When the spring wind begins to blow, plum trees heralding the coming of the cherry blossom season, burst into bloom at Okura-yama Park. About 200 plum trees covering 1100 square meters gradually open, and make the park a very pleasant place to hang out. Although there are many noted sites for plum blossoms in the Kanto area, Okura-yama is the easiest place to access from Tokyo or Yokohama. You can fully enjoy the flowering of the elegant plum tree here from mid-February to mid-March.
Okura-yama is on the Toyoko Line and takes less than 30 minutes from Shibuya Station and only 10 minutes from Yokohama Station. In 1932 a Japanese business owner who was also president of Toyo University, Kunihiko Okura, established the Okura-yama Research Institute and built several buildings on the site. The entire area is 69,000 square meters, including the plum tree grove. Most of the buildings from that time don’t exist anymore except for the main hall. It is called Okura-yama Memorial Hall and has been owned and managed by Yokohama city since 1981. The city repaired the Hall and then within it opened meeting rooms, a library, a concert hall, and art gallery. The building was designed in the pre-Helenic style, which was in accord with Okura’s own personal philosophy.
Different from cherry trees, plum blossoms can be in bloom for a few weeks. Even if you make careful plans to come to Japan for the cherry blossom season, you might miss it; because cherry blossoms bloom suddenly, stay in bloom for only a week, and then fall to the ground on one quick, windy day! On the other hand, the tough yet elegant plum blossom tends to stay on the tree for a much longer period of time. Each variety has its own time to bloom, and then stays with us for around a month or so.
Okura-yama Park has about 20 kinds of plum trees. For example, Shiro-kagahas simple white flowers and (for Japan) big fruit. It is good for making plum liqueur. Ryoku-gaku-bai has light greenish-white flowers. Kan-ko-bai blooms earlier than the others, and each of its flowers has eight gorgeous pink petals.
Enjoying a picnic under the plum trees
The Okura-yama Park plum garden is a popular spot for picnic-goers, especially (of course!) during the plum blossom season. Here you will find people sitting on the ground enjoying the flowers, food and chatting. Some food stands are open during the period. There, you can buy bowls of udon and soba noodles, sweet cups of hot amazake, and so on. People spread out their own plastic mats on the grass and eat, drink, and play games.
My husband and I went for a stroll in the park on a warm sunny day. We brought some pastries, snacks and drinks with us. From an ideally located park bench we enjoyed people watching and had a pleasurable time. The aroma of the plum’s sweet fragrance floated around us in the air.
Plum blossoms are the first sign of the end of winter. How would you like to participate in plum blossom viewing among people who are already excited about the coming of Japan’s real superstar—cherry blossoms in spring?!