Japan’s cherry blossom season is about way more than pretty trees and ‘grammable moments (though we love a good blossom post). Known as sakura, this fleeting spring phenomenon is celebrated across the nation with hanami parties. From eels and octopus to rice cakes and beer, visiting Japan in April (and sometimes as late as May) allows you to sample cuisine exclusive to sakura. Ready to chow down like a local? Read on.
1. Go beyond Tokyo’s sushi scene
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Tokyo during sakura, make your way to Ueno Park. Conveniently located in the city center right next to Ueno Station, the picture-perfect park is home to both the Tokyo National Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. After museum hopping, treat yourself to some sakura mochi (cherry blossom rice cake) under your new favorite tree. This delicious little treat is wrapped in pickled cherry blossoms and gets its distinctive pink color from strawberry jam.
2. Snack and sip with the locals
Whether you’re visiting Kyoto, Osaka, or Tokyo, blossom hunting is hungry work. When the sun goes down, head to an izakaya (a local Japanese bar). Cramped, noisy, and full of heady and delicious smells, you’re pretty much guaranteed a memorable time at any of these traditional bars. Izakayas let you take a break from the sweet flavors of sakura with snacks such as takenoko (bamboo shoots). You’ll find bamboo shoots in a whole host of Japanese spring dishes, such as takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice). After you’ve chowed down on this wholesome and hearty meal, wash it down with some Haru Saku Kaori. This spring beer’s cherry blossom flavor never fails to hit the spot.
3. Eeling brave?
Jump on a shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. Covering an impressive 280 miles (450 km) between Tokyo and Kyoto in just under two hours, this lightning-fast locomotive will put you in the heart of Japan’s ancient capital in no time. Explore the city’s numerous sacred shrines and temples before sampling some ikanago no kugini (young Japanese eels), a sakura specialty in the Hyogo Prefecture and Kansai region.
4. Sample Osaka’s famous takoyaki
The next stop on your gastronomic sakura tour is the glittering city of Osaka. First stop: Dotonbori. This colorful area is filled sights, sounds — and best of all — delicious smells. Start with Osaka’s famous takoyaki (octopus balls). These golf-ball sized batter balls are stuffed octopus before being deep fried. For the perfect pairing, order cup or two of sakurayu (cherry blossom tea). To round it all off, treat yourself to ichigo daifuku (strawberry rice cakes). Not only are these cakes delicious, they’re also tiny enough to justify eating a few.
Do you have a favorite Japanese treat? Tell us in the comments below. Hint: make sure you’re logged into Facebook to share your tips with us.