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Plum Viewing in Nara 2024

Why Plums?

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Born in the depths of winter, Japanese plum blossom symbolizes vitality, hope and renewal.

The plum has and continues to play an important role in Japanese culture. They remind us that the promise of spring is just around the corner.


Originating around the Yangtze River in the south of China, the plum tree was introduced to Japan over 1300 years ago and plum blossom viewing soon became a popular past time of the nobility during the Nara period (710–794) until the Heian period (794–1185) when the cherry blossom was preferred.


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There are several plum groves in Nara that have breathtaking views, but there's no getting away from the fact that February in Nara can be bitterly cold. One way to enjoy the plums and stay relatively warm is by attending plum bonsai exhibitions.



 


15 minute walk south of Yamato Saidaiji Station, located just around the corner from Kikou-ji Temple, lies Sugawara Tenmangu Shrine, a small shrine with a simplistic charm.


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Every year from early February to early March they hold a plum bonsai exhibition showcasing over 150 trees. Half of the exhibition is outdoor, the other half, which is more impressive, is indoors.

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The outdoor exhibition snakes back and forth to the side of the main hall and culminates at the at the entrance of the indoor exhibition.


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The whole hall is full of the wonderful fragrance of plum blossoms.

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The exhibition is open from 9am - 4 pm daily and costs ¥500 to enter.


 

Plum trees in bloom lack the volume of their sakura counterparts, but as these pictures hopefully attest, plum blossoms are just as beautiful.




The shrine is about a 20 minute walk form Kintetsu Yamato Saidaiji Station and has a small free car park which is big enough for only 3 cars.




Tenmangu & Plums

All across Japan, there are literally hundreds of shrines with "Tenmangu" in their names and any such shrine is dedicated to the sprit of Sugawara no Michizane. Michizane was a scholar born in 845 in Kyoto and famed for his love of plums trees, poetry skills and his ultimate exile.

Once a high ranking government officer, Michizane was demoted and finally exiled due to the slander and deceit of his rivals in the Fujiwara clan. Despite the subsequent hardships, Michizane continued his scholarly pursuits with the aim of preserving his character.


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After Michizane's death, a succession of plague, drought, rainstorms, floods and sudden royal deaths rocked the nation. These were attributed to the angry spirit of Michizane. To appease his vengeful soul, the imperial court built a Shinto shrine in Kyoto, called it Kitano Tenman-gū and dedicated it to him. His title and office were posthumously restored and he was eventually deified as Tenjin-sama, or kami of scholarship.

The many shrines around Japan dedicated to him are beacons for young students praying for success in their exams and decorate their grounds with plum trees to honour him.


Here is one of Michizane's famous poems written in 901, just before his exile. In it, he expresses his deep sorrow at no longer being able to admire the plum trees in his Kyoto residence.


When the east wind blows,

flourish in full bloom, you plum blossoms!

Even though without your master don't be oblivious to spring.


東風(こち)吹かば

にほひ(匂い)おこせよ

梅の花

主(あるじ)なしとて

春を忘るな



 


Koriyama Castle Plum Bonsai Exhibition

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This year will be the castle's 19th plum bonsai exhibition. The castle grounds already boast an array of plum and sakura trees which have long enticed local people to visit in their droves during the spring. Now, visitors can also enjoy an impressive collection on plum bonsai trees inside the castle keep. A very rare treat, even for Japan.


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The exhibition extends through 2 buildings, with the final building housing a few bonsai trees over 2m in height. When leaving the final exhibition building, there is an outside area where you can get a free warm cup of tea and peruse the popup stalls selling plum bonsai trees and local produce such as vegetables and honey.



Within the grounds there is also a 'Sky Platform' which offers a nice view of the city. You can see as far as Yakushi-ji Temple, Mt. Wakakusa and southwards over the Nara basin.



Entrance into the castle grounds is free, but there is a charge for the exhibition. It's ¥500 yen for adults and free for kids under elementary school age.


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The castle is just a 10 minute walk from Kintetsu Yamato Koriyama Station and the castle also has a a small car park that is free to use, with approximately enough space for 7 or 8 cars.






 


 February Plum Blossoms Viewing in Nara Prefecture 2024

From late February (usually the last week) and into mid to late March is the best time for plum blossoms in western Japan.  The custom of enjoying the plum blossoms dates back to the Nara period predating sakura. Even though the popularity of sakura overtook that of plum, plum blossoms have retained a sense of beauty, hope and renewal in places such as Nara and Kyoto. Places to enjoy the plum blossoms in Kyoto include Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, the Imperial Gardens, and Nijo Castle.  However, the Kataoka Bairin plum grove in Nara Park is a less crowded option with a hundred or so trees. You can also find a few plum blossom trees around nearby Ukimido Gazebo.



 Tsukigase and Ano Plum Blossom Groves

Nara’s most famous plum blossom grove, however, is out in the countryside, namely the Tsukigase plum groves (月ヶ瀬梅林). Access to Tsukigase is either by car or bus from JR Nara or Kintetsu Station. From JR west exit, catch the No. 94 or 95 bus. The nearest stop to the tourist office is Tsukisebashi (月瀬橋) near the bridge but you can also view a walking map online.


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Another large plum grove area, although more remote, is the Ano (賀名生) Plum Grove in Gojo City. To access Ano plum groves, take the JR Wakayama Line to Gojo Station, and then a Nara Kotsu bus bound for Shingu (新宮), Totsukawa Onsen (十津川温泉), or Jodo (城戸). Get off at Ano Wada Kitaguchi (賀名生和田北口). The ride is about 20 minutes.



 

Author: NARA Visitor Center & Inn

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