Recently, I found myself heading south from Fukuoka to Dazaifu for the second time. This time was for a Plum Festival, and more specifically for a Umeshu Festival. For those of you that don’t know, umeshu is a Japanese spirit made from plums, hence it was an important part of the plum festival. And for the second time, I was going because my five-year old student at school brought me a copy of Fukuoka Now, an English language local magazine with notices for lots of fun events happening around Fukuoka.
I made it to the first day of the four-day festival, which also happened to be a national holiday, Founder’s Day. I really enjoyed Dazaifu the first time I went and was excited to return to see it in a different season. Being that it was a holiday, and the weather was sunny and warm, it was incredibly crowded. I also think people were very happy to come and see the plum blossoms. There were only a few trees that were starting to bloom, a prelude to the more famous and exciting cherry blossoms, but the trees that were blooming were beautiful.
After wandering up the cute little pedestrian street leading to the town’s impressive temple, we figured out where we needed to go for the umeshu tasting. Basically, you have thirty minutes to drink all the umeshu you wanted. They staggered the flow of people, presumably to alleviate crowding, but there were still a lot of people inside. There were samples from all over Japan, and each bottle had it’s own name, and presumably tasting notes. This would have been a great festival to be able to read Hiragana, or have someone who could.
So, without any idea of what each tasted like, we tasted everything blindly. I chose my samples based on the label, and that wasn’t necessarily the best strategy, because some were downright gross, at least to me. I started to think that the lighter colored ones were the best, but that theory also went out the window. I did however like the one’s that seemed to be infused with something else, be it ginger, sake, or green tea.
Unlike beer festivals I have been to back in the States, you were able to pour your own samples. Granted, the tasting cup was the same size as the little cup that comes with over the counter cough syrup. But there was no place to pour out the excess you didn’t want to drink, so my only choice was to throw it back and move on to the next one. As you can imagine, I started feeling good pretty quickly. Since it was about noon, and I didn’t need to be loaded that early in the day, I left the tent after about fifteen or twenty minutes. Upon leaving the tent we searched for more plum blossoms before hitting the food
As we walked back to the train to head to a nearby onsen, we remembered this amazing chicken and burger stand down a side street. Being creatures of habit, and because fried chicken sounded perfect at that moment, we made our way back there. Apparently it sounded great to everyone else too, as it was super crowded, nevertheless we managed to order and squeeze our way to find a table inside. As we left, we passed by some beautiful women dressed like geisha’s. Whether they were or not I will never know but it was a beautiful site.
Dazaifu once again was a great afternoon getaway. The umeshu tasting was fun and had me laughing and feeling good, and the plum blossoms created an excitement that winter is coming to an end, and sakura season is coming soon. On the train home I looked up the Cherry Blossom Festival dates in Kumamoto, and found a sakura forecast. It looks like I will be able to enjoy one last cherry blossom festival weekend before leaving Japan.
Have you ever been to a Plum Festival? What are your thoughts on Umeshu? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below!