All About Japanese Food Culture - Seasonal Japanese Food

1. Enjoy Sakura Season in April - Hanami Flower Viewing

Sakura cherry blossoms, which announce the coming of spring, are at their best throughout Japan in April. Because Japan stretches north to south, February is the peak for cherry blossoms in Okinawa in the southern part of the country, and they reach full bloom around May in Hokkaido in the north. While the peak varies across the country, April is when cherry trees are in full bloom on Honshu, the largest of Japan’s islands.

In Japan, schools hold graduation ceremonies in March and entrance ceremonies in April, and spring is the season of new meetings and separations. Sakura cherry trees are said to represent this time of year and these events, making them especially dear to Japanese people. Seeing the flowers bloom en masse is breathtaking. Flower viewing is done following the blooming of the cherry trees in each region, with large numbers of revelers.

Hanami flower viewing started in the Heian Period, when Kyoto was the capital of Japan, and served as a time to hold banquets for court nobles and other aristocrats to compose poetry while viewing the cherry trees. In 1598, the ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi held a hanami flower viewing party at Daigo-ji Temple in Kyoto. It is said that Hideyoshi, who deeply appreciated tea and liked elegant events, held a flower viewing tea party where he invited around 1300 guests to enjoy tea, sweets, alcohol and food.

Later, flower viewing spread to the masses, and became ingrained in society in its current form as lively events in parks with blooming cherry trees. Flower viewing lunchboxes packed into lacquered bento boxes are the norm when enjoying hanami. People usually either make the lunches themselves or purchase them from the food sections of department stores.

Also, you should definitely try traditional Japanese confectioneries made with cherry blossom motifs. Sakura mochi, or cherry blossom rice cakes, take diverse forms depending on the region, with bean paste-filled roasted rice cakes wrapped in pickled cherry blossom leaves made in the Tokyo area, and cakes of bean paste stuffed into glutinous rice wrapped in pickled cherry blossom leaves in the Osaka area. Tricolored dumplings, with pink, white and green ones on skewers, are known as hanami flower viewing dumplings and are also widely loved.

The peak time to see cherry blossoms in full bloom lasts only 1 to 2 weeks. Why don’t you get a flower viewing bento, Sakura mochi, and dumplings to enjoy under the cherry trees? Just be sure to check information beforehand about flower viewing sites, since some prohibit eating and drinking.

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