Mar 27, 2017

Cherry Blossom Season

Welcome to a new beginning.

In Japan, the graceful passing of Spring is marked by the blooming of Sakura (cherry blossoms), which you can witness sometime between late April and early May. In my opinion, watching Sakura petals flutter gently to the ground is a mesmerising experience everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

During this time, fields and concrete terrains across Japan are covered in the loveliest shades of white and pink, creating Instagram-worthy scenes wherever you go. For the Japanese, Spring — specifically the blooming of Sakura — symbolises transience and the nobility of human life. One of the best ways to properly appreciate the week-long flowering of the cherry blossoms, is to participate in as many observation parties – or hanami, as locals affectionately refer to it.

Hanami is most prevalent in certain localities and districts within Japan. Some of the more famous spots where you can enjoy the exquisite beauty of cherry blossoms in full bloom is Matsumae Park in Hokkaido, Ka-jo Castle Park in Tohoku, Maruyama Park in Kyoto, Osaka Castle Park in Osaka, and Ueno Park in Tokyo.

As nature’s timeline is unpredictable and not dictated by the demands or fancies of Man, it is hard to pinpoint the exact dates in April and May to observe cherry blossoms in full bloom. You will have to constantly check the weather reports, but once you have more details, just remember to bring along a mat to enjoy a lovely picnic with family and friends.

Speaking of picnics, did you know that young Sakura leaves are often pickled in salt and plum vinegar to enhance their flavour before being used to wrap mochi? It is called Sakura mochi and imbued with a subtle flavour of cherry blossoms, making for a delightful Springtime snack.

Another way to enjoy the flavour of Sakura is to add the pickled flowers in hot water to get sakurayu or cherry blossom tea. I reckon this is especially fragrant when paired with a serving of Wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery). Alternatively, you can try combining dried Sakura leaves with Japanese green tea to make the Matcha tea even more aromatic.

Quite frankly, the Japanese love their Sakura, which is why this versatile flower can be found in different variations across all seasons. After all, the emergence of Sakura doesn’t just beautify the Japanese landscape; these delicate flowers can also be enjoyed in truly unique and creative ways in day-to-day life.

If you are thinking of getting souvenirs for loved ones back home, consider the lovely tea spoons and tin tea canisters that are crafted using the bark of Sakura trees. These meticulously created pieces have a shiny and beautiful pattern once polished, and will age beautifully with the passing of time.

Spring in Japan, however, is not just defined by cherry blossoms and hanami. There are plenty of other colourful festivals to check out during your time in Japan. These include Sanja Matsuri, one of the wildest and largest festivals in Tokyo. Held on the third weekend of May, it commemorates the founding of the ancient Buddhist place of worship, Senso-ji.

A Postcard from Japan
Oishii reader, Low Hsien An, shares with us his favourite Springtime memories in Japan. He says, “This shot taken on a beautiful Spring day in Japan brings back many lovely memories. As Japanese school children enjoy a picnic, Mount Fuji creates a scenic and majestic background.”

(TEXT  Arman Shah )