I took the above photo at Suzumushi Temple in Kyoto in 2017.  (Suzumushi is a kind of insect called a “bell ringing cricket”…but, that’s a whole different story!)

Plum in Japanese is “ume”, written 梅. The left side of the character 木 is a pictograph for tree and the more complicated right side provides the reader with the on-yomi, or Chinese pronunciation. The plum is one of the favorite trees in China and Korea and Japan. It is regarded as the harbinger of Spring. It can have red, white, or even yellow blossoms. It is closely related to the apricot. There are several varieties found in Japan.

The fruit ripens in June and July during the rainy season, and the word for rainy season is “bai u” which means “plum rain”  梅雨.  Oh, how hot and muggy it is in Japan during bai u!

The flower is a favorite family crest, and there are scores of variations. One is pictured here—-

                                                                      PLUM CREST

Plum wine is a favorite in Japan and many housewives brew it.  They take a big jar, fill it with plums and shōchu, a Japanese liquor.  However, it is not uncommon for them to use vodka. The jar is kept in a closet where the liquor slowly absorbs the flavors of the plum fruit. Ume boshi, or salted (pickled) plums are a favorite condiment.

There is a saying in Japanese:

Sakura kiru baka ume kiranu baka.” It literally means “It’s stupid to trim a cherry tree, and its stupid not to trim a plum tree.” The reason being that cherry trees do not do well when they are pruned.

The following site contains a lot more information about ume.  It’s a great site if you like things Japanese.

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