The best among blossoms is the red plum, whether light or dark in color. As for the cherry, the blossoms should be on slender branches, the petals large and the leaves deeply colored.

—Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book

Ume are Japanese apricot trees (commonly translated as “plum”). The blossoms are the first signs of spring in Japan. The trees bloom in late February and early March—about a month earlier than the famous cherry blossoms—so you must wrap up against the cold to enjoy them. On the final days of winter, plum blossom trees require you to have some fortitude to sip sake while sitting under their branches and gazing up.

Taura Bairin Sign
Photo: Sign facing the highway from the top of the Taura Bairin (plum orchard), kanji for bai/ume (plum).

Taura Bairin flags
Photo: Banners directing visitors through the streets of Taura to the orchard.

The Taura Bairin is on top of a steep hill above the town. The first 50 meter climb is straight up an irregularly spaced set of stairs. The top of the orchard is at 127 meters. It’s not an easy stroll to see the trees, but once you are up there, the view is magnificent.

Taura Bairin

Unlike cherry blossoms, plum blossoms have a fragrance: a delicate and distinctive perfume of tea rose, talcum powder, and pink bubblegum.

Taura Bairin

Taura Bairin
Photo: View of the orchard on February 22, a bit too early for the full show. Only some trees are in full bloom.

We hope to get back there on Sunday to see how the trees have developed.