The Sweet Flavors of Spring in Japan
By Lynn Allmon
Spring in Japan means sakura blossoms and sakura blossoms mean sakura-flavored lattes at Starbucks. Almost all major brands of snacks, from Pocky to KitKat, put out sweets available only in spring. McDonald’s, Mr. Donut, and other restaurants also get in on the spring flavors with deliciousness such as maccha McFlurries and sakura donuts.
In my opinion, the best tasting Japanese seasonal desserts will be from traditional Japanese “wagashi” (sweets) shops. The varieties of both wagashi and modern sweets for each season are vast.
This article will focus on the basic flavors of sweets that become more available during spring in Japan.
The king of spring sweets in Japan: sakura. Every time I’ve tried to get a cherry blossom frappuccino from Starbucks after work, the darn thing is sold out. Sipping a sakura-flavored cocktail under sakura blossoms may be a little too meta, but it’s much better than sitting in your room alone eating factory-made, unnaturally pink sakura mochi. Actually, never mind, I did that last weekend, and it was a good time.
Strawberry-flavored sweets typically start appearing in late winter and pick up speed during early spring in Japan. Strawberries sit atop Christmas cakes (usually variations on strawberry shortcakes), are placed in the center of sweet rice cakes called 大福 (daifuku), and find their way into syrups on ice cream. Depending on your area, you can also go to an all-you-can-eat strawberry-picking farm in early spring for less than 1500 yen. Of course, stopping by your local convenience store and picking up strawberry Pocky is much easier.
My personal favorite among spring flavors is green tea. If you’ve ever had maccha, you’ll know that it is a little bitter. Maccha can balance out the sweetness of sakura. For this reason, sometimes you’ll find this combination, particularly in spring.
Mugwort, known as “yomogi” in Japanese, is a little bit rarer than the other flavors mentioned here, but often appears in stores during spring. Yomogi has a very earthy flavor, which is unsurprising given that it is an herb.
If you aren’t a big fan of herbs, but like green-tea-flavored foods, be a little careful. Yomogi sweets are colored almost exactly the same as maccha sweets — a deep green. Be sure to read the kanji very carefully.
Did I miss any of your favorite spring flavors? Which flavor do you want to try the most?