| John Asano
Plum Blossoms ~ The Stars of Spring at Bairin Park in Gifu City
Plum blossoms, which start to bloom in early January, are a great prelude to spring and bring a splash of color and a wonderful aroma to parks, gardens, and temples around Japan. One of the best places to see them in central Japan is Bairin Park, a short walk from downtown Gifu City in Gifu Prefecture.
Plum Blossoms ~ The Original Stars of Spring
Long before cherry blossoms were in vogue, plum blossoms were the original stars of spring in Japan and the reason why people started hanami (flower viewing parties).
They were introduced to Japan from China during the Nara period (710-794) and are traditionally associated with the start of spring in Japan as they are one of the first blossoms to open. Slowly over time, the cherry blossoms started to take over and surpass the plum blossoms, stealing the spotlight as the spring favorite.
Why Some People Prefer Plum Blossoms to Cherry Blossoms
There are many people both in Japan and abroad who actually prefer the plum blossoms to their spring rivals the cherry blossoms.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, plum blossoms have a strong fragrance that the cherry blossoms just don’t have. You can smell this sweet fragrance in the air as soon as you arrive at Bairin Park. Second, many people prefer the shape of the plum blossom petals to those of the cherry blossoms. Most varieties of plum blossoms have five petals, but there are also some varieties called yae-ume that have more than five petals.
Plum Blossoms at Bairin Park
There are a whopping 1,300 plum trees of 50 different varieties at Bairin Park, making it a fantastic spot to check out the plum blossoms of early spring. Around 700 of the trees have white blossoms and the other 600 have red or pink blossoms, giving you a delightful mix of beautiful colors to enjoy. No other trees are grown inside the park’s plum grove, so you have an unadulterated view of the plum blossoms in spring.
The park started life as a private estate in 1872 before being endowed to Gifu City and becoming a public park. The large, grassed section in the middle of the park is the perfect place to have a picnic and enjoy the smell and sight of the beautiful plum blossoms.
Plum Blossom Festival
The annual Gifu Plum Blossom Festival is held at Bairin Park on the first Saturday and Sunday of March. The festival features a koto (Japanese harp) performance, Bonsai plum blossom displays, and a photography event on Sunday. Unfortunately, the event was canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When to Visit
You can visit the park from January to March and see a different kaleidoscope of colors. The earliest plum blossoms start blooming in mid-January, with most of the trees blooming in February and March. The best time to visit is early March when the majority of plum trees have reached full bloom, just in time for the plum blossom festival.
Points of Interest in the Park
D51 Steam Locomotive
A cool point of interest at the park is the D51 steam locomotive on display, which can be found near the minamimachi entrance. These were built from 1936-1945 for freight transportation in Japan and in the Pacific region.
Ryukoan Temple and Mount Kinka
This fascinating small Buddhist temple is located at the side of the park right up against Mount Kinka. The 329-meter mountain is regarded as being the symbol of Gifu City and is home to Gifu Castle, which sits atop the mountain. Mount Kinka is absolutely stunning in May when its beech trees are in full bloom, turning the whole mountain a golden yellow and earning the mountain its name, which means golden flower.
Admission to the park is free and it is open all year round. Plum blossoms hold a special place in the heart of the Japanese and are a welcome sign that the warmer weather of spring is finally on the way.
How to Get There?
From Nagoya Station take either the JR Tokaido Line to JR Gifu Station or the Meitetsu Nagoya Line to Meitetsu Gifu Station. From Gifu City take a Gifu City Bus heading towards Seki-higashiyama and get off at the Bairin Koen mae bus stop. It takes about 10 minutes and will cost ¥220 (one way). You can also walk to the park from downtown Gifu City in about 20 minutes.