Sakura (Japanese cherry blossom) season in Tokyo is highly awaited and is marked by hanami flower viewing parties. The blooming Japanese cherry blossoms are a sight to behold for both local people and foreign visitors, with many hopefuls timing their arrival to coincide with the season (usually from late March to early April in Tokyo, though it varies depending on the variety of cherry blossom and the region).
Cherry blossom season in Japan is a wonderful time to just sit in a park and marvel at the beauty of the cherry blossoms. And what better way to enjoy the magnificent view than by spending time with family, friends, or your significant other, enjoying food and drinks while watching the delicate sakura petals floating to the ground.
Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
Selecting the perfect spot for your next hanami is crucial as it can really get jam-packed during cherry blossom season in Japan. Luckily, the concrete jungle of modern Tokyo is also home to several parks where you can have a breath of fresh air, take a pleasant stroll, and see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Some of these parks include the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Ueno Park, Sumida Park, Inokashira Park, Megurogawa, and Yoyogi Park. For the full list of our recommended cherry blossom viewing spots and their descriptions, check out Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo.
Once you’ve secured a location for your hanami picnic, you’ll want to prepare an al fresco of tasty treats and drinks for the occasion. Wondering what to eat at hanami? There are a few staples that are musts on your picnic blanket.
What to Eat at Hanami During Cherry Blossom Season
What to Eat at Hanami: Sakura-Inspired Snacks
Of course, hanami wouldn’t be complete without enjoying some sakura-flavored snacks. We have a blog post about all of the most iconic sakura snacks, as well as the new and innovative sakura snacks that have been popping up in recent years, so, come sakura season, you know what to keep an eye out for! Read Sakura Snacks for Cherry Blossom Season to find out about these tasty seasonal treats, both sweet and savory.
What to Eat at Hanami: Savory Hanami Foods
For starters, since the season might still be slightly cool, especially in the evening, it is advisable to pack a thermos filled with miso soup to warm up your tummies. Aside from the soup, one can also start with some tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and salads. These serve as a great compliment to grilled meats or fish like karaage (bite-size fried chicken) or ebi tempura. Cherry blossom festivals in Tokyo tend to involve street food, so you can get some hot and fresh okonomiyaki or takoyaki. Also, hanami bento are popular during this season. These on-the-go lunch boxes are commonly loaded with inarizushi (tofu pouches stuffed with sushi rice), tamagoyaki (Japanese-style omelet), sushi rolls, grilled fish, simmered spring vegetables, and fish cakes in pink and white, similar to the colors of the sakura.
Onigiri rice balls packed with fillings like pickled plums, salmon, and tuna mayonnaise get a sakura twist with the infusion of salted cherry blossoms. These rice balls are highly recommended for those who are on-the-go and who prefer an easy-to-carry meal that’s filling.
What to Eat at Hanami: Sweet Hanami Foods
Stay sweet under the blooms with these dessert treats that will make your Hanami picnic more enjoyable. Popular desserts include hanami dango, dumplings made with sweetened rice flour. During cherry blossom season in Japan, these rice dumplings usually come in tri-colored (green, pink, and white) to represent the colors of the Cherry Blossom trees and are served on skewers.
Another favorite dessert is the sakura mochi or rice cake balls filled with red bean paste and wrapped in salted cherry blossom leaf. Other dessert and light snack options include cherry blossom cookies (butter cookies infused with salt-pickled cherry blossoms) and cherry blossom milk pudding, which is pudding layered with cherry blossom-flavored jelly.
Perfect for those with a sweet tooth, wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets, which are often enjoyed alongside a Japanese tea ceremony. They come in so many varieties, and some even have sakura motifs or flavors, which makes them perfect for enjoying during hanami season. Here are 7 Wagashi Shops in Tokyo to visit before your hanami picnic. Pack a thermos of green tea to complement these portable little sweet treats. Or, join a Japanese tea experience like a tea farm tour or a traditional tea ceremony, to learn more about the perfect accompaniment to wagashi.
What to Drink at Hanami
To cap off the meal and cleanse your palate, enjoy a kampai with sake and sakura-themed beers. While the tradition of hanami in Japan usually involves copious amounts of alcohol, for those who’d rather stay sober, sakura-flavored hot teas or the traditional matcha tea will compliment whatever hanami picnic food you might want to chow down on during the cherry blossom viewing season.
With the hanami season approaching, while we revel in the glory and splendor of Sakura, let us not forget to be mindful of our trash. Also, do not attempt to take home a cherry blossom branch as this might affect the future blooms, or pick the blossoms as you should let others enjoy the sakura season as well. Instead, to preserve the moment you can take lots of photos of the pink blossoms against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. It’s a wonderful season to visit Japan, as you can lay down your picnic basket, eat, share a good laugh, and savor the moment, as the cherry blossom petals cascade down.
For a guided tour of Tokyo during the cherry blossom season, check out Cherry Blossom Festival Evening in Nakameguro 2020 and Cherry Blossoms 2020 Hanami and Food Tour in Yanaka.
Visiting the Kansai region? The Osaka Cherry Blossom Food Tour 2020 will show you around the Osaka Castle area, while the Kyoto Cherry Blossom Food Tour 2020 explores a lesser-known cherry blossom area so you can avoid the sakura-obsessed crowds.