Spring in Japan: Unique Food and Drinks to Try!

sakuramochi spring food in japan Food & Drinks

Spring is a season for plants to sprout, and for animals to enjoy the mild climate after a long winter. It is also the best time of the year to start something that you have never tried before. It could be some hobbies, but what about trying different food cultures featuring fresh seasonal specialties? Besides the beautiful cherry blossoms, Japan boasts a variety of unique food and drinks that you can try in the spring season. Here we carefully picked up the unique food and drinks in spring season in Japan for you! 

1. Sakura Sweets

There is probably no need to explain, but sakura (also widely-known as cherry blossoms in English) is loved as a symbolic spring flower in Japan. While you can visit famous sakura viewing spots around Japan to enjoy the pleasant smell and beautiful pink flowers, there is also a variety of sakura-flavored sweets that you can find in Japan during spring season!

Sakura-mochi is a traditional Japanese sweet which is generally eaten during spring season, including Hinamatsuri, Girl’s Day, on March 3rd. It consists of pink-colored rice cake wrapped in a pickled sakura leaf. Inside the rice cake is filled with sweet red bean paste called anko. The subtle pink color with a lush green leaf reminds us of the elegant sakura flowers dancing in the spring wind.

Sakura-flavored Frappuccino is also available at Starbucks across Japan as a limited-edition for the spring season every year. You can also head to convenience stores as they annually release a wide range of sakura-themed products from March to April. It generally includes small sakura parfait, sakura cheese cakes, sakura dorayaki, sakura-flavored pudding and much more!      

2. Takenoko (Bamboo Shoots)

Takenoko, bamboo shoots, are generally in season from March to early May. If you go to traditional Japanese restaurants during this time of year, you will be able to enjoy a variety of takenoko dishes, including takikomi gohan (Japanese mixed rice with seasonal ingredients) and bamboo shoot tempura!            

3. Nanohana (Canola Blossoms)

Along with sakura, nanohana, canola blossom, is widely recognized as an iconic flower that blooms during spring season in Japan. The tiny, yellow color petals symbolize the bright sunshine and pleasant spring weather. While you can enjoy them visually, there are also some types of nanohana which are edible and perfect to enjoy as a seasonal specialty. Nanohana is available for a short period of time in spring. 

The best season for nanohana is from February to March, when they are still bubs before the cheerful flowers finally start to open. The simplest way to enjoy them at home is just to boil them with a little salt until they get soft. Try them with a little soy sauce and katsuobushi, bonito flakes, on top, which brings you a scent of early spring! Nanohana Tempura is also worth a try!   

4. Hatsugatsuo

If you are a big fan of Japanese raw fish dishes such as sashimi and sushi, hatsugatsuo is something that you can’t miss! Hatsugatsuo refers to the first bonito of the year which is generally in season from April to May. They are said to be fresher and healthier as they contain less fat compared to modorigatsuo, which are in season and caught in fall. 

Seared bonito (also known as Katsuo-no Tataki) is a traditional way of eating hatsugatsuo which originates from Kochi prefecture in the Shikoku region. Grilling the surface of Katsuo helps you remove the smell of the fish (it could be stinky for some people who are not familiar with the smell of raw fish) while preserving the fresh color inside. If you want to try  them raw, add some seasonings such as garlic paste and Ponzu (a common sauce made of soy sauce and citrus juice)!   

5. Asari/ Hamaguri (Japanese Short-Neck Clam/ Hard-Shell Clam)

Asari and Hamaguri are popular types of edible clams that often can be found in traditional Japanese dishes. They are perfect ingredients for various kinds of recipes, including miso soup, takikomi gohan, pasta and much more. It is generally said they are freshest from February to May when the monthly catch reaches the highest of the year. 

One of the most noticeable differences between them is the size of the shells of each clam. Asari is a smaller one which has unique color patterns (white, brown and black)on its shell. They are relatively cheap and easily found at ordinary grocery stores all year round. Hamaguri, on the other hand, is several times bigger than asari and the price tends to get higher. If you want to enjoy them at home, be sure to leave them in a salty water for 20min or so to let them spill out the sand inside the shell! 

Japan Wonder Travel Tours

If you need some help to organize your trip to Japan, you should definitely check out our exciting tours including English guides. We’ll happily help you make your trip to Japan a safe, comfortable, and unforgettable memory!

  1. Tokyo Private Tour [Customized, 7 Hours]
    Visit the must-visit highlights in Tokyo with our friendly guide! This tour is flexible and the destination is customizable according to your requests. 
  2. Tokyo Fish Market Tour @Tsukiji
    Let’s explore one of the biggest fish markets in Tokyo. You can try out some street food, sake and visit local’s favorite spots!

Some of the seasonal specialties above require professional cooking techniques or knowledge to cook and eat. In particular, takenoko and nanohana need to be cooked carefully since it includes a little bit of toxins. If you don’t cook on your own on a dairy basis, it is recommended to go to Japanese restaurants to enjoy the spring foods served by professional chefs safely. Another way is to go and get the processed ones at grocery stores which are completely safe and easy to cook in your kitchen!    

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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.

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