Shimizu Park in Noda City is locally famous for its many flower festivals. In the bitter cold of January, gardeners shelter peonies under thatched shelters to stave off the cold and warm visitors' hearts. But out in the grove on the west side of the park, the harbingers of spring are plum trees that perfume the air with their sweet scent.
Today, when people think of hanami, flower viewing, they imagine cherry blossoms blowing in the breeze, or illuminated by the light of the moon. But long before cherry blossoms came to be celebrated in Japan, it was the plum that was revered. In the Nara Period, over a thousand years ago, plums were celebrated with parties and poetry. In the Heian Period, cherry blossoms became a more popular subject of hanami events.
However, the plums still bloom and their sweet fragrance and great variety of colors and shapes still bring people out of doors on frosty February mornings to stroll, take photos and inhale. Plum blossoms don't attract huge crowds as cherries do, so you can enjoy the fragrance and lovely colors at a sedate pace at Shimizu Park.
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You will see many of my stories on Japan Travel are about places and events outside of big city centers and tourist destinations. While I highly recommend the big name sights and experiences, I encourage visitors to see and feel the atmosphere off the beaten path, too.