Google+ Rurousha 流浪者: Plum blossoms at Kameido Tenjin

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Plum blossoms at Kameido Tenjin

Just to prove that I've really returned to Tokyo – and to get back into a Japan frame of mind – and after all this is a blog about Japan ...

Where wôs I? I've got jet lag. I can't concentrate.

Just to prove that I've really returned to Tokyo, I went to Kameido Tenjin to immerse myself in the fragrance of plum blossoms. That's the best thing about plum blossoms: unlike their famous cherry cousins, they have a sweet scent.

Plum blossoms at Kameido Tenjin. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Long before frivolous cherry blossoms took centre stage, the shy plum blossom was the most highly revered flower in Japan. The Man'yōshū¹ contains 113 poems about plum blossoms; cherry blossoms enjoy far fewer mentions.

A plum blossom is a symbol of beauty and virtue in women. Traditionally, girls were taught to be pure and noble as plum blossoms, and to stand able and proud despite all adversities. The link between the blossom, purity and strength is probably due to its blooming period: in winter, often at the coldest time² of the year, in the midst of snow.


Since it's believed that the plum tree protects you against evil, it's traditionally planted in the north-east of the garden, because evil is believed to come from that direction.

There's a Noh play called Umegae (梅枝, plum branch) about a travelling priest who visits the town of Sumiyoshi. He stops at a house where he sees many splendid dancing costumes. When he asks about their origin, he's told that they were left behind by a dancer named Fuji, who was killed by a rival. The priest feels sorry for Fuji and recites Buddhist prayers for his soul; then the dancer's wife appears as a spirit who performs a classic dance called saibara (催馬楽) for the priest. All this takes place in an idyllic garden where bush warblers sing in plum trees.

Chapter 32 of The Tale of Genji is also called Umegae Here's a print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicting this specific story:


I've written several posts about Kameido Tenjin as well as the scholar Sugawara no Michizane, who's enshrined here. Here’s some of them:




I went to view plum blossoms on Monday. It was too early to enjoy the full spectacle, but several trees are in full bloom. I predict that the blossoms will be at their best this coming weekend, if you want to toddle over. You can check the progress of the blossoms at this site.

Notes
1) The Man'yōshū  (万葉集, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, compiled in the 8th century.
2) I confirm that it's freezing in Tokyo, especially compared to a southern summer. It was 38 degrees Celsius when I left South Africa. I'm suffering, people, I'm suffering.

Approaching the shrine

A trio of Tokyo icons: torii, plum blossoms, Sky Tree


The trellis to the left is a wisteria trellis. It will bloom in April.


Kameido's famous drum bridge with plum branches in the foreground



Rare yellow plum blossoms. Edit added 1 March: Not plum blossoms, but a flower
called ロウバイ or winter sweet. Thanks, Kaori! (See comments below.)



Kameido's omikuji (fortune papers) are pink.

I took this photo for the plum tree next to the shrine. Promise.

I took this photo for the plum trees, too. Promise.

I took this photo for the plum tree. Promise. It's just accidentally out of focus.

I took this photo for the plum ... Oh, never mind.

27 comments:

  1. From what I remember, the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden in Minato has really lovely ume trees. I liked that park a lot, especially since it's not too big and has nice water features. I think going earlier in the day would be better for viewing and photographing the trees there since they end up in shade later on.

    I'm going to have to see if there are any where I am. Thankfully there are a number of sakura trees here, some rather old. Even in the parking lot of a Target near me! But ume, maybe the Japanese Garden here.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I think the best plum garden within relatively easy access of central Tokyo is Ikegami Baien(池上梅園) in Ōta-ku, but the important word is "relatively". I was cold and lazy and jet-lagged (I'm really going to exploit this excuse as much as possible!), so I simply walked to Kameido. ^^

      I've been to Kyū Shiba Rikyū Garden many times, but never for plum blossoms. Thanks for the tip!

      Cherry blossoms in the parking lot? Now there's a good excuse to go shopping! :)

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  2. I can't believe it's this time of year again! It feels like yesterday I was walking around Tokyo taking photos of plum blossoms...

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    1. Dit was laas jaar net so koud! Onthou jy? Good memories. ^^

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  3. Beautiful photos! You are back home, I mean Tokyo at last. I think you have planted longer roots in Japan now and there is nothing wrong with that.

    When you were in South Africa, I bet you were "homesick" too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I was in South Africa, I started missing soy sauce, my deep Japanese bath and Tokyo's trains after a few days! AAARGH! Japan has corrupted me! :D

      You're right: the roots are pretty deep by now.

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  4. Plum blossoms! Spring is on the way!

    I bet you could get nice photos of the... plum blossoms if you went up that tower thingy in your last photo, whaddja think? ;)

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    1. I would definitely get nice photos of plum blossoms if I went up that tower thingy (wonder what it is?) and had a Canon 5200mm F14 Prime Lens. :D

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  5. You took beautiful photos of plum flowers and Sky Tree. And the sky! It's so blue!
    I have plum trees in my garden, but not in the north east. (I didn't know the tradition.)(>_<) Just like me, my trees are very slow. Their buds are still hard and small.

    So you went to Kameido on that cold Monday? After two weeks of hot summer weather? You are such a tough woman.(^^)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Winter is cold, but it does give us a very beautiful sky on clear days. Japan = blue winter sky. Western Cape = blue spring, summer and autumn sky. ^^

      I don't have any plum tree on the balcony, so I'm not protected against this evil cold! Help!

      Yes, I'm tough. I'm from Africa. :p

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  6. Jealous!!!!!!!!

    Though not in envy over you dealing with the cold. heh heh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tell myself I shouldn't complain about the cold too much, because when it stops ... hay fever hell! Ugh. My nose is already twitching, but fortunately I knew what was coming, so I bought cheap OTC antihistamines in South Africa. (You need a prescription and can only get much smaller dosages for the exact same drug in Japan.)

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  7. You returned home? Welcome back to beautiful Japan :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm home and happy, and isn't Japan just great? ^^ Thanks, Cocomino!

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  8. I imagine Japan is over run with tourists during blossom time. I hope to be one of them one day!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. During cherry blossom season, yes, but plum blossoms are generally speaking a fairly subdued affair. I think of cherry blossoms as a Disney musical and plum blossoms as classic dance. ^^

      PS: I hope so, too!

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  9. Thank you for this post, perfect timing.
    Plums deserve their moment in the spotlight. They are the Kings, they tower above that Sky thing. Who wants to watch a Disney musical when you can watch classic dance?

    (To be honest, if I had a free choice, I`d rather watch the cricket, but I now am being fussy. And stupid. I apologise and leave, bowing repeatedly)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I also think of cherry blossoms as cheerleaders and a plum blossom as a shy nerdish brainy girl in a Convent school (secretly having a lurid affair with the parish priest) [in the library].

      Classic dances and libraries are much, much better.

      Cricket?! Ooo. When I was in Cape Town, I drove past the Newlands Cricket Oval and got all nostalgic. I've tried to watch, understand and enjoy baseball. I promise. I really have. It's just ... well ... it's just not cricket!

      PS: Are you watching England vs New Zealand?

      PPS: You should be able to deduce by now that an apology is unnecessary. :)

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    2. Wait. Woa. That Sky thing?! That Sky thing?! Hmph.

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  10. Something about plum blossoms that go so well with temples and shrines...and possibly a certain tall structure? hehe. I love the photos!

    Also, are the yellow plum blossoms ロウバイ? I think they're called Winter Sweet in English? They are my favorite winter flower and I'm so sad I haven't been able to stop by Shinjuku Gyoen to see the blooms this year.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I reserve the right to change my mind, but right now I definitely prefer plum blossoms rather than cherry blossoms. They're shy and subtle; cherry blossoms are hussies. :D

      (I know, I know, come April I'll be spamming everybody with sakura photos. Who can resist them?)

      I didn't know about ロウバイ, but now that I've Googled a bit, I think you're right! Wikipedia says it's not a plum variety, but a different species. They're called winter flower or winter sweet in English.

      Thanks for that extra info! (Damn, woman, it's really good to have you back.)

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  11. The Plum Blossoms are truly beautiful. They have been a bit late in making an appearance here in Gifu due to the cold, but there is an Ume Matsuri at Bairin Koen in Gifu City this weekend, featuring 50 different types of ume blossoms and 1300 trees.

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    1. 1300 trees? I hope you take a photo of every single one! ;)

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  12. Hi! I wrote the difference between plum and Japanese apricot. Please check my reply in my blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Minoru-sensei! I'll check it out! ^^

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  13. Plum blossoms are just gorgeous. *_* And the colors in your photos are amazing - my favorite is the one of the pink blossoms against the blue sky.

    I'm still in the middle of a southern summer myself at the moment! 36 degrees almost every day... I could do with a blast of winter right about now, methinks.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The sky on this particular day was beyond beautiful - a mind-boggling, jaw-dropping, hypnotizing blue.

      36 degrees? Happiness ... provided it's a dry heat and not a humid swamp. I can't wait for summer: my southern bones are aching in this cold!

      We had gorgeous weather last week, but today it's back to a freezing wind. We're now in a period referred to as 三寒四温 (sankan shion) in Japanese: 3 days cold and 4 days warm. Sounds like you could do with this kind of weather? ;)

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