Time to pack the bento box! This week the early cherry blossoms start to open in Kyoto and Tokyo. Japan’s nightly news bulletins at this time of year include an update on the cherry blossom season as it warms it’s way from Nagasaki in the south to Sapporo in the north. The flower foreceast allows viewers to schedule their blossom-viewing excursions. With Kyoto and Tokyo now blooming, the hanami parties will being in earnest.
Hanami literally means ‘flower viewing’ but over the centuries it’s come to refer to a picnic enjoyed under clouds of cherry blossom. With luck – and careful planning – a castle or beautiful garden will provide a backdrop to the floating blossom.
The best spots are taken by breakfast, with picnic rugs spread out and some lucky person nominated to guard the space. Some parties bring home-cooked food, but the bento boxes from the food floors of the major department stores are an easier choice. They feature specifically spring foods and plenty of cute references to cherry blossoms. Here’s a favourite – a sakura mochi, literally a spring sweet. Sticky rice is pounded to a chewy smoothness, coloured pale pink, wrapped around red bean paste, and then coverd with a preserved cherry leaf. Delicious!
Our Top 5 cherry blossom viewing spots in Tokyo:
1. Ueno Park – 1300 lanterns are strung through the trees and start to glow as night falls.
2. Shinjuku Gyoen – blooms can be seen over a long period as the 1000+ trees are a mix of varieties
3. Chidorigafuchi – rent a row boat to drift around the blossom-lined moat of the former Edo castle
4. Koishikawa Botanical Garden – the entrance fee means it’s not as packed as other hanami sites
5. Aoyama Cemetery – the straight avenues make for good pictures, but a graveyard is better for a walk than a picnic.
Oh, and here’s just one more tasty cherry blossom treat. A cherry-flavoured light custard, with a preserved cherry blossom at the bottom.
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