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Hanami: Japan’s springtime cherry blossom festival

In the UK, cherry blossom is just a lovely leaf accompaniment created by the cherry tree at spring time. But in Japan, cherry blossom, known as sakura, is an altogether more important business.

Hanami parties at Himeji Castle

So much so, that the opening of the cherry blossom buds is documented on the news – daily – during opening season (March to May). Japan’s meteorological society tracks the opening of the buds around the country so that when the blooms bloom, people are able to go out and enjoy hanami – an annual spring celebration.

Hanami parties along the Kamo River

Hanami literally translates to “flower viewing” and consists of a picnic underneath the cherry blossoms either during the day or at night. These picnic parties can be quite the gathering, and as the flowers only last for a couple weeks, the televised “cherry blossom front” reports are very important for the planning of these events.

Cherry blossoms

But the Japanese don’t just like to view the cherry blossom (oh no) – they like to eat it too! The cherry blossom is usually salted before it is added to a dish. This surprised me. It’s a flower and it’s pink – surely it should be a sweet and delicate tasting! (If I really think about it, I think it should taste like the outside of a Cadbury Mini Egg shell; sweet, powdery, distinct but subtle. I see now that this assumption could only lead to disappointment).

Cherry blossom on rolled cabbage

The salty blossom is added to rice, among other things, which makes it a lovely pink colour. The leaves (also salty) are used too, most famously as edible wrappers for a sweet/dessert/cake thing called sakura-mochi. Sakura-mochi is a pounded rice cake with sweet adzuki bean paste inside. It is said that the salty-sour flavour of the leaf nicely flavours the bland rice part of the cake. This may not sound appetising but take a moment to think about how well salted caramel works.

Sakura mochi

One of the most traditional ways to consume sakura is in tea. The tea is simply made by floating a blossom or two in plain boiling water. As the tea is clear and unclouded it is often served at weddings because they are the qualities of a healthy marriage. And because everyone likes flowers at a wedding.

Before you leave for Japan to enjoy the blossom, don’t forget to arrange your travel insurance.

Sakura tea