Signs of Spring & the Beauty of Blossom

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wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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Signs Of Spring.
Spring has arrived, although here in my part of Scotland, no one told the weather. Plants, however, are coming to life. The crocus lawn is a carpet of purple and white, with occasional bursts of yellow crocus too. Snowdrops are everywhere, primroses are out and primula add a cheering splash of colour in the bleak, pretty bare garden. Anemones are also popping up here and there. The clematis and honeysuckle have visible signs of leaf growth too.

In Japan, one of the signs of spring is ume, which is plum blossom, also known as Japanese apricot. The plum tree is associated with hope and longevity because it is the first tree to flower, while winter still holds sway, and it is the longest-lived fruit tree. The flowers on the trees come in shades of white, pink and red. In February and March, depending on the area, they have Ume Matsuri (Plum Blossom Festivals) in Japan. The plum blossom in Japan is not like the blossom that my plum tree produces, which is sparse coverage of tiny, barely visible, white flowers. The plum blossom in Japan that I speak of is glorious, richly coloured, fragrant, plump and colourful flowers with long stamen. Ume is a very popular motif in Japanese fine art, graphic design and textile art.

gifu ume



In Japanese art and in Japanese mon (crests), the flowers are often simplified and stylised and three different flowers, in particular, can look very similar in Japan: plum blossom is drawn with rounded petals and often, though not always, it will also have the long stamen, cherry blossom has a little indent at the top of each petal and balloon flower has a little point at the top of the petal. You can see what I mean in the following examples of Japanese mon (crests).

Ume (plum blossom).



Sakura (cherry blossom).



Kikyo (bellflower. Sometimes spelled Kikyou).


Ume patterened haori (Japanese kimono jacket)



Simplified ume design on a black silk haori.



Stylised ume on a silk kimono.




Hanami means flower viewing and from the end of March to early May the Japanese celebrate the beauty of the many, many ornamental cherry trees in Japan. The range of time is due to the fact that the blossoming time for cherry trees varies, depending on where in Japan you are.  Japanese people celebrate hanami with picnics  and parties under the blossoming trees. The flowers are a sign of spring and their extreme beauty is greatly appreciated and prized in Japan as is the ephemeral nature of it all.

The cherry blossom is the flower of the samurai, so chosen because it is strong and beautiful in life but that life can be short and the blossom dies gracefully while still young and seemingly in its prime, as samurai had to be prepared to do. Samurai strove to understand the nature of life and death by meditating on the blossom of the cherry tree. Its blossom is, “strong within, but gentle without.”


Hanami was originally plum blossom (ume) viewing, during the Nara period (719-794)  they were actually the preferred flower in Japan, but cherry blossom (sakura) took over and by the Heian era (794–1185) it had come to always mean sakura. The appearance of the cherry blossom was used to calculate the year’s harvest and the time for rice planting.


There are many complex rules to kimono wearing, including what designs may be worn at certain times of year. Cherry blossom may be worn just before the trees come into blossom and, once the trees are in flower, one should no longer wear cherry blossom pattern but can wear a pattern of blossoms with falling petals. The design on the clothing should show what is imminent, not be competing with the real thing. When the petals are falling, one no longer wears cherry blossom design on the kimono. This is the case with many flowers, though there are just a few and a few combinations that one may wear all year round.


Sakura motif kimono



Close up



Falling sakura petals


Chikanobu_Yoshu-Chiyoda_Palace-Hanami Party

Palace Hanami Party by Chikanobu Yoshu


You can also check out my website, providing vintage & antique Japanese kimonos & collectables.



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