Furouen in Yamanashi, a famous plum spot that has a shrine dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, the Ume Tenjin (the god of plum), and an observation deck that overlooks Mount Fuji and the Southern Alps.
February marks the beginning of spring in the lunar calendar, and although the cold days continue, it is spring on the calendar.
It is getting warmer and warmer, and we are receiving articles about the plum blossoms from various places🌺How about the plum blossoms at your place?
It was announced that the area around the Kofu Basin, which is located in the middle of Yamanashi Prefecture, is in full bloom with plums.
There are several plum spots around Kofu, but this time I decided to visit a plum spot called “Furouen”.
There is an old saying in Yamanashi Prefecture that “Spring in Kaiji begins with Furouen”, and it is a plum spot that heralds the arrival of spring in the Kofu area and is loved by the locals.
“Kai” in Kaiji = the old name of Yamanashi Prefecture
Furouen is open only for a limited period of time when the plum blossoms are in bloom.
I checked the website every day so that I wouldn’t miss the best time to see them, and when I saw that they were in full bloom and the weather seemed good according to the weather forecast, I left early so that I could enter the park as soon as it opened.
Now, let me share with you the plum news from Furouen in Yamanashi Prefecture.
①What is the origin of Furouen?
Plum trees are found in various places, and plum blossoms are familiar to Japanese people as they bloom before cherry blossoms. There is a theory that plums that are familiar to us originally grew nuturally in the Kyushu region, but there is also a theory that they were brought back from China by Japanese missions to Tang China before the Nara period. Plums suited the Japanese land and were planted and spread as garden trees.
Furouen was opened as a villa by the seventh generation Okumura Shouemon, a kimono merchant in Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, in 1897.
The large park is 5 minutes’ walk from Sakaori Station on JR Chuo Line. It covers 50,000 square meters of mountainous land in the eastern part of Kofu City, and has 3,000 plum trees of 20 varieties planted.
Okumura Shouemon traveled around the country himself, except for Hokkaido, and brought back red plums, small plums, couple plums, Bungo plums and so on from the Kyushu region and planted them in the park.
He was a very plum-loving and active person who went to procure plums on his own feet.
Over 30 years, he devoted himself to garden making, including cutting down the mountains, making use of the valleys, building gardens, planting plums, cherry blossoms, azaleas and peonies.
After he passed away at the age of 86 in 1924, his son took over, but since 2014 it has been operated as a general incorporated foundation for long-term preservation.
The plum garden “Furouen” was after the ancient Chinese saying*1"Enter the gate of immortality (Furou) and wander among the strange rocks and famous trees*2 until you reach the Choseian (hermitage of longevity)".
*1 Ancient stories… “Ancient stories (koji) are things and events that happened a long time ago. They are also matters with a long and honorable history that have been handed down from the distant past to the present. Especially, among the anecdotes written in Chinese classics, those that are widely used in everyday conversation and articles as ‘idioms based on ancient stories’ or ‘phrases based on ancient stories’ are called.” (From Wikipedia)
*2 Wandering (shouyou)… To walk around wherever one feels like. Recreation.
②Ume Tenjin Shrine where you can dedicate ema to Sugawara no Michizane.
Ume Tenji is the main attraction of Furouen.
The deity of Ume Tenjin Shrine in Furouen is the famous god of learning, Sugawara no Michizane.
In the article “Plum Special Feature” by Marcion’s Rin, takada-san wrote about Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, where Sugawara no Michizane is introduced in detail.
Sugawara no Michizane was one of the “The Three Greatest Ghosts of Japan” along with Taira no Masakado and Emperor Sutoku, and was originally worshiped as a god of curse, but as time passed, the fear faded and he became revered as a “god” by those who admired his honest personality. His excellent literary talent from childhood and his political talent as a politician who was promoted to the rank of Udaijin, equivalent to the number three position in the imperial court, were reevaluated and he was worshipped as the god of learning from the Edo period.
Yushima Tenmangu Shrine in Tokyo, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto, and Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Fukuoka are famous.
There are also Tenjin shrines and Tenmangu shrines all over Japan, which are introduced in the Marcion’s articles.
Especially, Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Fukuoka is the head shrine of all Tenmangu shrines nationwide and is especially popular among students preparing for exams. The "Furouen" (Eternal Youth Garden) also received a divided spirit from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in February of Showa 52 (1977). The plum blossom is referred to as one of the "Three Friends of Winter" (Saikan San'yū)
*3and is said to have been the favorite flower of Sugawara no Michizane.
*3 “Saikan San'yū” refers to the three plants, pine, bamboo, and plum, that become friends during the cold winter season.
The annual festival day for the Tenjin deity in Furouen is February 25th, which marks the death anniversary of Sugawara no Michizane.
It appears that Sugawara no Michizane passed away right around the time the plum blossoms bloomed.
Perhaps Okumura Shouemon, sharing a love for plum blossoms, chose to enshrine Sugawara no Michizane for this reason.
❀ "When the east wind blows, flourish in full bloom, youplum blossoms! Even though you lose your master, don’t be oblivious to spring" ❀
This poem is said to have been composed by Sugawara no Michizane before he was wrongfully accused and exiled to Dazaifu, as he stood in front of a beloved plum tree.
Due to this poem, it is believed that the plum tree Michizane loved flew overnight from Kyoto to Kyushu.
This legendary flying plum, known as the "Tobiume" (flying plum), was also featured in articles about Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine.
“Send the fragrance of plum blossoms even when I am gone.” The sentiment in the poem suggests he might have sensed his life would not be long and lamented it through these words.
Not only for passing exams, but also for improving your poetry and writing skills, you can get the divine power in the creative fields. You can buy ema at the shop, and they also lend you a pen🖊
③An observatory where you can overlook Mt. Fuji and the Southern Alps
From the observatory in Furouen, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the beautiful scenery of the cityscape of Kofu Basin, Mt. Fuji to the south, and the mountains of the Southern Alps to the west.
I think the night view from here must be beautiful too.
・Mt. Fuji side🗻
Today we were lucky that the weather was good.
We could see the head of Mt. Fuji covered with clouds covering the lower part.
・Southern Alps side⛰
A sight of mountains of around 3000 meters high, including Aino-dake and other 100 famous mountains of Japan.
I realized how blessed this prefecture is with the nature surrounded by mountains.
There is a signboard with the names of the mountains, so you can check where each mountain is located.
④Choseikaku, Shoyo Pond, Kiraku-an
Choseikaku is a Japanese-style building built in 1918 (Taisho 7).
There is also a Japanese garden, and a quaint single-story wooden house, Kiraku-an, which is not far away.
Choseikaku is a cafe where you can relax on tatami mats.
You can enjoy the garden surrounded by plum blossoms and take a break at the cafe that retains the atmosphere of the Taisho era.
Business hours: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
・Coffee, black tea, matcha, amazake, oshiruko(sweet red bean soup), etc.
Kiraku-an is a separate house far away where Okumura Shouemon’s wife lived in retirement after Shouemon’s death.
It was a cozy and calm house surrounded by glass windows.
You can’t enter Kiraku-an, but you can see the house from outside.
It has an atmosphere where elderly people can spend their time comfortably.
⑤The Fujimi Bridge and the Kabuto Rock.
From the Fujimi Bridge, I could see the cityscape of the Kofu Basin and the peak of Mount Fuji.
I imagine that during the era when Okumura Shouemon was making the plum garden, with no tall buildings in the city, the view must have been even clearer and more magnificent than it is now.
Near the Fujimi Bridge, there's a sculpture of a rabbit...🐇。
I wonder if they carved a plum tree into the shape of a rabbit?
This year is the Year of the Rabbit, isn't it?
‘Kabuto Rock’, which is very close to Fujimi Bridge, was a big and rough rock.
There were several places in the park where there were such rough rocks.
As suggested by the origin of the name 'Furouen', which is based on the phrase 'Enter the gate of immortality and wander around the strange rocks and famous trees~', it seems that unique rocks were placed in several spots within the garden.
⑥Matsuo Basho Monument
"The first cherry blossoms out of order among peach blossoms"
The monument inscribed with this haiku was said to be erected in 1856 by haiku poets of that era.
⑦Souvenir Shops & Shops
There are several shops in the park where you can find a variety of items including plum sweets like dried plums, plum jelly, and plum yokan, as well as alcoholic beverages like plum wine, dried fruits, and dried foods.
The alcoholic beverages like plum wine are manufactured at a winery located a little up the mountain from Furouen, as the staff in the shop told us.
At the shop, you can also sample the products, and the lively staff will introduce you to their recommendations.
At the places where you can have a rest, you can find beer, juice, ice cream, Amazake (sweet sake), and various noodles for sale.
There are also stalls selling grilled dumplings, dorayaki, traditional Japanese sweets, and Raisin sandwiched cookie, the specialty of Koshu.
Throughout the park, there are benches where you can sit and enjoy the view of the plum blossoms and the distant mountains as you stroll around.
How was Furouen, where early and middle blooming plums are in full bloom?
Late blooming ones will also be in full bloom from now on.
I thought that people have been looking forward to catching a glimpse of the short life of plum blossoms for a long time.
More than 120 years after Okumura Shouemon planted the plum trees, the plum garden has been carefully preserved and maintained in his honor. It is a place where you can feel his passion for sharing the beauty of plums with others.
You can also enjoy beautiful plums at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, although the number of trees and varieties is not as many as those at Furouen.
The staff members were all very friendly and easy to talk to, and they taught me about the plums!
There are also swings in the park, so it seems like it would be fun for families with children too.
There are walking sticks placed at the entrance of the park, so people who are worried about the unevenness of the ground can borrow them.
Some elderly people brought their own poles as well.
Although it is only open during spring, it may also open temporarily during autumn foliage season.
Be sure to check it out also in the foliage season!🍁
There are many other attractions near Furouen such as “Chateau Sakaori Winery where you can enjoy Japanese wine collected from all over Yamanashi prefecture, “Kai Zenkoji Temple” built by Takeda Shingen, a Sengoku warlord, in Yamanashi prefecture, “Kaiterasu” which has a wide variety of souvenirs from local industry center of Yamanashi prefecture, and “Yamanashi Prefectural Science Center” where both children and adults can enjoy themselves.
Furouen is a place where you can take a walk around for 1-2 hours, so it might be nice to visit these facilities and tourist spots after your walk.”
Address：3-4-3 Sakae, Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture
Opening period：February to late March
Admission fee：Adults (junior high school students and above) / 500 yen, elementary school students / 200 yen, preschool children / free, persons with disability certificates / free
※Discount available by printing and presenting a coupon from the official website.
Opening hours：9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (reception until 4:00 p.m.)
Access (public transportation)
5 minutes’ walk from Sakaori Station on the JR Chuo Main Line
7 minutes’ walk from Sakaori Miya Entrance Bus Stop Yamanashi Transportation・Fuji Kyuko Bus
By car (free parking lot available)
Get off at Ichinomiya Misaka IC on the Chuo Expressway and take R20 (Kofu Bypass) for about 15 minutes.
The park ground is uneven, so it is recommended to wear comfortable shoes and light clothing.
Restrooms：3 locations in the park
The park may be temporarily closed depending on the weather, so it is recommended to check the opening status in advance.
Furouen website…Real-time flowering information can be checked on the website or Twitter.
🐾 A Short Stop-by: Sakeori-no-Miya – Ancient Tenjin
According to myths, the hero Yamato Takeru (also known as Yamato Takeru no Mikoto), who conquered regions from Kyushu to Tohoku, seemed to make a stop not only at the foot of Mt. Fuji but also made a stop in the Kofu area of Yamanashi Prefecture.
A mere 5-minute climb up the mountain path on the north side of Furoen, there lies a secluded spot among the thickets, believed to be a place where Yamato Takeru once took a break.
According to the Kojiki, during his eastern expedition, Yamato Takeru rested his troops at Sakaori-no-Miya when he visited Yamanashi.
At that time, Yamato Takeru looked back on his eastern expedition and recited,
"After passing Niwahari and Tsukuba, how many nights have passed?"
The question was essentially, "How many days have passed since we left Ibaraki Prefecture?" but none of his senior vassals could respond.
However, an old man tending the bonfire, known as Mihitaki no Okina, replied,
"Counting the nights, it's nine nights and counting the days, it's ten days."
This conversation is said to be the origin of the renga (linked verse) poetry, and the birthplace of renga is believed to be in this region.
Currently, the main shrine is built a short distance from this ancient place and boasts an impressive sanctuary. (Sakaori Shrine)
It is the only shrine in Yamanashi Prefecture that is mentioned in the ancient chronicles, "Kojiki" and "Nihon Shoki", and venerates the historical deity, Yamato Takeru. Being a fan of Prince Yamato Takeru, I'd love to visit it next time.
・Shrines and Deities Around Us: A 3-hour Guide by Yasuhiro Goto, published by Asuka Publishing.
・Temples and Shrines in Yamanashi (Yamanashi Tourism Promotion Organization)