Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

February 20, 2008

Plums and paintings in Atami

Thanks to its balmy climate (and the fumes from its hot springs), the plum trees in Atami are among the first to bloom in the wider Tokyo area. So for early flowering trees visit this resort town and after tearing yourself loose from the steaming baths, head for the area just west of the town where you will find the Atami Baien (Atami Plum Tree Garden).

[Atami Baien]

Atami Baien was opened in 1886, so its 730 plum trees representing 64 varieties are already of venerable age. The garden was established by a wealthy merchant from Yokohama, who as a dutiful subject two years later donated it to the Imperial House. As imperial property, it was for a long time shielded from the unruly masses, until in 1947 the park was given to the state, and in 1960 became the property of the City of Atami.

[Atami Baien]

The park lies in a beautiful spot, a valley in a mountainous area, and there are five bridges and even a waterfall called "Plum View." Unfortunately, I did not find it in a very pristine state, as there were too many visitors and above all, the smell of the scorched squid from the yatai stands chased away the delicate fragrance of the plum blossoms...

[Atami Baien]

But you should still go to Atami in plum blossom time, if not for the real blossoms, then for the painted ones. You will find these in the famous MOA Museum of Art, in the form of the Red and White Flowering Plum Trees, a pair of two-panel screens by Ogata Korin (1658-1716). According to a tradition that is undoubtedly unreliable, that painting is based on a real plum tree in the Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto.

[Plums in the garden of the MOA Museum, Atami]

The MOA Museum has great paintings, ceramics, Buddhist statues, a copy of the Golden Teahouse of Hideyoshi, a reproduction of the mansion of Ogata Korin in a nice garden, and a great view of the bay of Atami from huge windows. The best time to visit is February, the only period the Korin screens of red and white plum blossoms are shown AND when the plum trees outside in the real world are also blossoming. The combination of painted trees and real trees makes for the perfect trip to Atami!

[MOA Museum]

Atami Baien Plum Blossom Festival
Mid. Jan - Mid. March
Access: A short walk from Kinomiya Station on the JR Ito Line; or bus from JR Atami Station to Baien-mae Bus Stop.
Official Website: Atami Baien (Japanese)
Various events such as koto concerts are held on Saturdays and Sundays during the festival.

MOA Museum of Art
Hours: 9:30-16:30; CL Thurs (except NH), NY
Access: From JR Atami St take a bus to MOA Bijutsukan Bus Stop; or a short taxi ride. Between the museum and the Atami Plum Garden a taxi is the most convenient means of transport. Atami is 50 min by Shinkansen or 1.5 hrs by kaisoku on the Tokaido line from Tokyo.
Official website