Apr 1, 2015

In Full Bloom

With its array of tasty delicacies and numerous festivals, Japan is definitely well worth visiting during spring.

If you’re not a fan of extreme temperatures, spring is, perhaps, the best time for you to pay a visit to Japan. While gorgeous fields of cherry blossoms are most closely associated with the season, you can also catch a glimpse of other types of stunning blooms – such as tulips – at this time of the year. The term for flower viewing is “hanami”, and has been an important Japanese tradition since the Heian period (from 794 – 1185).

Travel out of the cities and you’re also likely to see fields of vibrant yellow flowers. These are actually nanohana (also known as rapeseed), a vegetable closely related to broccoli, and which rapeseed oil is made from. However, the Japanese don’t just use nanohana to extract oil. The florets, stems and leaves of the nanohana are also boiled and prepared with either soy sauce or hot mustard, and served up as an appetiser.

Vegging Out

If there’s another tasty reason to visit Japan during springtime, it’s also to sample its fresh, succulent sansai or mountain vegetables, which are usually harvested in late March or early April. Head to Tsukiji market in Tokyo or Nishiki market in Kyoto and you’ll see vegetables such as the leaves and roots of the wasabi plant, fuki (giant butterbur), and warabi (bracken) for sale. These vegetables – which are chockfull of vitamins, minerals and fibre – usually have a stronger flavour than their more common counterparts. Most of the time, they are usually simmered in soya sauce, sake and sugar to remove some of their bitterness, and then served with a little dressing. Or, they may be deep fried in a tempura batter. If you’re after a unique and authentic local experience, then consider going for an organised sansai gathering trip, where you’ll be taught how to recognise and pick the vegetables yourself!

Fukinoto is the edible flower bud of fuki, an early spring delicacy.
Fields of blooming nanohana during spring are a sight to behold.

Festivals Galore

The Japanese do love a good party, and spring is usually when they do the most of their merrymaking. One of the more interesting ones to check out is the Ose Matsuri, held during April at the Ose Shrine in Shizuoka prefecture. At this festival, you’ll see men dressed in women’s clothing dance on floats, while stalls sell local produce. Can’t get enough of the onsen (hot springs)? Then head straight to Beppu in Oita prefecture to check out the Beppu hot spring festival where there are parades aplenty, and entry to Beppu’s many hot springs are free of charge.
Another festival worth making time for is the Miyako Odori in Kyoto. Running throughout the month of April, this festival is a rare showcase of traditional dance and music performed by geiko (professional female entertainers) and maiko (apprentices of geiko). This festival is usually sold out, so be sure to get your tickets well in advance if you’re planning for a visit.

Maiko (apprentices of geiko) dressed in traditional colourful garb at the Miyako Odori in Kyoto.

(Text Denise Li images from Top 10919448 | ryowatanabe • 13182541 | shony • 13632426 | KAORU •