NARA -- Some 12,000 plum trees in about 100 varieties are in full flower at the Tsukigase Bairin plum grove in the ancient Japanese capital Nara, covering the hills there in clouds of pink and white.
March 8 marked the 100th anniversary since the plum grove's designation as a national beauty spot. The blossoms reached their peak later than in an average year due to low rainfall and continuing cold weather this past winter.
Tsukigase Bairin is said to date back to the Kamakura period (1185-1333). It apparently became widely known as production of "ubai" smoked plums -- used in the final stages of dyeing cloth with safflower petals -- blossomed in the Edo period (1603-1867). Some 250,000 people have visited the grove annually in recent years.
Masahiko Azuma, the 67-year-old director at the Tsukigase Plum Museum, which has been working for many years to preserve the plum grove, commented, "We'd like to pass down the beautiful plum trees that our forerunners protected for 100 years to generations in the next 100 years."
(Japanese original by Mizuki Hayashi, Nara Bureau)