...

LOL! How ignorant of me, PandaB. Thanks.

Pandabonium said...

Happy - ha ha. not at all. Brown grass in the winter was a mystery to me when I moved here from Hawaii. In the tropics it's always green, right? :D