*In celebration of seeing my first plum blossom of the year this morning on the way to work, here is a little guide for aficionados^^
The history of Mito’s Plum Blossoms starts over a thousand years ago, in China. Though there are some native varieties, most types of plum blossom were imported from China through diplomatic ties over a long period of time. However, they were first brought to Kyushu, and spread from there to the other islands.
Thanks to Japan’s love of Chinese culture during that period, plum blossoms soon became a mainstay of many aristocratic gardens and a central theme in poems, paintings, music, and architecture. In fact, it wasn’t until the Japanese imperial court was moved to Kyoto during the Heian period that cherry blossoms gained popularity; prior to that, Japan’s famous flower was decidedly the plum blossom.
Long celebrated as the harbinger of spring, plum blossoms start to bloom around the end of January, depending on the variety. Due to the overwhelming selection of trees in Mito’s Kairakuen Park, 3000 trees of 100 different varieties, unlike with cherry blossoms there is no one peak viewing period. Each variety comes into bloom at is own time, meaning that from the moment of the first bloom to the end of March there is usually a vast number of different colors and levels of bloom.
Among the 100 varieties on display at Kairakuen Park, 6 have been designated as Mito’s 6 Famous Flowers. After studying and evaluating all the trees in the park, scholars in 1934 based their decision on flower shape, fragrance, color, and other criteria to narrow down the 100 types to 6 that would be representative of the beauty of the city.
In no particular order, they are the five-petalled, light pink Rekkobai; the rounded, pure white Shironaniwa; the cloud-shaped, faintly yellow Tiger’s Tail; the five-petalled, yellow-white Moon Shadow; the ruffle-like deeply pink Konanshomu; and the curving, pinkish-white Yanagawashidare.
In addition, similar to Sado and Ikebana, rules were developed to help further the appreciation of the flowers among visitors.
1. Stand before the entrance gate and straighten your posture, calm your thoughts.
2. Enter the park while the morning mists still linger.
3. Trace the entire outline of the plum forest with your eyes. Then walk the small paths between the trees, feeling their breath.
4. Look to the branches and caress each bloom with your eyes. Learn to see the beauty of each of the 100 varieties.
5. Search out older trees. Those with trunks that crawl over the ground, elongating into spectacular curves, with glistening black bark are called Dragon Plums/Iron Trunks, and will help you feel the flow of time and the beat of life.
6. Slowly approach the tidy little blossoms and take a deep breath… Let the delicate fragrance spread to every inch of your body, and enjoy the sense of bliss it brings.
7. Leave through the exit gate, and enjoy the passage of time with a serene spirit.
Whether you choose to follow the rules is, of course, up to you. Just as there are many varieties of flower, there are surely many ways to enjoy them. Which means there are that many more reasons to visit again.