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Motif Information
Motif Ume 01.jpg
Rōmaji Ume
English Plum blossom
Kana うめ
Season Late winter. early spring
Seasonal Exceptions All season, auspicious
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Flower

Ume refers to the blossoms of the Japanese plum tree (Prunus mume). Ume range in color from white to deep pink according to varietal and have five petals. Ume is a deciduous tree and like many fruit trees the blossoms appear before the leaves, making it a striking sight. Ume have a pleasant fragance which is relatively strong.

Ume originated in southern China and were introduced into Japan in the Yayoi period along with rice cultivation. The fruit is commonly pickled to make umeboshi (梅干) or soaked in liquor to make umeshu (梅酒), both of which were considered medicinal foods.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Red and White Plum Blossoms (紙本金地著色紅白梅図, c.1714) by Ogata Kōrin, designated National Treasure in the collection of the MOA Museum of Art
Plum Park in Kameido (亀戸梅屋舗,1857) from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (名所江戸百景) by Utagawa Hiroshige

Ume bloom from January to February in Japan. [1]

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Ume bloom in late winter and as such have become a symbol of resilience and overcoming hardship. Their brief bloom and appealing scent also associates ume with the Japanese concept of ideal womanhood.

Auspicious Nature

Ume are a relatively hardy blossom, especially when contrasted with sakura. Ume blooming beneath snow or frost represents triumph in the face of adversity.

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

There are three main styles of rendering ume: the stylized rounded petal umebachi (梅鉢), the twisted nejiri-ume (ねじり梅, twisted ume), and the more realistic korin ume (洸琳梅), named for Ogata Kōrin who popularized it in the mid-Edo period.

It can be told apart from the similar sakura by the following cues:

  • ume petals are drawn round, sakura petals will have a notch at the outer edge.
  • ume often has knobbly branches, whereas sakura branches, if ever shown, tend to be slender weeping ones
  • ume flowers have no stem; if a flower has a stem it is sakura, not ume.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Actor Ichimura Uzaemon XII as Lord Sugawara Michizane (菅原道真公,1850) by Utagawa Kunisada in the collection of Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Ume is the crest associated with Tenjin Sama, the god of learning, and the deification of Sugawara Michizane. [2]

In Poetry

Ume was a popular motif in poetry during the Nara period, but changing tastes in the Heian period decreased its use in favor of more ephemeral phenomenon like sakura and momiji.[3]

Sugawara Michizane's most famous waka on ume on the occasion of his exile from Kyoto to Daizafu (901 CE):

東風吹かば kochi fukaba When the east wind blows
にほひをこせよ nioi okose yo Flourish in full bloom
梅花 ume no hana Oh plum blossoms!
主なしとて aruji nashi tote Although your master is gone
春を忘るな haru o wasuru na[4] Do not forget the spring.[5]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Wikipedia article on Prunus mume. Accessed November 22, 2013.
  2. Allen, Jeanne. Designer's Guide to Japanese Patterns. Kawade Shobo Shinsha Publishing. 1984. p.37.
  3. Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. Rizzoli Press. 2001. p.64
  4. Wikipedia article on Sugawara no Michizane. Accessed November 13, 2013.
  5. Transcription of Borgen, Robert. Sugawara no Michizane and the Early Heian Court. University of Hawaii Press. 1994. Accessed November 13, 2013.

Image Credits

  • Ainokimono
  • Miu
  • Moonblossom
  • Muhvi
  • Sarcasm-hime
  • Tsubame

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: tzippurah (IG Username)