Popularity of Ume blossom (Japanese plum blossoms, or more accurately, Japanese apricot) is small and very few oversea’s people actually know about these trees.
Even though blooming Ume trees are often motives of Japanese/Chinese poetry, drawings, prints and also traditional Japanese tattoo, the most of people cannot distinguish them. Many tattooers or clients when they see a tattoo of blooming Ume tree, they quickly jump to opinium “Ha it’s a sakura trees” (cherry blossoms).
Plum blossoms were favored during the Nara period (710–794) until the emergence of the Heian period (794-1185) in which the cherry blossoms was preferred.
Japanese tradition holds that the Ume functions as a protective charm against evil, so the Ume is traditionally planted in the northeast of the garden, the direction from which evil is believed to come. The eating of the pickled fruit for breakfast is also supposed to stave off misfortune.
Ume trees, as well as sakura, are first two blooming trees in Japan. Of course sakura and Ume do bloom at different times. If you see them in February you know they’re probably plum blossoms, and if you see them in April, they’re probably cherry blossoms.
Ume and sakura, they both bloom before they have any green leaves so a clear undisturbed beauty of these trees is unprecedented. Ume trees have colors in varying shades of white, pink, red or white with pink outline blooms and for me it is a symbol of spring, a hope that cold long winter in Japan is reaching its end. However, quite often, especially in mountain’s villages, you could easily be caught by snowstorm while surrounding by blooming Ume threes.
As much as I like blooming sakura trees, I prefer, especially on drawings, Ume trees. They are much smaller and cuter then sakura trees and they bloom much earlier.
While popularity of sakura trees and obviously also sakura tattoos is huge and world wide, Ume tree blossoms are secret hidden perl of Japan. (Japanese nouns have no grammatical number or gender. So Ume is both singular and plural which means that ume refers to a single plum blossom as well as to several.)
Photos of blooming Ume trees are from famous Yugawara Park, near Odawara Town and from Keenji Buddhist Temple in Tokyo.
Photo by Jan Kucera