Welcome Spring with Ume Viewing

Kansai's No. 1 plum blossom viewing spot

By Alena Eckelmann    - 3 min read

At the Kishu Ishigami Tanabe Ume Orchards in the south of Wakayama Prefecture more than 300,000 ume trees cover the hillsides that stretch out right to the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

In February each year, when the ume trees here are in full bloom, the locals celebrate and hold ume viewing parties, just like you would do for hanami, the cherry blossom viewing.

Long tradition of ume cultivation

The small village of Ishigami is hidden amongst the rolling hills that surround Tanabe City, located south on the Kii Peninsula. It takes a 30 minute drive from the station to reach the settlement of thirty households. Most villagers are ume farmers and their lives evolve around the ume orchards.

Ume cultivation here has a 400 year long tradition. At the beginning of Japan’s Edo Period the local daimyo of the Kishu Tokugawa Clan sought ways to make use of the hillside slopes which were not suited to rice farming and other agricultural purposes and introduced ume cultivation.

Over the centuries Tanabe’s ume farmers have continuously built up their knowledge and skills by working closely with the eco-system at their door steps.

Satoyama and GIAHS

Ishigami Village is a prime example of a satoyama, a rural landscape that consists of patches of mixed forest, rice fields and grasslands, streams and points at the border between mountains and flat land. This particular setting and its environmental conditions have been crucial for the successful ume cultivation here.

In 2016 the Kishu Ishigami Tanabe Ume Orchards, part of the Minabe-Tanabe Ume System, were registered as GIAHS (Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System) by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

GIAHS is a prestigious award for “outstanding landscapes of aesthetic beauty that combine agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and a valuable cultural heritage”. This is exactly what you will find at the Kishu Ishigami Tanabe Ume Orchards.

In 2021 the Kishu Tanabe Promotion Council which promotes the Tanabe ume celebrates its 5th anniversary of having gained the GIAHS recognition. Usually, quite a few events would mark the occasion but unfortunately the Corona pandemic does not allow for public celebrations.

A toast to ume

Did you know that the ume “spirit”, one way or another, has inspired Japan’s ancient poets? Even better, nowadays umeboshi, the sour and salty pickled plum, counts as one of the Japanese superfoods because of its medicinal properties.

Old poems for amusement or newly found health, ume has something to offer on many fronts.

If you don’t like umeboshi, get a bottle of umeshu, wherever you are, and raise a toast to spring at home. A sip or two of umeshu is always refreshing and uplifting! What better way to stay optimistic and celebrate spring!

Getting there

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

More info

Find out more about Kumano Kodo.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Founder of Kii Monogatari, my story and the story of the Kii Peninsula of Japan. Originally from East Germany, I came to Tokyo, via Berlin and London, in 2005. In summer 2011 I moved by choice to remote Kumano in the south of the Kii Peninsula where I live, work and play now, and explore every day.The whole of the Kii Peninsula is a Healing Hub for me with its abundance of forest, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, the ocean, friendly rural communities and sacred places. This is where nature meets spirituality, and tradition meets sustainability, the new paradigm for travel post-pandemic. My deep interest is in Japanese nature & spirituality. I love being in nature, in the forest and in the mountains, and I love spending time at temples and shrines.  I am building my life and my work around these two passions. I am a Licensed Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy) Guide and a Licensed Kumano Kodo and Koyasan Guide. I am also a Licensed Retreat Facilitator and I am planning retreats on the Kii Peninsula. Last but not least, I have been the Japan Travel Partner for Wakayama and Yamagata since the conception of the platform in 2011! These two prefectures are close to my heart because they are the centers of Shugendo, a spiritual tradition of mountain ascetism. I am a Shugendo Practitioner for over ten years now and received Tokudo in 2016 at a Shugendo temple on Yoshinoyama. Please kindly connect via my Facebook Page Kii Monogatari. Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

Join the discussion

Alena Eckelmann Author 7 months ago
Yes, you are right Bonson. Sustainable farming has been practiced in this satoyama environment for centuries, even before sustainability become a buzz word.
Bonson Lam 7 months ago
It would be great to hear more about their sustainable farm practices which will help both the current and future generations.