Spring is in the air! When spring arrives in Japan, there are many exciting things to look forward to. The days are sunnier and longer, the weather starts to warm up, school starts, and there are many people who see it as a time to turn over a new leaf with the change in seasons. Perhaps the thing that most people in Japan look forward to in spring, though, is hanami, the flower-viewing festivals.
Seriously, ask any Japanese person what’s the first thing they think of when you say “spring,” and sakura (cherry blossoms) will be the first word to jump out of their mouth. These pink and white flowers are symbols of spring. They usually bloom at the end of March through April, and only for a very short time. Cherry blossoms are a gorgeous sight to behold, and their beauty is appreciated even more because of their short life.
Hanami is a pretty big deal in Japan, with news outlets reporting on the blooming forecast by region, and people planning get-togethers and grand feasts around it. Some people will even set out plastic sheets under the trees, or camp out the day before to claim a prime viewing spot!
And, of course, food goes hand-in-hand with flower viewings. These snacks are inspired by spring in many ways, visually by color or even made with seasonal ingredients like sakura petals themselves.
Unfortunately this year, there isn’t much feasting with friends happening as we all do our part to social distance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring a little hanami into your home! Video chat with friends, gather some snacks and drinks, open a window for fresh air and you’re 90% of the way there!
Ready to explore traditional hanami food and some Japanese snacks to celebrate spring?
Dango (団子) is a type of sweet dumpling made with mochi glutinous rice flour, a common snack at Japanese festivals. Specially colored hanami dango are made during sakura season. Hanami dango are made up of three dango on a skewer, one each in pink, white, and green. The green one sits at the bottom, followed by the white and pink dango on top. Why those colors and why in that order? Some believe it represents the pink and white blossoms, and the green leaves on a cherry tree. Others think it may represent pink blossoms, melting white snow, and the greenery that sprouts in spring.
You, too, can make yourself cute, little hanami dango with Mocchan Dango Mochi! Each package contains a green, white, and pink dango. These extra-soft dango are coated in sugar for an extra sweet surprise.
Though not traditional hanami color, we also love these fun-colored mochi with a fruity pop of flavor! We’ve got a peach mochi made with real peach puree. If you love oranges, check out mikan mochi, which is made with mikan, a small and naturally sweet Japanese citrus fruit you may already know as “clementines” or “Mandarin oranges.” Come spring, it’s a sakura snack frenzy! Starbucks releases an exclusive sakura frappuccino every spring, and you’ll find special Kit Kat flavors you won’t find any other time of the year.
Another popular food at hanami is sakura mochi: A traditional Japanese sweet made with pink-colored glutinous rice and a red bean paste filling, which is wrapped in a pickled sakura tree leaf. The saltiness of the leaf versus the sweetness of the mochi and red bean creates an interesting contrast of flavors. The leaf is edible as well, and you may choose to eat it or not. Check out Kit Kat’s spin on sakura mochi made with pink white chocolate and red bean powder.
Are you really curious what sakura itself tastes like? Then this type of artisanal sakura candy will hit the spot because it’s made with actual sakura petals! When you let one of these glassy pink candies melt in your mouth, the lightly salted sakura petals and sugar melt together for a unique flavor experience.
Hanami can turn into an all-day affair, with some people even staying well into the night for sakura viewing! This is called yozakura, which literally means “evening sakura,” and some places will even host light-up events for these.
Since hanami can go on for hours, besides the sweets and finger foods, Japanese people will also pack up savory meals in bento lunch boxes. Since it is picnic-style, easy-to-divide food items are preferred because it makes it easier to share among multiple people.
Hanami bento essentials can include onigiri (rice balls), futomaki (long, thick rolled sushi), karaage (fried chicken), inari zushi (sushi rice in fried tofu pouches), tamagoyaki (rolled sweet omelet), and pickled vegetables. Pack your own lunch with character-themed bento boxes, showcasing animated favorites like Totoro and Moomin!
Above, you’ll see an example of hanami bento, featuring grilled fish and meat, fried food, pickled vegetables, a mini sakura mochi and, in the top-left corner, chirashizushi. Chirashizushi is another common hanami dish. Literally meaning “scattered sushi” (散らし寿司), it is sushi rice topped with a variety of shredded ingredients such as egg and raw fish.
What about drinks? People of all ages love hanami, and you’ll see college kids, couples, friends, and entire families enjoying themselves. Therefore, expect a wide selection of drinks! For those of drinking age, watching the sakura while leisurely sipping a beer is a great way to pass the time at hanami. Others may prefer sake rice wine, and there is even a sakura-infused sake Kit Kat inspired by the sakura season! These Kit Kats are elevated to another level with the light floral notes from the sakura, sake, and a touch of salt on the wafers.
Amazake is a sweet fermented drink also enjoyed during the springtime and at hanami. Amazake, which literally means “sweet sake” (甘酒), is creamy and can be served hot or cold. It is much lighter in alcohol content, and there are even no-alcohol versions so the kids can drink it.
Tea, as expected, is also an essential part of hanami meals. Sip on some sencha, a type of Japanese green tea. This is the most widely enjoyed tea throughout Japan, popular to drink because of its strong flavor. We also have a spring gold sencha green tea that comes in beautifully designed packaging featuring sakura blossoms.
Spring into Action and Order a Snack Box!
Did we make you hungry with all of these amazing Japanese snacks and food you can eat during the spring? Don’t worry. You, too, can have your own little hanami and munch on the best snacks Japan has to offer through a Japanese snack box subscription! Each of our Japanese snack subscription boxes include savory and sweet snacks, and tea.