In Western gardens it is the crocus that heralds spring, but in Japan that honor belongs to the plum blossom (ume; 梅). Often blooming under blankets of snow, and always in bitter cold, the few delicate buds that grace the gnarled branches are considered the quintessential expression of Japanese aesthetic restraint. One legend tells that a poet wrote some lines about "two branches of plum blossoms in the snow." A fellow poet demurred: "one branch is enough."
The scholar from ancient times, Sugawara no Michizane (菅原道真), took the plum as his personal symbol, and to please his spirit the Shinto shrine that worships him, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (北野天満宮), has planted a large grove of trees. But Sugawara no Michizane's is not the only spirit that is pleased.