While the cherry blossoms, azaleas and tulips (along with the hay fever sneezing!) are still sometime off, the first of spring's flower spectacles begins in February with the "ume", or Japanese plum tree. Ibaraki is blessed with several good viewing points, including the nationally famous "Kairakuen" in Mito, which is one of the traditional "big three" gardens in all of Japan. The weather will affect when the "ume" are at their peak, but typically it is during the first or second week of March, though this year the annual bloom has begun early.
If Mito is a bit far for you to go, Tsukuba has several nice displays of "ume" as well. Top on the list are the "bairin" (plum orchard) on Mt. Tsukuba, which has about 3000 trees in some 30 varieties. If you drive up the main road leading up to the resort town halfway up the mountain, several hectares of plum trees are located on the left side of the road a few hundred meters before you reach the town. There is a nice sized parking lot that is free, and it is a short walk up the path from there to the trees. There are also buses from the bus center going up to the Tsukuba San Jinja (Shrine). For details on the buses, see the city's Tsukuba Newsletter.
Mt. Tsukuba hosts the "Ume Matsuri" from Feb. 14 through March 21, with special events on weekends. The following is a list of events scheduled for Mt. Tsukuba on 2/17, 2/24, 3/3, 3/10, 3/17, and 3/21. On these days, free sweet "sake" (rice wine) and plum tea samples are offered, along with "ohanashi" talks and outdoor tea ceremonies, festival music, monkey shows, etc.
In town, you will find some nice plum trees on the small island in Matsumi Park that are worth a visit. Also, on the grounds of the traditional farmhouse next to the Expo Center are a couple of nice trees that bloom early, usually about mid-February. They are on your left (west side) as you face the planetarium at Expo Park. The farm house display is open every day except Mondays, and is worth a visit anytime just to sip a cup of traditional Japanese tea and see how rural Japanese lived a couple hundred years ago.
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