Ogose Bairin is one of three big plum blossom forests in the Kanto area.
Bairin 梅林 is the Japanese for a plum grove, or quite literally a plum forest. The whole of Ogose is a virtual plum blossom forest, you can see stretches of beautifully gnarled tree trunks donned in blooms of pink and white all over the town.
Ogose Plum Blossoms
Supposedly the plum blossoms in Ogose were not planted for their aesthetics, but as a way to create employment in the area during the 18th century. Japanese plum blossoms trees grow umeboshi which are a popular delicacy in Japan. They are pickled and used in obento as well as for flavouring in sake, shochu and jam, to name, but a few.
However, even before hundreds of them were planted to create a livelihood for locals, Ogose has had a long connection with plum blossoms. It is believed that founders of Umezono Shrine brought seeds from a famous ume tree in Kyushu in the 1400s. The tree from which they took the seeds had been planted by the notorious scholar Suguwara. He had been banished from Kyoto, but is also distinguished for the celebrated poem he wrote about plum blossoms.
Several of the plum blossom clusters you can see on the drive to Ogose Bairin are on private land. Others are plum blossoms that grew on public land from seeds blown from the bairin. The bairin has the highest concentration of blooms and is open to the public.
There are 1000 plum blossom trees in Ogose Bairin. Several of the trees are 200 years old, but the oldest, named “Kaisetsu” (魁雪) is 650 years old. Kai means a pioneer or forerunner, the lead. And the Setsu is from yuki or snow. All of the trees are still used commercially for their umeboshi which they pick and then sell or use to make umeboshi products.
There are white, pink and red plum blossom trees in the park. Some of the trees are protected, such as the red plum blossom tree pictured above.
Plum Blossom season
The plum blossoms typically bloom from mid February to mid March. The festival runs for roughly the same period, usually ending on the Vernal Equinox day. The equinox day is a public holiday in Japan and usually falls around March 20th or 21st.
Plum Blossom Festival
The 2019 plum blossom festival started on February 16th and will end on March 21st. Each year the line up of the festival is roughly the same:
- Live Entertainment
- Town Mascot
- Mini Steam Locomotive
- Bonsai and Food Market
- Food stalls
During the period of the festival there is entertainment on the weekends. They have a stage near the main ticket gate. Usually the performances are dance and/or music. The music is mostly taiko drums. The events normally start from 10 am and run on and off until 3.30 pm. There is usually a long intermission, around 30 minutes, between performances.
Ogose Town Mascot Umerin
Ogose Town’ mascot, Umerin, is one of the cuter mascots in my opinion. She arrived to the park early afternoon and we were able to get our photo with her. My 6 year old daughter and her friend who we’d brought with us to the bairin, declared that Umerin is their new favourite mascot!
Every child that got their photo with Umerin got a keepsake sticker of her. On the back of the sticker peel it has a bio for Umerin! She was born on November 3rd 2010. She likes Yuzu juice, Ume juice and basking in the sun. And she loves hiking. No wonder with Ogose Town being a great hiking area.
Mini Steam Locomotive
The mini steam locomotive runs on the weekends and public holidays during the festival period. The course is quite long at 253 metres, winding its way around the front part of the park. It is extremely popular so there is usually a queue to ride it.
It was a nice surprise to see that they sell stunning plum blossom bonsai in the park. I had not seen that information anywhere online when I was initially researching the park. They are very reasonably priced. I saw one for as little as 3,000 yen.
They sell young plum blossom trees in the park as well that you can plant at home. And apart from the bonsai there is also a shop in the park that sells, no surprises, umeboshi products as well as various other pickles. There was also a small flea market the day I visited.
I was so surprised by the amount of food stalls in the park. I had read there are always food stalls at the festival, but I didn’t expect so many. There were at least 30 food stalls there yesterday.
They are grouped into two areas which are beside each other. The main area is the “yataimura” or food village in english. But leading up to that area is an avenue of stalls with a very festive atmosphere and throngs of people. You can receive free tea in the outdoor seating area here.
There are tables set up in the avenue of food stalls which you can use if you purchase food there or in the food village. However, there is also one designated area for hanami – picnicking under trees – beside the food area. You can put down a picnic mat and eat in that area. There are other areas where you can sit in the park, but this is the only area where you can sit under the plum blossom trees.
Information for the Ogose Plum Blossom Festival updated annually on this blog:
There are three different entry points to the park, each with a ticket gate:
Cost: 300 yen for adults and children over 12 years old. Mini steam locomotive costs 200 per ride for anyone over two years old. Children under two can ride for free, but must have an adult accompany them.
Hours: The park is open from 8.30 am to 4 pm.
Address: 113 Dōyama, Ogose-machi, Iruma-gun, Saitama-ken 350-0406
Phone Number: 049-292-3121
Ogose Bairin Access
The station for the plum forest is just over an hour from Ikebukuro on the Tobu lines. You can take the Tobu Tojo line to Sakado station and change to the Tobu Ogose line. From Tobu Ogose and Hachiko Line Ogose station it is recommended you take a bus or you can walk – it is a long walk though, about 45 minutes. The bus is a Kawagoe Kanko bus that goes from the station to either “Kuroyama” or “Bairin Iriguchi”.
By car the plum forest is about a 40 minute drive from the Tsurugashima Interchange of the Kan-etsu expressway. There is limited parking, only 500 spaces, so it is not uncommon to have to wait for a parking spot. Parking costs 500 yen for a car, 800 yen for a mini bus and 1,200 yen for tourist buses or large vehicles.