There is no better time than February and March to visit Kairakuen, the picturesque garden just south of Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, that was built in the 1840s by the seventh daimyo of the Mito clan, Tokugawa Nariaki.
For starters, the 3,000-plus plum trees that Nariaki ordered planted throughout the 13-hectare garden are in full bloom, flooding it in a sea of pink and purple hues. Then there’s the ease of access.
Nariaki’s garden was one of the first in Japan that was designed for use by the public, so, historically speaking, it has always been accessible. But on weekends through March 31 it will be even more so, as JR opens its usually-closed Kairakuen Station on the Joban Line, meaning that visitors from Tokyo can get to the garden by an 80-minute express train right to the front gate.
The opening of the special train station is timed to coincide with the annual Mito Ume (Plum) Festival, which this year is in its 117th incarnation.
Dozens of events will be held throughout the festival, including a shimai Noh dance at the Tokiwa Shrine on Feb. 24, outdoor tea ceremonies on March 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 and 24, and taiko drum performances on March 17.
For further details see www.mitokoumon.com/maturi/ume/ume_info.html