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Spring in Japan is a beautiful time of the year. With cherry blossom viewing, amazing weather, and plenty of seasonal foods, spring is a great time to visit Japan and experience traditional Japanese food, the popular sakura festivals, and more. Spring is always a great season for produce around the world, and it’s no different in Japan. There are some specific spring foods that take Japanese restaurants, kitchens, and picnic blankets by storm this time of year. Whether you’re enjoying snacks and drinks under cherry trees, cooking at home, or checking out the specials board at your local restaurant, it’s always nice to try something fresh, knowing it’s at its best.
From a traditional savory dish like bamboo shoots to sweet sakura mochi—there are enough mouth-watering dishes to get you planning your own spring feast!
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Japanese Spring Foods to Try
Plum blossoms are the first sign of spring in Japan and you’ll soon see plum-flavored treats everywhere you look. Although most are available throughout the year, like umeboshi (the very tart pickled plums) or umeshu (the plum wine), there will be chips flavored with pickled plum, seasonal chuhai and much more. It’s not my favorite flavor and they’re definitely not to everyone’s taste but can be fun to have at picnics and pass around as they are often very sour. Also, the umeboshi are considered a great hangover cure, along with a banana and a bottle of Pocari Sweat, so keep that in mind if you think your hanami party might get out of hand.
During spring though, you’ll find some fresher plum products at festivals and in department stores or supermarkets, there are jams, syrups, and dried plums to take home! If you want to make your own umeshu, you need about 1kg plums, 500g-1kg sugar, and 1.8 – 2 liters of shochu. Stick it all in a large airtight bottle, leave it in a dark place for a minimum of three but preferably more than six months, and enjoy!
There has to be some cherry blossom involved in this list, and while there are plenty of sakura frappuccinos to be considered, there are some more traditional options too. Although available throughout the year, sakura mochi are a special treat to be eaten for Hinamatsuri (Girls Day) on March 3rd but are popular throughout spring, and often appear at hanami picnics.
Mochi is a Japanese rice cake dough made from gluttonous rice flour and water.
A type of wagashi, the traditional Japanese sweet is made of pink-colored mochi stuffed with sweet red bean paste and wrapped in a pickled sakura leaf. They are one of the most easily recognized wagashi and you’ll have no trouble finding them at festival stalls, local shops and convenience stores.
Read Also: Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Sakura Sweets and Candy
Sticking with the theme of sakura flavored items, we have to talk about Sakura Treats and Candy. I actually did a whole post just about these treats because they are so extensive here in Japan. I could actually have an entire blog dedicated to sakura treats and I would never run out of things to talk about.
Among the top sakura treats are Kit Kats. If you know anything about Japan, you’ve probably seen that they have plenty of Kit Kat flavors to choose from. Everything from matcha, to apple pie, to a traditional mint, and yes, sakura.
You can also find sakura donuts at Mister Donut, Dotour, or Starbucks, flavored drinks and lattes at Starbucks and Tully’s, sakura Pocky, beer from Asahi, chocolates from Lindt, a variety of sweets at Muji, and more. Like I said, the list goes on and on. If you’re in Japan, there’s a good chance you could pop into any shop during spring and find something sakura-flavored to try.
The inspiration for the delicious treat of taiyaki (a sweet waffle fish filled with red-bean paste), tai is seabream that spawns in May. That means they are at their heaviest and fattiest in spring, so you’ll see them popping up at your fish stalls and on the nearest sushi conveyor belts. Aside from being fatty and delicious, the tai have an auspicious role at this time of year as well. The name tai forms part of the word medetai which means lucky, and this leads to it being a popular dish for new students and employees in April, as this the start of the school year and the beginning of the employment cycle. You can try regular tai as sushi or grilled as a whole fish, and it is best kept simple—so you can try it at home or out and about.
Check out Cherry Blossom Tours
If you are a big fan of Japanese raw fish dishes such as sashimi and sushi, hatsugatsuois 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 the 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 can 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 it raw, add some seasonings such as garlic paste and Ponzu (a common sauce made of soy sauce and citrus juice)!
You may well have been eating this without realizing as in spring it becomes pretty ubiquitous, without too much of a strong flavor. While most bamboo is toxic when fully grown, some varieties can be eaten during their sprout phase—often between March and May. The edible bamboo shoots are boiled to ensure the toxins are removed before eating and need to be cooked soon after picking to avoid developing a bitter flavor.
Takenoko gohan (bamboo rice) is one of the most popular dishes and it is also especially delicious as tempura. In supermarkets, you might see it pre-boiled and peeled, or in its natural root form; if you are keen to cook it yourself be sure to cook it thoroughly. If you think the gnarled root looks familiar, it might be that you recognize the small chocolate Takenoko no Sato which have no actual bamboo in them, but are definitely delicious!
These are small Japanese sand eels from the Kansai region, caught between February and March and loved across Japan, but especially in Hyogo. Caramelized with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and ginger, they are served as ikanago no kugi-ni, meaning “the nails that hit the spot,” reflecting both their appearance and deliciousness. If you’re looking to make your own, aim for fish that are about an inch long, usually around the end of February and beginning of March. They are usually eaten on top of rice and make a delicious sticky snack with drinks.
Another sweet treat, ichigo are strawberries, and daifuku are small round mochi stuffed with red bean paste. They come together to form a relatively modern wagashi only available between winter and spring. The combination of chewy mochi, sweet red bean paste, and fresh, juicy strawberry is unique to this unassuming treat and definitely wins you over. You’ll have no trouble finding ichigo daifuku in sweet shops, convenience stores, and supermarkets as well as at food stalls in parks and festivals during the season.
Of course, one of the main ingredients, Strawberries, is, in general, a Japanese seasonal fruit you must try in spring all by themselves. You can even pick them yourself at one of the many farms around Japan, many of them easy day trips from Tokyo.
This leafy green is a staple throughout the year, but in spring it is sweeter, crisper, and infinitely more delicious. Filled with more vitamins, they are smaller and softer than in other seasons and can be enjoyed raw with a simple dipping sauce. It’s a common otoshi (a small dish given at the start of a meal), but also a great side dish to fried meals like pork cutlets or kushikatsu and is common in izakaya. As cabbage is the main ingredient in okonomiyaki, you can make a spring green version and even add other seasonal greens like Japanese asparagus and spring onions.
Along with sakura, nanohana, canola blossoms, are widely recognized as an iconic flower that blooms during spring season in Japan. The tiny, yellow petals symbolize the bright sunshine and pleasant spring weather. While you can enjoy them visually, there are also some types of nanohana that 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 buds before the cheerful flowers finally start to open up. 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!
As the coastal waters begin to warm with spring’s arrival, clams are fished out by the keen fishermen and children alike. One of the most versatile additions to meals, the bottleneck clams are fresh, sweet and affordable too. You might find them in your miso soup, steamed with spring onions or just fried in butter. A more unusual choice is to steam them in sake, which definitely provides an extra level of Japanese flavor when combined with mirin and spring onions. Keep an eye out at izakayas for this dish—it might be on the specials or seasonal boards too.
Ok, so it isn’t the most traditional of foods, but if you want to get two seasonal themes in one sweet hit, then this seasonal waffle-fish should be next on your list. Taiyaki are modeled after spring specialty tai (seabream), and are grilled (that’s the yaki part). Although they are usually filled with red-bean paste, there are versions with custard, chocolate, and strawberry sometimes, but the best is sakura. A sweet, pink, scented custard, you may not be having any actual sakura, but some do have dried petals and cherry bits in too!
If you can’t make it to Japan right now but want to make your own taiyaki, see this taiyaki pan.
This has been our list of spring food for you to try on your next trip to Japan. There are many season items that Japanese people love to enjoy this time of year and these are just a taste. Japanese cuisine is so steeped in tradition, while also constantly evolving and changing to create new unique dishes. Spring foods just add to the experience with fresh flavors and fun seasonal options. Hopefully you found some foods to try in Japan whether you’re in Tokyo, Kyoto, or Hokkaido. This spring, Japan has plenty to offer you. Make sure you check out our other posts on spring in Japan to help you plan your trip or get a sense of what life is like in springtime.
THIS ARTICLE MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED LINKS. PLEASE READ THE DISCLAIMER FOR MORE INFO