As the cold of winter finally starts to abate, one flower in particular serves as the herald of spring; the plum blossom, or ume. It is likely that the first ume trees (and probably sakura too) came to Japan from China, where they were adored by the Chinese aristocracy.
Unlike sakura, which are admired for their delicateness, ume bloom right at the end of January when conditions can still be harsh. As such, ume were admired for not only their beauty, but their endurance. Moreover, because of the flower’s dual symbolism, ume became a favorite amongst Japanese poets, authors, and even philosophers. Take for example, the poet known as Wani. During the 4th century, Osaka became the capital of Japan for a short time. When Emperor Nintoku was coroneted, Wani composed and recited the following poem for the new emperor:
難波津に 咲くやこの花 冬ごもり 今は春べと 咲くやこの花
Naniwazu-ni sakuya kono hana fuyu gomori ima ha harubeto sakuya kono hana.
In the port of Naniwa/ This flower, oh how it blossoms/ Dormant all winter/ Now spring has come/ This flower, oh how it blossoms/
Most Japanese literary scholars, as well as the prefecture government of Osaka, agree that the only flower of this poem can only be referring to is the ume. Because of the significance of this poem and its popularity in the Kansai region, Osaka decided to make ume its prefecture flower.
Then of course, there is the esteemed scholar and poet Sugawara no Michizane, later enshrined as Tenjin the god of knowledge. Michizane’s love of the ume was well known, as he frequently referenced the flowers in his poetry. After Michizane was exiled to Kyushu, he composed this piece to express his longing to return to Kyoto.
東風吹かば においおこせよ 梅の花 主なしとて 春を和するな
Kochi fukaba nioi okose yo ume no hana aruji nashi tote haru o wasuruna.
When the east wind blows/ Bring with it the scent of my plum trees/ Though you have lost your master/ Do not forget the spring.
Legend has it that one of his ume trees in Kyoto missed its master so badly, that it uprooted itself and flew to Kyushu to be with him. This became known as the Legend of the Tobiume. Coincidentally, there is an ume tree right next to the main shrine of the Tenmangu shrine in Dazaifu, Kyushu, which the shrine refers to as the Tobiume.
Getting to Kozen Koen
Kozen Koen is one of the best places in Osaka to see ume with roughly 1,400 ume blooming every year. It’s a great place to go for an afternoon, especially a picnic. To get there take a bus from Sakai Higashi Station, which you can get to by riding the Nankai Koya line. If you prefer the JR lines, take the JR Hanwa line, then get off at Tsukuno Station, and take the bus from there. Regardless of which station you arrive at, get on a bus bound for Izumigaoka[泉ヶ丘駅], and get off the Miyayamadai ni-chou[美山台二丁] stop, the park is right across the street from the bus stop.
Coming next time,
Otaku galore, the Nipponbashi Street Festival
The adventure continues…