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Have a sweet hanami: 7 must-try sakura-flavoured wagashi

Have a sweet hanami: 7 must-try sakura-flavoured wagashi

Spring (春 haru) is often marked with the arrival of flowersparticularly the sakura (桜 cherry blossom)—and this is the time when restaurants, cafes, and confectioneries release limited edition products that feature the sakura, from sakura latte to sakura jelly and cakes. Japan has a love for all things sakura, which imparts a subtle sweet fragrance. Why not opt for wagashi (和菓子 traditional Japanese sweets)—from classic mochi (餅) to higashi (干菓子) and manju (饅頭)—that capture the essence of Japan in spring?


What is wagashi?

(Image credit: photoAC)


Wagashi is typically made from plants such as red beans, fruits, and rice, often best served with green tea. Usually available from March to April for the cherry blossom season, spring wagashi is readily available, whether it’s a street vendor, departmental store, or a traditional Japanese confectionery shop where you can savour the sweets almost everywhere with a cup of green tea.


Some wagashi are ideal snacks during the hanami (花見 cherry blossom viewing) picnics. Here are some popular sakura-flavoured wagashi:


1. Hanami Dango

(Image credit: photoAC)


Perhaps the most ubiquitous dessert in Japan, dango (団子) is a chewy mochi rice ball that’s usually skewered in threes. They’re eaten throughout the year, popular during celebrations and festivals. In spring, you get the hanami dango, which may be the inspiration behind the famous proverb hana yori dango (花より団子), meaning that food comes before beauty. Due to its popularity, there’s also an emoji. representing the dango.


Normally eaten during cherry blossom viewing season, hanami dango is characterised by its three colours: pink, white, and green, representing the cherry blossom in spring, snow in winter, and grass in summer. The flavour is mild, and not too sweet, making it a perfect accompaniment to green tea.


2. Sakuramochi

While mochi is available throughout the year, sakuramochi is usually only available during spring and traditionally eaten at flower-viewing parties. There are two different versions of sakuramochithe Kanto-style Chomeiji (長命寺) which originated in Tokyo (東京), and the Kansai-style Domyoji (道明寺) which came from Kyoto (京都). Both versions are wrapped with an edible cherry blossom leaf that’s been pickled in salt.


(Image credit: photoAC)


Chomeiji is basically a thin piece of dough made from shiratamako (白玉粉 rice flour) folded over a dollop of red bean paste, and originated from a shop called Chomeiji Sakuramochi in Tokyo which was established in 1717. You can enjoy the snack with green tea in the shop.


(Image credit: photoAC)


Domyojinamed after its origin at the Domyoji Templeis textured ball-shaped rice cake made with domyojiko (道明寺粉 glutinous rice flour) filled with bean paste. If you’re in Kyoto, a famous shop where you can is Tsuruya-Kotobuki in Arashiyama (嵐山) where sakuramochi was first sold here.


Chomeiji Sakuramochi (長命寺桜もち)
Address: 5-1-14 Mukoujima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo 131-0033
Nearest station: Oshiage Station (押上駅)
Access: 15-minute walk from the station. Upon exiting the A3 exit of the station, walk along Sakurabashi-dori and proceed straight to Bokutei-dori.
Opening hours: 8:30am–6pm (Daily) (Opens 10am–5pm on New Year’s Day)
Tel: +81 3-3622-3266


Tsuruya-Kotobuki (鶴屋寿)
Address: 30-30-6 Sagatenryuji Kurumamichi-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 616-8373
Nearest station: Saga-Arashiyama Station (嵯峨嵐山駅) / Randen-Saga Station (嵐電嵯峨駅)
Access: 5-minute walk from either stations
Opening hours: 9am–5pm
Tel: +81 75-862-0860


3. Sakura Yokan

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Yokan (羊羹)—or a bar of gelled sweet bean pasteis one of the most traditional Japanese sweets with a history of over 200 years. It’s often a popular gift item in Japan because it can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration.


In spring, you can find limited edition sakura yokan; the appearance varies depending on the store. Some are simply coloured pink and have sakura blossoms in them, while some are elaborately designed, like the limited edition Kumoi no Sakura yokan (雲井の桜) from Toraya (虎屋)—established in the 16th century in Kyotoeach slice of the yokan displays a fully-bloomed cherry blossom image.


Toraya Karyo Kyoto Ichijo Shop (京都一条店 虎屋菓寮)
Address: 415 Hirohashidono-cho, Ichijo-kado, Karasuma-dori, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 602-0911
Nearest station: Imadegawa Station (今出川駅)
Access: 7-minute walk from Exit 6 of the station
Opening hours: 9am–7pm (Weekdays), 9am–6pm (Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays)
Tel: +81 75-441-3111
*Toraya has approximately 80 shops located throughout Japan. The one listed is the one which has been operating in this place at least since 1628.


4. Sakura Higashi

(Image credit: ©JNTO)


Higashi is made from dough and wasabon (和三盆) sugar, which is formed in a mould with patterns unique to each wagashi maker and then dried. This dry confection is enjoyed for the way it quickly dissolves when placed in the mouth. You can find pink higashi in the shape of cherry blossoms and buds during springtime.


5. Sakura Nerikiri

(Image credit: ©JNTO)


Nerikiri (​​練り切り) is made from rice flour, sugar, and white bean, and moulded into pretty shapes such as flowers or birds to represent the seasons. There are various kinds of the nerikiri but the sakura nerikiri is only available in spring and is normally served with matcha during traditional tea ceremonies.


At Kyoto’s Kameya Yoshinaga, not only can you get seasonal sakura nerikiri, you can also try your hand at making them! You can also watch how they make higashi, and sample the sweets with green tea.


Kameya Yoshinaga (亀屋良長)
Address: 17-19 Kashiwaya-cho, Shijo-dori Aburanokoji, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8498
Nearest station: Ōmiya Station (大宮駅)
Access: 5-minute walk from the East Exit of the station
Opening hours (Main shop): 9:30am–6pm (Open all year round except on the first and second day of the New Year)
Opening hours (Tea room): 11am–5pm
Tel: +81 75-221-2005


6. Sakura Monaka

(Image credit: photoAC)


A monaka (最中) consists of red bean paste sandwiched between two slightly crunchy baked wafer cakes made with mochi flour. The shapes of monaka depend on the shopmost of them are circular, although some are moulded into interesting patterns and shapes.


In spring, it’s common to see sakura-shaped monaka which are usually pink and filled with sakura-flavoured red bean paste. Some shopslike Tokyo’s Awaya Soubeiuse a white bean paste with cherry blossom liqueur, sandwiched in chewy wafer.


Awaya Soubei (あわ家惣兵衛)
Address: 7-2-25 Oizumi Gakuencho, Nerima-ku, Tokyo 178-0061
Nearest station: Oizumi Gakuen Station (大泉学園駅)
Access: 30-minute walk from the North Exit of the station
Opening hours: 9am–6pm
Tel: +81 3-3922-3636


7. Sakura Manju

(Image credit: photoAC)


A classic staple of food vendors at hot spring towns, manju consists of red bean paste stuffed in a bun of flour dough and then steamed. In spring, you can get sakura manju which has a light pink doughsome varieties contain pickled and salted cherry blossoms in the bean paste, while some only have a salted cherry blossom that decorates the top of the bun.


Where to find wagashi

There are plenty of wagashi stores dotted around Japan, some dating back hundreds of years. While many popular ones are located in Tokyo and Kyoto, you can also find renowned wagashi makers with rich history in Kanazawa (金沢) in Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県 Ishikawa-ken), Iida City (飯田市 Iida-shi) in Nagano Prefecture (長野県 Nagano-ken), Nagasaki City (長崎市 Nagasaki-shi) in Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県 Nagasaki-ken), and more. Some regions are famous for particular types of wagashi; Aichi Prefecture (愛知県 Aichi-ken) is famous for uiro (外郎 steamed cake), Saitama Prefecture (埼玉県 Saitama-ken) for dango, and Okayama Prefecture (岡山県 Okayama-ken) for kibi dango (吉備団子 chewy mochi buns).


Many wagashi make for great souvenirs since they often come in beautiful packaging; wagashi can also be savoured at some stores where you can pair them with matcha green tea in a traditional atmosphere. Look out for limited edition spring versions that contain sakura!


This article is adapted from Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) Singapore Office. 

April's theme: Spring Beginnings. (Image credit: JAPAN RAIL CLUB)

Hungry for more?

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Header image credit: photoAC


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