Panic stations! It's snowing again! Second day of snow in Tokyo this month, and the southern barbarian is shivering, suffering, huddling and hibernating. It does give me a chance to write another post about blossoms. Not cherry blossoms, but the less spectacular but nonetheless beloved plum blossoms that bloom in the coldest month, February, thus serving as a handy metaphor for beauty and virtue in women. If you can endure the cold and fulfill your duty to be pretty, you have to be noble, no?
I've written so many posts about plum blossoms. This time, instead of diving into its symbolism and links with Heian scholar Sugawara no Michizane, let's focus on the best spots in Tokyo to see them. They've already started blooming, but will probably be at their best towards the end of February and early March. If you've never gone plum blossom viewing, just a warning that this is a different kettle of fish …
I'm mixing my metaphors. Badly. What do blossoms have to do with fish?
Just be warned that plum blossoms are not remotely as spectacular as cherry blossoms. A single tree doesn’t have as many blossoms, the trees don't bloom en masse at the same time, it's usually freezing cold with a depressing grey sky in February. The blossoms do have a lovely fragrance, and if you focus on close-ups, you'll see their beauty.
This is a very personal list, but here we go.
1. The best spots are the so-called Tenjin or Tenman-gū shrines in honour of the above-mentioned scholar, especially Yushima Tenman-gū in Bunkyō-ku and KameidoTenjin in Kōtō-ku.
This year I visited a much smaller Tenjin shrine, Ushi Tenjin Kitano near Kasuga in Bunkyō-ku. It's very small, but it has a few lovely trees and it's close to another top spot …
|Entrance of Ushi Tenjin Kitano|
|Ushi Tenjin Kitano|
|Tenjin shrines are associated with oxen. It struck me that these statues|
in front of Ushi Tenjin Kitano have the classic a-un mouth positions.
|Ema at Ushi Tenjin Kitano, above and below|
|A rare sight in Tokyo: a plum blossom in the snow|
2) Koishikawa-Kōrakuen is one of my favourite gardens in Tokyo. It has a beautiful, bigger-than-you-think plum orchard towards the back of the garden; and the added benefit is that you can enjoy the rest of this tranquil oasis with its three ponds and babbling brooks.
|Koishikawa Kōrakuen's plum orchard|
3) My other new discovery this year has been Hanegi Park in Umegaoka, Setagaya-ku. Umegaoka means "plum hill", and that's what it is: a hill planted with plum trees next to the station. I went way too early, but it's all part of my dedicated research to bring you the best that Tokyo has to offer. Quoth she humbly. Grin.
Give it another two weeks, and it should be gorgeous. I like this garden because it has so many different varieties of plum trees, all neatly labeled with name cards that tell you the variety as well as the colour of the blossoms.
|Hanegi Park should be beautiful two weeks from now.|
|This is snow from last weekend. It's snowing heavily again today (14 February).|
4) Ikegami Baien is a plum orchard behind the famous Ikegami Honmon-ji, the temple where Nichiren is said to have died, in Ōta-ku. It should be better known, but for whatever reason it gets very little attention in the English media. I've been there a few times, but without my camera. (I travel lightly, and often go walkabout without my Canon.) I managed to find photos taken YEARS ago, when I still had a tiny compact camera and very little skill with it.
5) There are two places that I haven't visited yet because they're out of the way and I don't want to waste a day on bare branches, but I'll hop over later this month and report back: Mogusaen in Hino and Yoshino Baigō in Ōme. I've wanted to go to the latter for many years, because it has 1200 trees and 80 varieties, but it's never worked out. This year I'm determined to get there.
That's it. Wait another week or two, dress warmly, take some umeshu for encouragement, and compose a few poems. That's what you're supposed to do while viewing plum blossoms. It's all very cerebral and intellectual and erudite.
Ume no hana
Sore to mo miezu
Amagiru yuki no
The blossoms of the plum
Do not appear to be themselves
For they are blanketed
With clouds of falling snow
That swirl from the distant sky
* The poem is included in the Kokin Wakashū (古今和歌集, Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times).
|This is what the balcony looked like on the day of the walkpedition.|
|Hiking boots: my trusty walkpedition partners, come rain, sun or snow.|
|Plum branches at Ushi Tenjin Kitano|
|Sacred plum tree (hence the rope) at Ushi Tenjin Kitano|
|More beautiful than cherry blossoms?|