Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Ume

Early Spring Blooms

We enjoyed a relaxing weekend. Saturday, I visited the farmer’s market being held on base. I came away with several treasures, none of them were food! I purchased two antique pieces. One is a chest and the other a tea tansu. I love them and have already incorporated them into our decor.

We also had the opportunity to visit our favorite lunch spot in Kamakura. Barchie’s remains one of our favorites restaurants. We stopped in for lunch on Sunday.

Check out this ingenious idea. I ordered a bbq rib burrito. It was served wrapped in wax paper and sliced in half. As I ate it, I peeled away the wax paper. All the juices dripped out the bottom of the burrito and were collected by the wax paper! Brilliant!

After lunch, we walked around Kamakura. A couple of the white Sakura trees are starting to bloom. Everyone was taking pictures!! We couldn’t resist either!

As you’re reading this, Jennifer, please don’t be alarmed. I took a picture of the pink grove across the pond. This is also where the peony garden is located. The pink Sakura are not blooming yet. They still have about 7-10 days. Plus, there is a lot rain in the forecast this week. The rain will slow down the blooms. I think timing will be perfect for your visit!

In the meantime, please enjoy the early spring blooms. The white Sakura, plum blossoms, and daffodils.

Do You Know Why You’re Here?

Dave and I leave for Hokkaido tomorrow. We will be flying to and staying in Sapporo so we can enjoy the Sapporo Snow Festival. On today’s to-do list was to locate our Chicago winter gear and start packing, mail a few packages at the post office, and charge my train card. Locating our winter gear was pretty easy. With the exception of my hot pink snow pants, everything else has been neatly folded in a large plastic bin in the spare closet. I dug out gloves, hats, and neck gaiters for each of us. My things and our plethora of hand, foot, and body warmers are in the suitcase. I set Dave’s cold weather gear aside so he can sort through them when he gets home.

Once the post office was open, I walked down the hill to mail the packages and then to the train station to charge my train card. It was such a beautiful day and my chores were complete, I had time to goof off!

I decided to hop the train and scout out the status of the plum blossoms at Taura Plum Grove. Last year, I went to see the Taura Plum Grove in early March and the blooms were mostly gone. On the train the other day, I noticed a group of pink plum trees and I wanted to see how far they were from blooming this year.

I climbed the six long flights of stairs giving me a nice burn in my quads!

The Plum trees definitely are not in bloom right now. However, their buds are set nicely and hopefully, the weather will allow them to explode with blossoms in the next couple of weeks.

There were a few trees that had blossoms that were already starting to open.

The close up pictures were fun to take.

There were a few daffodils blooming as well. They will always be my favorite. New beginnings just like Spring.

These were the group I could see from the train. Unfortunately, they are on private property and not part of the park.

As I was walking around at the top of the hill, I noticed a small information hut. As I passed, I greeted the worker with a spirited “Konnichiwa.” He replied the same and then asked me a question in Japanese. Confused, I shook my head and said “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese.” He then asked me, “do you know why you are here?” At his question I was completely laughing on the inside. I know he was trying to ask me, “do you know where you are?” I couldn’t help but think he was about to lead me on some super existential journey. I imagined we would spend the afternoon discussing the meaning of life and before the sunset I would be further along on my path to enlightenment. As my thoughts ran quickly through my mind, I replied, “Hai, I know where I am.” He responded with a smile and nod and said “please take a map to help you find your way.” A map! For my existential journey along the path to enlightenment!?! No, sorry. A map of the park. Please enjoy. Arigatōgozaimas!

Perhaps in two weeks, when our first spring visitor arrives, the blooms will be perfect for a walk through the Plum Grove. I’ll keep my fingers crossed! In the meantime, I’ll be sharing our experiences from our long weekend spent exploring the Sapporo Snow Festival! As always, thanks for reading!

Salty, Sweet and Sour

I had a full house at my English lesson today with my Japanese grandmothers. One of them went to Hakone last weekend and brought us back plum candies. Not to be overshadowed by the Sakura, Ume (Plum Blossoms) are beautiful in the spring. The candies are made from the fruit. From my understanding, the plums are pitted and then pickled with a mixture of salt, sugar, and vinegar. The result, is a gummy, salty, sweet, and sour (tangy) piece of candy. Here is the package. According to Google Translate, it says “Han Hwa” – clearly, no help. 

The plum candy is pictured below. Notice it has a slightly moist texture. To understand the texture, imagine a moist, dried apricot. 

A picture for perspective. They were small, approximately an inch in circumference. They tasted very differently from candy I prefer to purchase (not chocolate). However, in a strange way, they reminded me of natural sour patch kids. 

My grandmothers asked me to describe the taste to them in English. I said, “sweet, salty, and tangy”. They didn’t understand tangy. Tangy to me means my geographic tongue will hurt. That obviously would be lost in translation without me sticking out my tongue. And that would be so weird. Could you imagine? So, to save us all the pain of translating, I went with sour. 

As you can see, I have five remaining. Who would like a sample!?! Tempting, I know! 

Japanese Hotel

Thursday evening, Dave spontaneously suggested we take time to sightsee in Tokyo for the long weekend. The New Sanno was booked, of course, so I made us reservations for a room at the APA Hotel in Asakusa. Asakusa is on the east side of Tokyo. We have not really explored this area yet. We are the blue dot in the photo. 

I used several of the local Facebook pages to select the hotel. It came with good recommendations and the suggestion to bring your own pillows. Haha. Seriously, I wish we would have listened! They are flat! We were provided robes set with crane origami. 

The room is tiny and a great deal. About $85 a night! Besides a bed, window and full bath, it has two pairs of slippers for each of us, a fridge, a place to hang stuff, steam pot, humidifier and a TV. 

Check out all 118 square feet. 

Perfect fit!?! 

The only place for our carry on sized suitcase was in front of the door. Putting the suitcase in front of the door is a bit of a hazard. We therefore had a serious conversation about egress. Dave promised to get us both out in the event of an emergency. Safety is paramount. 

A place to hang stuff. 

Bed. Window. TV. 

The bathroom is adorable. The sink and shower faucet are controlled by the same spot! 

The toiletries were fully stocked. 

Ironically, the only oversized item is the soap, conditioner and shampoo! 

Honestly, it’s part of the Japanese experience. And it’s only for two nights. Tomorrow, I plan on taking Dave to at least seven temples (another Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage) and possibly another two to see Ume Blossoms. In the afternoon, perhaps we can make it to the Tokyo Skytree. My tourist list is long as always! 

Ume or Sakura

This time of year is very special in Japan. It is the beginning of Ume and Sakura season. Ume is the Japanese word for Plum Blossoms. Sakura is the Japanese word for Cherry Blossoms. 

As to be expected, there are Ume and Sakura forecast for the different regions in Japan. The Ume trees bloom a little earlier than the Sakura. Right now, the Sakura is expected to be in full bloom in the Tokyo area towards the end of March. Perfect time to plan a visit!! 

My struggle was identifying the difference. Yesterday when we were at the Seto Shrine with Miki, I asked her to help me identify the differences between the Ume and the Sakura. First rule, do not judge by color! 

Here is an Ume blossom. The first thing to notice is the petals are rounded. Also, the flowers occur individually. 

Here is a broader picture. Notice the blossoms are attached to the tree. 

Comparatively, let’s look at the Sakura blossoms. The Sakura petals are not quite as rounded and the blossoms occur in clusters. 

Also, the blossoms are attached to the tree by a short stem. 

The trunk of the tree is also a good indicator. A Sakura tree will have “cracks” in the trunk. 

Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to identify whether the blossoms pictured are Ume or Sakura. Test yourself. The answers are at the end of the post. 









Hopefully, the variety of these blossoms help you to understand why color can’t be used as a determining factor. Here are the answers. 

A. Ume

B. Ume

C. Sakura

D. Ume 

E. Ume

F. Sakura 

G. Sakura

H. Ume

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