While the ephemeral beauty of Japan’s springtime cherry blossoms (known as sakura) is talked about the world over, the equally stunning plum blossoms (ume in Japanese) often slip under the radar. Typically plum blossoms come into bloom from late February, while sakura season is closer to the end of March, but in many ways these two blossoms are hard to tell apart. If you time it just right, then you can enjoy both of these fabulous varieties of flora at the same time.
The Japanese tradition of hanami (so-called “flower viewing”) dates back to the Nara period (710–794). Though hanami is now synonymous with sakura, the custom actually began with people admiring plum blossoms. Ota City, whose official flower is the plum blossom, boasts an impressive selection of lesser-known spots where you can appreciate ume and sakura in all their glory without battling the crowds. The following itinerary offers a rundown of some of Ota’s prime hanami locations.
Start your day in style at Umeyashiki Park, where plum trees have been growing since the Edo era (1603-1868) and Emperor Meiji is said to have been a frequent visitor. The name Umeyashiki means “House of Plums” and the park grounds, which served as an Imperial villa during the late 19th and early 20th century, are home to 71 white and 32 red plum trees.
> Umeyashiki Park is a 5-minute walk from Umeyashiki Station on the Keikyu Main Line.
Ikegami Honmon-ji Temple
Located three kilometers northwest is Ikegami Honmon-ji Temple with its surrounding parkland. The temple hosts a magnificent array of 400 cherry blossom trees – the most of any park in Ota City. Admire abundant pink flowers against the backdrop of a breathtaking five-storied pagoda that was originally built in 1608 and is now designated an Important Cultural Property. A top tip is to head to nearby Ikegami Kaikan’s garden rooftop to get a fantastic bird’s-eye views of the blossoms.
> Ikegami Honmon-ji Temple is a 15-minute walk from Ikegami Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line.
Ikegami Baien (Plum garden)
Wander for a few minutes behind Ikegami Honmon-ji and you reach Ikegami Baien, a hillside plum orchard with around 370 plum trees of 30 different varieties. The fragrant red and white flowers covering the slopes create a picturesque scene, perhaps in part because the orchard was previously home to an artist’s studio. There are also two traditional tea rooms located in the park that you can visit.
*Ikegami Baien is open from 9am until 4:30pm (last entry 4pm), and admission is 100 yen for adults, and 20 yen for children aged 6-15 years.
> Ikegami Baien is a 10-minute walk from Nishi-Magome Station on the Toei Asakusa Line subway.
Magome-sakura-namiki Street (Cherry)
Leave Ikegami Baien and walk northeast for 10 minutes to reach Magome-sakura-namiki Street, and Magome-sakura-namiki, a peaceful street lined with around 90 cherry trees. Pick up some tasty street food from roadside vendors to enjoy while strolling under the exquisite pink blossoms. You may also be lucky enough to catch Magome Bunshimura Sakura Festival, where traditional and modern dance performances are staged under the trees.
> Magome-sakura-namiki Street is an 8-minute walk from Nishi-Magome Station on the Toei Asakusa Subway Line.
Senzokuike Pond (Cherry)
Finally, finish your day out with a trip to Senzoku Pond. Here you can give your feet a rest and appreciate 250 or so cherry blossom trees scattered around the surrounding parkland from the comfort of your very own paddle boat.
> Senzoku Pond is a 2-minute walk from Senzoku-ike Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line.