Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Japanese Plum

Japanese Plum
basic information

The Japanese plum or ume (sometimes referred to as a Japanese apricot) has played an important role in Japanese culture for many centuries. It was originally introduced from China.

The plum is associated with the start of spring, because plum blossoms are some of the first blossoms to open during the year. In the Tokyo area, they typically flower in February and March. The event is celebrated with plum festivals (ume matsuri) in public parks, shrines and temples across the country.

Like cherry trees, plum trees come in many varieties, many of which were cultivated by humans over the centuries. Most plum blossoms have five petals and range in color from white to dark pink. Some varieties with more than five petals (yae-ume) and weeping branches (shidare-ume) have also been cultivated. Unlike cherry blossoms, plum blossoms have a strong fragrance.

The actual ume fruit is more sour than the western plum or apricot, and is usually processed in various ways before eaten.

The most popular processed form is the umeboshi, a sour, pickled plum, which is usually enjoyed with cooked rice. Umeboshi is one of the most typical Japanese flavors. Umeshu, a sweet alcoholic beverage made of plums, is also very popular.

Some popular plum spots in and around Tokyo

Kairakuen (Ibaraki Prefecture)
Mito Station, JR Joban Line
Ranked as one of Japan's three finest landscape gardens, Kairakuen features over 3000 plum trees of 100 varieties. A plum festival is held annually from February 20 to March 31. More details
Koishikawa Korakuen (Tokyo)
Korakuen Station, Marunouchi Subway Line
A beautiful Japanese landscape garden in central Tokyo with a few dozen plum trees. An ume matsuri is held from February 14 to March 1, 2009. More details
Kyu Shiba Rikyu (Tokyo)
Hamamatsucho Station, Yamanote Line
A classic Japanese landscape garden with a pond, man made hills and about a dozen plum trees. More details
Hanegi Park (Tokyo)
Umegaoka Station, Odakyu Line
A small park with about 700 plum trees of many varieties. The Setagaya Ume Matsuri is celebrated here on weekends and holidays from February 7 to March 1, 2009.
Yushima Tenjin Shrine (Tokyo)
Yushima Station, Chiyoda Subway Line
A popular shrine among students who wish to pass entrance exams. A plum festival is held annualy from February 8 to March 8, with various events on weekends and holidays.

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