Very important updated added on 18 March 2014: This year is your last chance to visit this garden for probably the next ten years. The trees have been infected by the plum pox virus and will be cut down at the end of this season. That's the bad news. The good news is that the trees aren't in full bloom yet, in other words, you still have two weeks to enjoy their full beauty. My thanks to karellenn for this update. Full story (in Japanese) here.When I look at my schedule for the next two months, I start hyperventilating and whimpering. (The new academic year starts in April.) Then I eat chocolate, tell myself to ganbare, and ruthlessly focus on whatever is the most urgent.
That's yet another excuse for neglecting my blog … and yours!
I meant to write this post a week ago, but I'm writing it now. Not to worry. There's still time to get your honoured selves over to this, the best plum blossom spot in Tokyo, because the blossoms are now in full bloom.
If I say "in Tokyo", I mean Tokyo the metropolitan prefecture, not the 23 central wards. You'll need at least 90 minutes to get to this garden from central Tokyo, but it's worth it, promise. There are many plum gardens in Tokyo and all Tenman-gū shrines have plum trees, but nothing beats the sight of blossom-covered hills.
I'm talking about Yoshino Baigō* (吉野梅郷), a plum garden near Hinatawada Station on the Ōme Line in Okutama. It has 25 000 trees in 100 different varieties. It also gets 300 000 visitors each year, so don't expect to enjoy nature at its finest in tranquility. The garden hosts a plum blossom festival from late February throughout March each year, with booths selling food and regional crafts.
I've read that you need to pay an entrance fee of ¥200, but when I arrived, the entrance booth was unmanned. Should that be unpersonned in PC terms?
I was too early in the season to enjoy the blossoms at their best, but my premature visit had several advantages: the garden was covered in snow, there were enough early-blooming trees to serve as consolation prize, and … hallelujah! … I was completely alone. I walked up and down in glorious solitude, enjoying the snow, ducking under fences and sliding on my butt down muddy slopes in an attempt to capture this:
I wasn't too disappointed that I was too early, since plum blossoms seldom have the mass impact of cherry blossoms. Plum blossoms require a close-up; cherry blossoms need depth.
Then I hit the hills and went for a long, fast, hard hike. (That sounds a bit dirty.) It was my first decent hike-for-hiking's-sake of 2014, and I was extremely aware of my gluteus maximii the next morning – always proof that you had a good workout.
|You'll just have to imagine these trees in full bloom. I couldn't enjoy many|
blossoms, but look at that snow! Yay!
|Again, imagine a pink explosion.|
|Early-blooming varieties. Plum trees never have the mass impact of cherry trees.|
How to get there
Take a Chūō Line Express bound for Ōme Station, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off a few stations later at Hinatawada Station. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the station to the garden. If you're in a hiking mood, there are several trails that lead into the hills, or you could walk along the river to any of the stations further up.
Take note that trains on the Ōme Line run roughly every half hour. If you're scared of primary school groups or garrulous old-timers, take a taxi or hijack a car.
I created this Google Map to show you how to walk to the garden.
* I've again chosen to write headlines without macrons, and again my copy-editor's soul winces. (Read more here.)
|The lantern reads "ume matsuri" or "plum festival".|
|The Tama River near Hinatawada Station, looking towards Okutama Station|
|The Tama River looking towards Ōme Station|
|Plum blossom motif on the bridge|
|You can't get lost: just follow the signs.|
|Plum trees along the way|
|Another early bloomer at a small shrine|
|Plum blossom motif at the shrine|
|Yoshino Baigō covered in early spring snow|
|Up we go!|
|Think pink again.|
|Walking routes in the plum garden|
|Plum blossoms in the village|