Tōshō-gū in Ueno Park has a beautiful peony garden that is open to the public twice a year: early January to early February for winter peonies, and mid-April to mid-May for summer peonies.
There are about 40 varieties of winter peony in the garden, but it’s so difficult to cultivate the flowers in winter that less than 20% blooms, according to the garden’s website. The winter flowers are not as spectacular as their summer cousins, but I go every winter to marvel that such fragile flowers can bloom in such icy cold weather. This year I went after a light snowfall, and patches of snow/ice were still visible in shadowy spots.
Peonies are called botan in Japanese. It’s usually written in kana as ぼたん or ボタン, sometimes in kanji as 牡丹. The flower was brought to Japan from China in the Nara period (710 to 794). It was celebrated not only for its beauty, but also as a painkiller and anti-convulsive medicine.