The Sweet Taste of Spring in Japan

The Sweet Taste of Spring in Japan

The sakura have begun to bloom, and there is hardly a more attractive time of year to visit Japan than now.

Clouds of pink petals are covering the nation as friends and family gather for a week of hanami, or flower viewing parties.

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It’s this time of year that sakura-flavored goods start filling the shelves. That’s right, Japan’s love for this transient bloom doesn’t just stop at merely gazing at them– they also eat the blossoms and the leaves. That’s right, each year, blossoms and leaves are picked fresh from the trees to be preserved in salt to be consumed later.

If you have the chance, give something sakura flavored a try, but do be aware of what you’re actually eating.

Sakura (桜) means “cherry blossom”, but do not expect it to taste cherry-flavored or you’ll be severely disappointed. The taste is that of actual blossoms and does taste on the flowery side– nothing at all like cherries. I know a lot of foreigners who continually make this mistake, only to spit out what they’re eating in disgust!

sakura-sake

Previously the preserved flowers were for use in sakura-yu, a kind of tea made by simply floating a blossom or two in plain boiling water. The clear, faintly pink tea is slightly salty and slightly sour, which makes for a nice change from green or barley tea.

Nowadays you can find the preserved blossoms being used for a wide range of foods and snacks, and not just tea.

One of the most favorited snacks this time of year is sakura-mochi. This is a traditional sweet only available during spring. There are several variations of this sweet, but the two main ones are chomeiji (Kanto style) and domyoji (Kansai style) style. Both types are made of mochi filled with sweetened red bean paste.

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It is this dessert that makes use of sakura tree leaves as an edible wrapper. The pickled taste of the leaf contrasts nicely with the sweet red bean inside, making for a unique blend of flavors.

Another popular way to taste the flavor of cherry blossoms is with sakura-manju. These are also filled with red bean, but instead of mochi on the outside, they are a type of steamed bun.

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The cherry blossom flavored goods don’t just stop at traditional snacks. Of course you can always find flavored candies, chocolates and other confections during this time. Sakura-flavored cupcakes, ice cream, jellies, you name it, they probably have it.

Breads and pastries are often made to look like the blossoms, or will simply put a preserved blossom on top for decoration.

sakura-pastry

Even Starbucks comes out with a sakura Frappuccino, McDonalds with sakura McFlurries and Krispy Kreme with sakura donuts. Yes, sakura donuts, combining my two greatest weaknesses of donuts and cute things, how could I resist?  

sakura-krispy-kreme

Most popualr snacks like Calbee chips, Pocky, or my favorite, KitKat, release limited edition snacks available only in spring as well. While most of these are sweet desserts that make sense, some of the things sound like a really strange combination, like sakura shrimp potato chips.

Hong Kong

Like in Hong Kong, macarons have become very popular in Japan. At Malebranche, a famous patisserie in Kyoto, they sell sakura macarons that used a sakura-flavored ganache and the meringue is colored a light pink. To top it off, the macarons are even beautifully shaped like blossoms.

Even if it’s only from a fast food chain, I hope you’ll try some sakura-flavored goods this spring if given the chance. After all, nothing says spring quite like cherry blossoms in Japan.

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 Would you want to try these spring sweets?

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64 Comments

  1. March 4, 2015 / 7:09 am

    What neat desserts! They look soo yummy! Thank you so much for sharing these delicious treats.

    • Beth Williams
      March 5, 2015 / 2:40 pm

      Thanks for your comment Marina. These desserts are perfect for spring!

  2. March 2, 2015 / 11:42 am

    Great photos and description of this time of year. I have not as yet been to Japan but I am sure one day. It seems like this would be a great time to go. Thanks.

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:25 pm

      Spring is the best time to visit Japan… but also the most crowded!

  3. March 2, 2015 / 9:29 am

    The cupcakes are so pretty and I bet they taste so good! I love the cherry blossom picture, those trees are gorgeous!

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:24 pm

      The cupcake was delicious!! That was actually made in the US :)

  4. March 2, 2015 / 12:37 am

    Sakuras are so pretty! I didn’t know they were edible, though. I have the latest Starbucks Sakura tumbler and I’m eating a Sakura Mango Cake,

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:24 pm

      Gahhh, I want one of those tumblers! They don’t sell them in the US. Guess I need to go back! ;)

  5. March 1, 2015 / 11:51 pm

    I think the Sakura is absolutely beautiful and we try to catch a festival. I love pocky and kit lats so I’d certainly try those.

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:23 pm

      You should try them! I’ve seen them sold in the US as well.

  6. March 1, 2015 / 10:44 pm

    Have to check out this mall after reading your post!

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:22 pm

      what mall? ._.

  7. March 1, 2015 / 10:39 pm

    Oh my cherry blossoms are my favorite thing to look at in the spring. Its so beautiful and obviously makes very sweet desserts! Amazing pictures!

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:21 pm

      I love looking at them too! Just too pretty.

  8. March 1, 2015 / 9:45 pm

    Nice! Some friends and I are going to Osaka and Kyoto in April for the cherry blossom season. :) Will be eating sakura flavored goodies for sure! When I am in Tokyo I always buy the sakura-flavored KitKat — along with other flavors you can’t find anywhere else.

  9. March 1, 2015 / 9:40 pm

    This one is for sure one of the reason to visit Japan. The sakura Frappuccino looks tempting

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:17 pm

      Ugh, it’s so good! I’m sad to be missing sakura season in Japan this year.

  10. March 1, 2015 / 9:03 pm

    Everything looks amazing! I grew up in DC and would love when the cherry blossoms would come out each Spring. I don’t ever recall any recipes centered around them though. Now I feel like I’ve been cheated LOL

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:16 pm

      I’ll be posting up the recipes soon so you can try them at home. This year I’ll be attending the DC festival for the first time. I’m getting super excited!

  11. March 1, 2015 / 8:01 pm

    Would I like to try one of these sweet treats? How about all of them! They all look so delicious!

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:15 pm

      I’ll be posting recipes soon ;)

  12. Amy Desrosiers
    March 1, 2015 / 7:00 pm

    I have never been to Japan before, and am not really familiar with their specialties. These dishes looks so pretty and very tasty. I would love to get the chance to experience them.

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:14 pm

      I hope you get a chance someday. They’re very delicious.

  13. March 1, 2015 / 1:54 pm

    They all look delicious! I love the pink colour. I’m curious about the taste, I wonder if I could find something similar here in the UK.

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:13 pm

      It’s a very light floral taste. I’ll be putting some recipes up soon so maybe you can make them at home!

  14. February 28, 2015 / 7:51 pm

    YES i’d LOVE to be able to try that! It all looks SO delicious! I’m sharing this with my friend to add to our “travel to-dos” :D

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:12 pm

      I hope you get to try them!

  15. February 28, 2015 / 6:56 pm

    You are killing me with all these gorgeous dessert temptations. The sakura-mochi was my favorite and I think its even too pretty to eat. It will be cherry blossom season soon in my nations capital and I want to try and see them, i’ve never been in the early spring. I hope you enjoyed all those desserts. ;)

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:11 pm

      I’ll be posting up a recipe for sakura-mochi soon! So maybe you’ll get a chance to try some ;)

  16. February 28, 2015 / 6:53 pm

    Those look really good. I have never had cherry blossom anything, but it sounds interesting. If I ever see something I may have to give it a whirl.

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:11 pm

      You should! It’s an interesting flavor for sure.

  17. February 28, 2015 / 4:46 pm

    If I see anything around here (in the US) made with Cherry Blossoms I will definitely give it a try! There is a large Korean supermarket not far from me that has not only Korean but Japanese and other foods so I might find something there.

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:09 pm

      Hm, I don’t see a whole lot in the US with cherry blossom flavors unfortunately. Next month I’ll be posting some cherry blossom recipes though, so stay turned for that!

  18. February 28, 2015 / 12:41 pm

    What beautiful photos. Spring is my favorite time of year and it’s the time I most love to bake and garden. The pink is so pretty, I wish sometimes I lived closer to malls and other fun places.

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:08 pm

      Spring is my favorite time of year also… maybe because of the pink!

  19. February 28, 2015 / 11:11 am

    I love cherry blossoms, they just make me happy looking at them. I didn’t know people cooked with them for yummy treats and other items. Thanks for sharing

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:07 pm

      They make me really happy as well!

  20. Robin (Masshole Mommy)
    February 28, 2015 / 9:54 am

    Ooooh, look at all those sweet treats! I want one of everything :) Those sakura-manjus look to die for.

    • Beth Williams
      March 3, 2015 / 8:06 pm

      They’re super delicious!

  21. April 12, 2014 / 3:24 pm

    These Japanese cakes and delicacies look way too cute to me. These colors and lovely shape! Something you can experience only in Japan. Unfortunately, China does not offer such beautiful treats and most of cakes are tasteless.

    • Beth Williams
      April 17, 2014 / 8:48 am

      Yeah, I quite hate all the cakes here in HK too!

  22. April 12, 2014 / 1:32 pm

    I would love to try some of these treats! I’ve really been enjoying all of the posts about Japan you’ve been putting up; such a fascinating and colorful culture!

    • Beth Williams
      April 17, 2014 / 8:48 am

      Japanese culture is one of my favorites to learn about :)

  23. April 7, 2014 / 5:37 am

    You’ve got my mouth watering for that amazing looking pink icing :D Will have to hit up Kyoto!

    • Beth Williams
      April 10, 2014 / 8:46 pm

      Do it! Or any part of Japan really :)

  24. April 5, 2014 / 9:24 am

    We totally missed this when we were in Kyoto two years ago! We arrived just after blossom season. Next time we won’t make that mistake!

    • Beth Williams
      April 10, 2014 / 8:44 pm

      Aw, we arrived at the tail end for Tokyo but were lucky to still catch a few blossoms. Next time I want to be there for the whole duration, to see them at their fullest and finest!

  25. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs
    April 3, 2014 / 8:37 pm

    I’m not a big fan of sweets, but it looks like something I would definitely give a go :)

    • Beth Williams
      April 10, 2014 / 8:34 pm

      If in Japan you have to! :)
      At least the traditional ones. Plus Japanese sweets are not sweet at all compared to sweets in the west!

  26. April 4, 2014 / 4:18 am

    Wow, they’re all so pretty! What a superb way to welcome in the spring. I’ve seen the little sakura mochi before but I didn’t realize their significance. Thanks for sharing Beth!

    • Beth Williams
      April 10, 2014 / 8:41 pm

      Next time you see some you’ll have to give them a try!

  27. April 3, 2014 / 10:05 pm

    Never knew that people ate the blossoms! I don’t like flowery tasting things, so not sure I would like it, but I would be curious to try anyways. The trees look so beautiful–I really want to plan a visit to see them now!

    • Beth Williams
      April 10, 2014 / 8:41 pm

      Eating blossoms does seem a bit odd doesn’t it?
      Do plan a visit during the spring, it’s simply beautiful!

  28. April 2, 2014 / 11:18 pm

    I am now curious about how cherry flowers would taste like! And a sakura kit-kat or McFlurry sounds really tempting :)
    Interesting post and beautiful photos!

    • Beth Williams
      April 10, 2014 / 8:26 pm

      Thanks Irene! Of course the artificial sakura flavors taste quite different from the natural ones ;) … but both are nice!

  29. April 1, 2014 / 5:15 pm

    I actually didn’t know that they were edible and that they are in so many products in Japan. I am pretty sure I had a packet of the choco ones in the bottom right corner of your last pic and loved them. Besides chocolate I had no idea what I was eating at the time.

    • Beth Williams
      April 2, 2014 / 4:04 pm

      Did you like the chocolate?

  30. April 1, 2014 / 10:08 am

    Wow i love the look of all this cherry blossom food stuff. I don’t know if I’d like the taste though. Actually, knowing me, I probably would. They had a blossom tea latte in the Beijing Starbucks for a while and that was pretty good actually!

    • Beth Williams
      April 2, 2014 / 4:01 pm

      I actually hate the taste of flowery things, like flower teas, but I love the taste of sakura!

  31. April 1, 2014 / 12:32 am

    I love all of the different snacks found in Japan. We are able to find some of them here at Pacific Mall in Toronto – the biggest indoor Asian mall in North America. They have full candy shops that have all of the different Japanese Kitkats, Pocky, etc. They definitely don’t have as great of a selection as in Japan, but it is the closest that I can get for the moment :) I haven’t tried eating a sakura blossom before but it sounds very interesting! Cherry blossom season sounds like quite the celebration in Japan :)

    • Beth Williams
      April 2, 2014 / 3:56 pm

      Wow, I’ve never heard of this mall, but maybe I should take a trip there and check it out! I’ve always wanted to visit Toronto and it’s less than an hour flight from me :)