Hanami: A Foodie’s Guide to Cherry Blossom Viewing

Sakura season in Japan brings about a flurry of excitement each year, as the cherry blossom trees flower for just one week during spring time, starting from March in the south of the country before this mesmerizing phenomenon sweeps north across the nation towards Sapporo, where the sakura trees blossom at the beginning of May. During this period, locals and tourists enthusiastically flock outdoors to parks and gardens to witness the magical allure of cherry blossoms coming into full bloom.

Cherry blossom viewing is known as Hanami, a Japanese tradition that began centuries ago as an exclusive activity for aristocrats living in the Imperial palace. Today, Hanami is a widely anticipated event that beckons travelers from around the world to visit Japan for this spectacular wonder.

The Japanese have long been appreciating the beauty of the sakura by strolling through parks  and organizing picnics under the flourishing cherry blossom trees. In Tokyo, Ueno Park is a favored spot for viewing cherry blossom trees. A less crowded alternative is Shinjuku Gyoen, a spacious venue with close to 1000 species of sakura trees, that welcomes admirers seeking a more serene experience.

In Kyoto, weeping sakura blooms cascade from bamboo trellises, enchanting visitors as they stroll along the famous path of Nakaragi no Michi while taking in the poetic beauty of cherry blossom trees facing a tranquil lake.

by Japan Guide

In Osaka, at the historical Castle Park, you will find yourself transported back in time as you stand under the shadow of the ancient castle while being surrounded by a myriad of sakura trees gloriously in bloom.

Hanami is not complete without savoring the delicacies that accompany the cherry blossom season. With the theme of picnic in mind, many favorites are food items that can easily be packed for a casual meal amidst the whimsical sea of pink and white. To mark out your very own picnic territory at a park, simply lay down a blanket to reserve a spot for yourself.

There are several iconic dishes that are celebrated and relished during Hanami.

by Japanese Cooking 101

  • Hanami Dango is a sweet mochi dessert presented in a trio of pink, white and green colors, elegantly skewered together. These chewy rice dumplings are easy to make. Mixing rice flour with water and then shaped by hands into round balls, the three colors of Hanami Dango seem to mimic the colors of a cherry blossom tree. 

  • Another popular Japanese confectionary is Sakuramochi, a sticky glutinous rice cake wrapped in pickled cherry blossom leaf, with red bean paste in the center. The fragrance of the pickled sakura leaf gives this traditional sweet treat a refreshing aroma that captures the essence of spring.

  • Sushi lovers would be delighted to know that Inari sushi is also eaten during this time. To make inari sushi, rice is packed into a pocket of slightly sweet fried beancurd, making this a delectable snack, or part of a lunchbox set.

  • Sakura onigiri is another beloved rice item for Hanami. It is a simple yet beautiful rice ball, delicately adorned with preserved cherry blossom that adds an accent of salt as well as a subtle floral scent.

  • Sushi making is elevated to a work of art with Kazari maki, which is very popular during this festive season. The sushi roll is created in a decorative pattern that resembles sakura flowers when cut into individual pieces. There are classes available for travelers who are keen to master this intriguing food art.

by reguser1

  • A session of cherry blossom appreciation will not be complete without the Hanami bentos. These are colorful lunch boxes which you can purchase from the food section of major department stores or learn to prepare at a bento-making class. Heralding the arrival of spring, the scrumptious bentos are filled with fresh seasonal ingredients. They often include sushi made with fish or shrimp, grilled salmon, fried chicken karaage, and broth-simmered root vegetables such as daikon, squash, and carrot, as well as a selection of spring vegetables. The bento box also includes a small dessert, such as Sakuramochi, so that diners can end the meal on a sweet note.

Travelers heading to Japan for Hanami can consider taking a cooking class to learn more about seasonal Japanese cooking techniques. For visitors who do not have time for lessons, do consider joining a food tour, as that allows you to soak up the romantic atmosphere of Hanami while indulging in a variety of traditional and local street food. Foodies will be delighted to know that Cookly currently offers food tours and cooking classes in many cities across Japan, including the major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

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