Super Ume - Old Poems and New Health

Getting inspired by visiting the Kishu Ishigami Tanabe Ume Orchards

By Alena Eckelmann    - 4 min read

Did you know that plum blossoms were considered more beautiful than cherry blossoms in the Nara Period (710 to 794) of Japanese history? The current fixation on celebrating cherry blossoms began in the Heian Period (794 to 1192).

Ume, originally from China, was introduced in Japan in the 8th century. This is why ume viewing was so popular around that time.

Furthermore, did you know that umeboshi, the salty sour pickled ume, is considered a superfood? There is an old medical text, written 1,000 years ago, that already mentions the use of umeboshi, the pickled plum, as a medicine.

It is assumed that the knowledge about the umeboshi’s medicinal properties came from China where ubai, a dried smoked plum, had been used to reduce fevers, help to control coughs and to counteract nausea.

Manyoshu and Reiwa Connections

The white flowers greatly inspired Japanese nobility at the time who eternalized them in poetry and art. There are poems about ume throughout the whole Manyoshu, the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves, Japan’s oldest poetry collection. It was published in the 8th century. Imagine, over 100 poems about ume alone!

Our current era name, Reiwa (“Beautiful Harmony”) was inspired by an ume poem in the Manyoshu. In fact, the two Chinese characters that make up the name Reiwa were taken from words in this poem.

The poem is to be found in the section called “Thirty Two Poems on Plum Blossoms”. Here is the poem for you:

It was in new spring, in a fair month,

When the air was clear and the wind a gentle breeze.

Plum flowers blossomed a beauty's charming white

And the fragrance of the orchids was their sweet perfume.

Healthy Plum for Daily Use

While the blossoms left their imprints on people’s artistic mind, the fruits have made it into their bellies. Ume has found its way into Japanese cuisine and in folk medicine for its nutritional and its healing properties for centuries.

The most common medicinal usage now is as umeboshi (ume pickled in salt).

Umeboshi has an alkalinizing effect on the body. In times, when our body’s pH balance is of often disturbed and on the sour end of the pH scale, eating foods that bring our body back into balance is important. Eating umeboshi does the trick!

In addition, umeboshi is also able to neutralize fatigue and stimulates digestion. Well, just the thought of putting one of these salty sour plums in my month makes me wide awake, and once eating, my stomach starts rumbling.

Eating umeboshi might also help to regulate sugar metabolism, help the eliminate toxins and to process excess alcohol. Have you heard the rumor that eating umeboshi is the best hangover cure?

In the Japanese way, you start your day with umeboshi, as part of a healthy traditional breakfast, and you finish the day with a sip of sweet umeshu before dinner. Well, consuming umeshu excessively (easier done than you might think!) might actually undo all the good that comes from eating umeboshi.

In any case, safe your aspirin and your apple, and have some umeboshi instead. As the saying goes: “an ume a day, keeps the doctor away”.

Getting there

If you want to visit an ume orchard, then make your way to Tanabe in the south of Wakayama Prefecture. At the Kishu Ishigami Tanabe Ume Orchards near Tanabe more than 300,000 ume trees cover the hillsides that stretch out right to the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Kii-Tanabe can be reached by JR Kuroshio Train from Kyoto, Shin-Osaka and Tennoji. The Tanabe Tourism Office, located right next to Tanabe Station, provides detailed information.

Usually, a 2.5 hour Charter Taxi/Jumbo Taxi Tour to the Kishu Ishigami Tanabe Plum Orchards is available. You can book at the Tanabe Tourism Office.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Born East of the Wall and South of Berlin, I am celebrating my 15th year anniversary in Japan in May 2020, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the beautiful Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home.I have been a JapanTravel Partner since the conception of the platform in 2011! In Tokyo I worked in market research at AIP Corporation and in business education at JMEC. For the last 10 years I have been a guide for foreign visitors at Venture Japan, on top of being a Freelance Writer and a Business Researcher.  Apart from work, I trained at the Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo and at the Oedo Sukeroku Taiko Dojo for several years each, and I ran the 1st Tokyo Marathon and enjoyed cycling around Tokyo. During the last 10 years I am working with local authorities to improve their hospitality to foreign visitors and I have participated in many monitors as a media representative.  My current interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains, and I love visiting temples and shrines.   I am a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails  and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and licensed guide for Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy).  As a guide for walking tours, I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail and the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage trail.  Being grounded during this COVID-19 crisis, I enjoy gardening, baking bread in my new Japanese bread-maker and going for walks around 'my' village.  Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

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