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

March 1, 2013

Plum Blossoms in Kyoto Gyoen National Garden

"Gyoen" is the name for the part of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto that is always open to the public, the park so to speak that surrounds the Gosho and Sento Gosho Palaces and other buildings. The important point to note is that historically this was not a park, but that the area was filled with the mansions of the noblest families of Japan, aristocrats who served at the Imperial Court and from among whose daughters consorts for the emperors were selected. That were families as the Kujo, the Saionji, etc.

Ume in Kyoto Gyoen
[Kyoto Gyoen. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Their residences were situated inside the palace enclosure, surrounding the palace proper. After the emperor moved to Tokyo in 1868, those families followed him and their residences were dismantled. Of course, these mansions also had great gardens and some of the trees in the Gyoen Park are indeed very old; others were newly planted.

Ume in Kyoto Gyoen
[White plum blossoms in Kyoto Gyoen. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

After WWII, Kyoto Gyoen was turned into a public park. With its abundant and beautiful green trees and lawns, Kyoto Gyoen is an easily accessible place to enjoy the changes of the seasons: from plum trees to peach trees, and from cherry blossoms to autumn foliage.

Ume in Kyoto Gyoen
[Plum blossoms in Kyoto Gyoen. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

The plum trees stand in the southwestern corner, just north of the Kaninnomiya Mansion Site, where the walls and gate of the old compound have been rebuilt (inside is a hall where often small exhibitions are held). There are about 300 plum trees, intermingled with other, stately old trees. Blossoming time is usually the last week of February and the first week of March. Next to the plum garden is an area where peach trees have been planed; these blossom in mid-March. The beautiful weeping cherries, in their turn, stand in the northwestern corner of the park.

Ume in Kyoto Gyoen
[Wintersweet (Cimonanthus) in Kyoto Gyoen. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Among the normal plums also stand a few low trees of the wintersweet (cimonanthus), a plant which like the plum came to Japan from China. It produces a deliciously, sweet scent and flowers somewhat earlier than the plum tree. In Japan it is called robai (蝋梅), so also written with the character for plum, although it is an entirely different tree.

Admission: free.
For seeing the plum blossoms, the most convenient station is Marutamachi on the Subway Karasuma Line.