8th May, 2008 - After the wonderful experience of the cherry blossoms, we had seen on the local Sapporo news that the Ume trees (I'll explain about ume later) were in full bloom at Hiraoka Kouen, to the south-east of Sapporo. Otousan had very graciously volunteered to drive us there the following day (the 8th)... and we were expecting big things.
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Now I don't want to be overly critical of the Sapporo television channels, but the report that they showed the night before, and what we found were slightly at odds. Instead of being at full bloom, we found the ume to be past their peak. But in true stoic Japanese style, we made the most of what was there. Hiraoka Kouen (park) is a free city-administered park, with some 1200 ume trees. Now ume is known by a few names... Japanese plum, Japanese vine tree, Japanese apricot... well according to my research (it's botanical name is prunus mume) it's actually closer to an apricot-variety that had come to Japan from China a long time ago... And depending on the variety, will either blossom as a pink or a pale green/white flower.
Now the Japanese love to make the most of their attractions. If you're going to see the ume blossom, why don't you eat the ume blossom. I guess it's very efficient. Anyhow, they make ume flavoured soft-cream (ice-cream) for all to enjoy. In fact, today was L-kun's first icecream experience...
And no... I wasn't eating for two... I was holding T-chan's.
Actually, ume is a not uncommon flavouring in Japanese dishes (especially at this time of year). If you haven't tried umeboshi, then I would definitely recommend it. With a warning. I love sour, explode in your mouth surprises. Umeboshi is a sort of pickled ume fruit, which is extremely sour and salty, and might possibly constitute a violation of human rites if forced to eat it. It's sometimes served with meals, or with rice balls (onigiri), and is quite...er... noticeable. It is very Japanese (despite it's Chinese roots), and something you should seek out. Even if it's ume-flavoured candies... which are good if you need to wake up in a hurry.
The flowers were definitely beautiful on the trees that were still well and truly in bloom.
And the variety between colours was also unexpected.
But I have to say that I felt a little cheated that we'd driven all this way based on the news story which had to have been filmed at least a couple of days earlier. Despite the disappointment, it was an enjoyable excursion, and we all had a good time (especially the now ice-cream obsessed L-kun).
And sometimes, when we expect the grand vistas of blooms and find they're not there - we realise that it's not necessarily the quanity that matters. The blossoms are amazine en masse, but the meaning is deeper. This is Spring. The winter has departed. Life re-emerges from it's cold slumber to re-affirm it's dominance over the landscape.
I'm not sure that L-kun was taking all of this in... but there is something singularly beautiful about a tree in full-bloom. Is it really surprising that someone with less than a year's life experience can see this?
One of the things that we saw that day was a school trip, where all the kids had been decked out in their near-matching outfits and hats. As we watched, there was a definite difference in our perspective. Last trip, we most probably wouldn't have given this school group a second thought. Yet now, when we watched, we saw something of L-kun's future. It might not be in a Japanese school, but you never know. The future seems far less abstract once you have your own children. It's no longer like looking through a cloudy window out at some other's world... this was like looking at our future. That sort of thought makes you sit up and notice.
This sort of moment is an umeboshi for the soul!... still plenty of sweet to offset the sour.