Beginning anywhere from late March to early May, it’s also an opportunity to experience the quintessentially Japanese activity of hanami, or flower viewing, where Japanese people flock by the millions to stroll around, picnic beneath, or just generally observe the cherry trees in full blossom.
Luckily, while the actual period of blossoming is typically only around two weeks, making it easy to miss, sakura themed products hit the market in March and last all the way through spring. From sakura themed plushies and stationery to a wide range of sakura flavored snacks, desserts, and drinks, cafés and convenience stores around Japan are packed to the brim with cherry blossom themed treats to celebrate the season.
While some brands simply borrow the beautiful iconography of the blossom to add a touch of color to their usual labels and designs, others release limited edition products foregrounding the subtle, salty-sweet flavor of sakura. Here are some of our favorite picks of Japan’s many sakura themed snacks!
What do you get when you combine one of the most iconic Japanese snacks with one of the most quintessentially Japanese flavors? Sakura Pocky! Last year, Glico released two new flavors of Pocky to celebrate the season: Sakura Shitate and Sakura Matcha. The latest in Pocky’s recent “Pocky from JAPAN” series, which showcases uniquely Japanese flavors like white peach and kinako roasted soybean flour, Sakura Shitate offers a traditional sweet-and-salty sakura experience.
The pretzel sticks are flavored with brown butter, coated with sakura flavored white chocolate, and finally dusted off with a combination of salt and granulated sugar, giving the treat a rough texture reminiscent of a pickled cherry blossom.
Sakura Matcha, meanwhile, dials down the saltiness by mixing the sakura flavor directly into the pretzel sticks in the form of sakura leaf extract, kneading into the dough before baking. The sticks are then coated in green tea infused chocolate, offsetting the gentle fragrance of the sakura with the rich bitterness of the matcha flavors and making for a surprisingly sophisticated sakura snack!
Did you know that sakura flowers aren’t the only edible part of a Japanese cherry tree? Every year, sakura leaves are plucked and pickled in salt water for use in making sakura mochi. Sakura mochi is a traditional Japanese sweet, or wagashi, consisting of a pink-tinged sticky rice cake stuffed with a red bean paste filling and wrapped in a sakura leaf. The leaf itself is lightly bitter in taste, contrasting the gentle sweetness of the red bean and mochi perfectly.
Sakura mochi is often enjoyed as part of the Japanese festival of Girl’s Day, held on March 3, but can be found throughout the spring season. In fact, sakura mochi is such a popular and well-established flavor in Japan that you can even experience it in Kit Kat form! First released in 2020, this limited edition Kit Kat perfectly recreates the unique bittersweet combo of sakura mochi with real sakura leaf extract and sweet bean powder in the bar’s ingredients.
Of course, food isn’t the only place you’ll find sakura flavors during the spring! A number of sakura themed drinks are also released in Japan at this time of year, from bottled sodas and teas to speciality coffees, hot chocolates, and even bubble teas!
One of the most notorious examples of a sakura themed beverage comes from Coca Cola Japan, who has released a limited edition sakura themed Coca Cola bottle every year since 2017. While the drink itself tastes no different, the novelty design of the bottle makes it a coveted collector’s item that sells out year after year, with a beautiful, one-of-a-kind pink sakura theme replacing Coca Cola’s classic red-and-white branding.
Spring is also a time when a more traditional Japanese beverage made with sakura cherry blossoms enjoys a surge in popularity. This drink is sakurayu, or cherry blossom tea. Sakurayu is a simple, fragrant tea made by steeping pickled cherry blossoms in boiled water, causing the pink leaves to unfurl and subtly flavoring the drink. Served traditionally at Japanese weddings, springtime events, and Girl’s Day festivities, sakurayu is a slightly sweet, slightly salty brew that tastes, unlike any other herbal tea you’ve tried.
Cinnabon isn’t usually a brand that springs to mind when thinking of Japan, but that might have to change with the arrival of the Sakurabon: a sakura flavored Cinnabon that will be available in select Japanese franchises of the American chain until the middle of March.
Unlike some of the other picks on this list, there’s nothing traditional about this sakura themed treat. Instead, the Sakurabon stays true to its super-sweet, ultra-decadent origins, with sakura and almond flavored frosting, soft-pink coloring, and crunchy sakura crumble topping. For sakura lovers looking for a lightly fruity, salty-sweet flavor, Cinnabon probably isn’t going to deliver—but for those of us with a sweet tooth, the Sakurabon might be the perfect spring-time indulgence!
Ultimately, Japan’s sakura season has a lot to offer fans of Japanese snack food! With their uniquely Japanese flavor and theme, these snacks range from more traditional varieties—foregrounding the blossom’s unconventional sweet-and-salty flavor—to the purely, deliciously sugary. No matter your preference, sakura is one of the most unique flavors of snack in Japan today, and an absolute must-try for any fan of cherry blossoms, sweet-and-salty treats, or quintessentially Japanese flavors.
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