Ume (うめ、梅) tree came from ancient China to Japan over one thousand years ago. Since then Ume blossoms have been praised, probably next to Sakura (さくら、桜), by Japanese people for its beauty. Ume blossoms open in February to March, that is a forerunner of Japanese springtime.
You can see statues of twin strange creatures in front of Japanese shrines’ gates. They are called Komainu (こまいぬ、狛犬), creatures guarding holy sites inside. Normal Komainus represent (ancient Chinese-style)lions, but there are some exceptions. For example, Inari (稲荷) shrines set statues of foxes at their gates. These foxes are holy guardians of the deity of rice crop.
-Image taken near Kennin-ji, Kyoto