Ume, the plum blossom like a miracle in the heart of Japanese winter

Ume , the vegetable jewel of winter in Japan

Hanami, literally "looking at flowers", is the ancient Japanese custom of contemplating the beauty of flowers. Its autumnal counterpart is M omijigari, the observation of the changing colors of leaves. And yes, everything always has a very specific name in Japan ;)

If the cherry blossom is today the star of Hanami in Japan, it was not always this way. Older generations preferred to contemplate Ume flowers. Ume , plum blossoms (also called Japanese apricot trees) originate from China and were imported to Japan around 1500 years ago. These flowers bloom during January to early March, are very fragrant and range from white, pink to purple/red (cherry blossom is only white or powder pink). The Ume are a bit of a miracle in the heart of winter, because we can contemplate them on harsh winter days and sometimes even under the snow, when the plant world is still asleep.

They are the stars of my latest collection :)

I'll let you admire them:

Ume plum blossoms

Ume plum blossoms

Ume plum blossoms

Japanese culture and flowers

Symbolism and representations of Ume, Sakura, Momo flowers in traditional Japanese culture

Three flowers are particularly symbolic in Japan: Ume (plum blossoms), Momo (peach blossoms) and Sakura (cherry blossoms).

Let's start with the first flower to bloom in the year: Ume, the plum blossom. This flower has many meanings in Japanese culture. Ume are first of all associated with good fortune, health, life force: they are vigorous enough to hatch in the heart of winter. They are also considered talismans against evil spirits (like many Japanese symbols). Finally, they are also a symbol of elegance and dignity. Personally, it's my favorite :)

This flower is generally represented as rounded with regular pistils.

Ume meaning in Japanese culture

Momo , the peach blossom is represented with the tips of the petals, a little pointed, in the shape of a drop of water. Fishing in Japan is at the heart of many folk tales and stories, notably the myth of Izanami who escapes from the world of the dead by throwing peaches at his pursuers. This is also the case with the legend of Momotarô , a Japanese folk tale which tells the story of a child born from a peach, capable of defeating demons.

Momo peach blossoms

Let's finish with THE flagship flower of Japan, both for foreigners and for the Japanese themselves: the cherry blossom. The cherry blossom truly marks the arrival of spring and sunny days. Nowadays, the Japanese gather in parks to picnic, meet up with family or friends while admiring the cherry blossoms. The full bloom of Sakura only lasts a few days, which makes these flowers the very personification of ephemeral beauty. This brief moment reminds us of the short duration of life and the importance of savoring every moment of it. The Sakura also marks the beginning of a new cycle, new horizons. Indeed, the month of April is a pivotal month in Japan: month of back to school, of a new fiscal year, of hiring. It's the month of new promises :)

The cherry blossom is a strong national symbol even if it does not appear in any institution or official document (it is the chrysanthemum which appears on Japanese passports). Japanese leaders regularly offer cherry blossoms during important diplomatic trips

Even if at first glance all these flowers look the same, it is very easy to differentiate the Sakura from the others: the tips of the petals are always split.

Symbolism of sakura in Japanese culture

Let's finish with this seasonal Haiku ( Satomura Shôha, 1602)
What don't I have a paintbrush
Who can paint the plum blossoms
With their scent!

Some links to explore the subject in more depth:
This blog article by Bénédicte, a French woman living in Fukuoka for around ten years, her site is a well of science for anyone interested in Japan.
Please note that it is also possible to celebrate Hanami if you are in Paris, the Parc de Sceaux has 150 Japanese cherry trees, see you in April for this magical spectacle!