Arriving in Japan a little too early for cherry blossom viewing? Traveling in February and March? Not to worry – the plum blossoms, tulips, and other vibrant blooms will leave you feeling like you haven’t missed a thing!
Japan’s Early Spring Flowers
Everyone knows that Japan is home to amazing cherry blossoms each spring, but what should you do if you arrive a little too early for “sakura season”? It turns out flower lovers have nothing to fear, because there are some beautiful blooms that burst onto the scene far before the cherry blossoms every year! From pretty pink blossoms with petals even more vibrant than a cherry tree’s, to huge fields of flowers big and small, travelers visiting Japan in February and March have plenty of options when it comes to flower gardens and sculpted parklands. Visit in the early months of the year to see spring turn Japan from wintery grey to a living rainbow!
① Plum Blossoms at Ibaraki’s Kairakuen Garden
Long before cherry blossoms became a symbol of Japan, sophisticated aristocrats in ancient Japan would while away the hours each spring admiring the plum blossoms instead! These little flowers look quite similar to cherry blossoms in many ways, with little clusters of pink petals standing out against dark tree branches, but they come in a wider range of colors, from bright white to deep magenta. And fortunately for anyone arriving at the end of tail end of winter, plum blossom season tends to last throughout February and March!
One of the best places to see plum blossoms in Japan is Kairakuen Garden, found in the little city of Mito, Ibaraki. Widely considered one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan,” Kairakuen is famous for its plum groves with more than 3,000 trees! The staggered blooms of the garden’s 100 different varieties of plum tree lead to beautiful flowers throughout the end of winter and beginning of spring, but many people choose to visit during the Mito Plum Blossom Festival, when booths are set up alongside the flowers offering plum snacks and souvenirs, plus plenty of Japanese plum wine called “umeshu” (梅酒).
② Canola Flowers at Chiba’s Narita Dream Farm
Canola, also called rapeseed, is widely used around the world to produce much of the vegetable oil used in cooking every day. But in Japan, this plant isn’t just known for its useful neutral oil, but also for the brilliant yellow flowers that bloom all the way from February through May each year! Forget the elusive cherry blossom tree, which blooms for a few ephemeral weeks before raining petals to the ground. The bright and cheerful yellow of the canola plant lasts throughout the spring, welcoming all flower lovers to enjoy the broad swathes of intense yellow petals.
Little patches of canola can be found blooming in gardens and parks around Japan, but the best way to enjoy the little flowers is to see them on a grand scale. Narita Dream Farm (found in the same city of Narita that gives the airport its name) is one of a handful of places in Japan that lets guests enjoy huge fields of canola in bloom – a dream come true for anyone who’s ever imagined frolicking in a field of flowers. You too can run through the waves of yellow blooms like a farm girl in a period film! Narita Dream Farm is also a functioning ranch, so visitors can meet the goats, sheep, and cows before trying soft-serve ice cream made with the cows’ milk!
③ Tulips (and More!) at Shizuoka’s Hamamatsu Flower Park
Tulips aren’t just for the Dutch anymore – Japanese gardens have taken on the multicolored madness of the tulip, and made them their own. The tulip arrived in Japan at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868), but didn’t become popular for a number of years, and it took decades before they really caught on. It’s a good thing the flowers stuck around, though, because gardeners eventually started creating gorgeous meadows of the flowers in all shapes and colors. Tulips don’t usually bloom quite as early as some of Japan’s other early spring flowers, but when the rainbow of reds, yellows, and other vivid tulip colors starts to appear in March, it’s a sure sign that warm weather is on its way.
Generous plots of tulips in every color, clusters of daffodils, big bushes of camellias, a huge greenhouse featuring rare black irises, and even some early-blooming cherry blossoms – Hamamatsu Flower Park in Shizuoka Prefecture has all you could want from a botanical garden in March, and more! The sprawling park with its massive “Crystal Palace” greenhouse have flowers blooming throughout the year, but the Lake Hamana Flower Festival provides a great excuse to go see tulips and much more each spring.
Everything You Need to See the Flowers
With so many beautiful flowers blooming even before the start of spring each year, it’s easy to get excited about seeing the flowers as soon as the sun starts to shine at the end of winter. But before you jump on the plane to see all of Japan’s most beautiful plum blossoms, tulips, and golden fields of canola, you’ll want to consider the weather. February and early March can be full of unexpected weather, up and down Japan, including both warm weather fantastic sunny days with low temperatures, brought on by surprise cold fronts. So we have some nifty Japanese items that you can get before you even leave for Japan, that will keep you comfortable in the unpredictable almost-spring weather! You can dress up in the trendiest Japanese fashion or the most classic kimono so long as you choose some smart accessories! We like this shoulder bag from Urban Research, which has a padded pocket lined like a down coat, so you can use it as a hand warmer! (Extra effective if you buy a chemical hand warmer and keep it in the pocket with your hands.) You’ll also want to bring some kind of neckwear that can work well with changing temperatures, like this compact scarf from Graniph which can easily fold up and fit into your bag if you start to get a little too warm. Another options is this gauzy scarf in spring colors from Uchino, which is made from layers of marshmallow-soft cotton, which works well in cold weather but is breathable enough for the warmth of a sunny afternoon. And when you want to toss on one more extra layer, this simple linen coat from Nakagawa Masashichi can go on over everything else to add a little extra warmth! Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from accessorizing for this early flower viewing with a whole variety of plum blossom accessories! (These ones from Minne are generally handmade, too!) With all that, you’ll be ready to stay cozy during the final days of winter, without overheating. So get a head start out there and see some of Japan’s loveliest parks and gardens – the flowers are waiting!
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