Closer to my home
I brought them and replanted,
But to no avail;
All they do is keep me waiting,
Those lustrous flowers!
Poem by Fujiwara no Kanesuke (877-933), from the Gosenshū anthology.
February is the month of ume - plum blossom. Plum blossom is a less known cousin of sakura, the cherry. While the sakura may be the best-known flower in Japan, the plum blossom holds a special place in Japanese tradition. Its blooming season starts in early February and may last until the end of March. Plum blossoms are considered to be the original flower that started off the tradition of flower viewing festivals. Today, sakura is the major flower viewing event, but in Nara it was ume.
There are many varieties of the plum blossom, yae-ume, which has multiple petals, to the shidare-ume, or weeping plum tree. The ume is linked to maturity and strength.
Maiko wear ume in a number of different ways: young maiko wear a large bouqet of small flowers with five petal strings called shidare. More mature maiko wear just a bouqet or three medium-sized flowers, and the most experienced ones wear a single large flower.
The colors are usually pale pink, white and vivid red, as ume is considered a winter flower. Left: Maiko Naokazu (photo by Onihide) wearing a single large plum during Bunkasai and (right) Maiko Ichimomo during the same event wearing a junior maiko's bouqet of small flowers (but no shidare)