Although some trees in Japan will bloom mid-winter, I feel the blossoming plum trees are a true harbinger of spring. The Japanese are fanatical about sakura or cherry blossoms partially due to their ephemeral nature and have parties beneath the blossoms on tarps or blankets. Yet as we walked through Kairakuen in Mito and as lunch time approached we realized that plum blossoms were also an invitation to party and have family picnics on the dry brown winter grass.
There are many species of plum or "ume" trees in Japan. They present a variety of blossom pastel colours from red to pink to white in single or double flowers. The fragrance is subtle, but incredible.
The park opened in 1842 thanks to the efforts of the ninth daimyo (lord) of Mito area whose name is Nariaki Tokugawa. The park was designed for commoners as well as nobility. It incorporates the plum trees as well as a sugi (cedar, actually cryptomeria family) forest, a well maintained open bamboo forest (unlike some of the tangles seen near our current home) and a number of other flowers.
To see photographs in Picasa use the following link Kairukuen Plum Garden.