Gyun is a wonderful little sound effect in the Japanese language for “when your heart drops” or you witness something “heart-wrenching”. At last, my first spring in Japan has come!

One of the first flowers to bring in the season is the 梅 (ume, plum blossom). They come in a variety of shapes and colors, from white with five petals to soft pink with pillowy layers of petals to deep mauve with however many petals it wants.

This tree wasn’t as patient of a bloomer as the others and already looked like this by March 2nd.

On the western lower citadel of Matsue Castle, there is a plum forest. Unlike the forests around it, this one wasn’t planted at the time of the samurai, but at some point within the past fifty years or so. At least that’s what I gather after listening to a story from Kimono-sensei–as a high school student, she played on tennis courts where the plum trees are now.

The trees there are mostly of the five-petal variety. At the beginning of March, most of the pink ones were still just buds, but the white ones were already in blooming stride.

A week later I took another walk around here to see how many of the pink ones had opened after we had a couple days of warm weather.

The darker pink ones were still being a little slow!

Indeed they were, and the little forest was fragrant! Both times I went there were old couples, single walkers, parents and children, bike-riders and dog-walkers taking their time to stroll through, but there were more this second time around dusk. When a couple of old ladies walked by, they told me to take a whiff of the blossoms, as this was a unique fragrance that you only get to enjoy at this time of year. I did as instructed (though I had already been sticking my nose in plenty of blossoms by that point) and commented about the scent, and the old ladies replied, “Oh, good! She understood us.” Indeed, life is a little easier when you can communicate with the people around you, but enjoying flowers is a universal language.

Speaking of languages, have you heard of the Language of Flowers? This was a big thing in England and other European countries in the Victorian era, and it’s also a relatively common thing out here in Japan, too. It was used then to express feelings that could not be stated in explicit words, such as “I am starting to have feelings for you” or “I am passionately in love with you” or “I hate you and will get my revenge”. Certain combinations of flowers carried complex messages, and even having a flower delivered upside down could express a very specific sentiment. However, the Japanese Hanakotoba sometimes have different connotations from their Western counterparts (though they probably retain more of the Western meanings than Western countries do!), and instead of mostly being used in conversational gift bouquets, they can represent ideas in many contexts.

While the basic connotation with plum blossoms is “oh, spring is on its way! Oh, and Hinamatsuri is on March 3rd,” it can also be associated with many forms of beauty–everything from a patient, elegant, noble sort of beauty to a more independant, intense, glamous beauty. My personal associations with plum blossoms, with rounded petals rather than nibbed petals like cherry blossoms, is that they’re cute. I also think of the plum trees in the back corner of my neighbor’s yard and that they let us take some of their plums once, Chinese paintings of plum blossoms, and all the sour ways plums get used in Japanese sake, candy, and lunch boxes.

What do you associate plum blossoms with?