Spring in Japan is a time for celebration as the season marks new beginnings. Other than the mesmerising cherry blossoms painting the landscape, spring is the best season to experience the growing bounty of Japan’s nature. With the transition from winter, the farmers begin their preparations for the growing season and plants and fruits burst back to life. Spring food is a much-anticipated harbinger of spring in Japan.

From seasonal fresh vegetables to sakura mochi, this food guide invites you to feast on the delectable spring offerings of Japan. 

 

1. Bamboo Shoots

Fresh bamboo shoots eaten as appetisers in a Japanese mealFresh bamboo shoots | Photo by photoAC

Bamboo is a spring symbol of prosperity and vitality. Fresh bamboo shoots are a Japanese spring delicacy used in spring cuisine and celebrations. Bamboo shoots, or takenoko (筍・竹の子), which literally means bamboo’s child in Japanese, are harvested quickly before they grow out. It’s important to harvest and cook the bamboo shoots during the “golden hours” before they grow more and become hard and inedible. 

Bamboo shoots are enjoyed in a variety of ways. A simple way to prepare bamboo shoots is to simmer them in sauces and serve as a tosa ni (土佐煮) appetiser. Bamboo shoot rice, or takenoko gohan (筍ご飯・竹の子ご飯), is a hearty spring dish where the tender bamboo shoots are cooked with rice.

 

2. Nanohana

Nanohana, a spring-exclusive vegetable in JapanNanohana – a spring-limited edition vegetable | Photo by photoAC

You know spring has arrived when you see nanohana (菜の花) popping up in supermarkets. Also known as nabana (菜花) or canola or rapeseed, nanohana is a distinctive spring vegetable with leaves, stalks, and emerging flower buds. Young sprouts are harvested at the start of the season before the flowers start to bloom fully. 

This healthy vegetable is tender, pleasantly bitter, and nutritious. It contains minerals, vitamins and it’s a good antioxidant. Featured commonly in spring dishes, nanohana can be eaten as a light appetiser when boiled and served with seasonings like Japanese mustard or wasabi. It is used as a garnish or side dish in other spring dishes as well.

 

3. Sakura Mochi 

Sakura mochi to welcome spring.Sakura mochi to welcome spring. You can tell where this sakura mochi is made from based on its appearance. | Photo by photoAC

Cherry blossoms are a hallmark of spring, and sakura-inspired delicacies can be found all over Japan during the festive season. One popular springtime snack is sakura mochi (桜餅), typically eaten during ohanami gatherings or Hina Matsuri celebrations. This traditional Japanese confectionery or wagashi (和菓子) is a pretty-looking pink rice cake filled with red bean paste (あんこ) which is wrapped in pickled cherry blossom leaves that can be eaten too. 

Sakura mochi is made differently based on where you buy it. In the Kanto region, you can try chomeiji sakura mochi (長命寺桜餅) which as a flat appearance and a smooth finishing. This is because the mochi, made with wheat flour and water, is rolled into thin slices before baked. Domyoji mochi (道明寺桜餅) from the Kansai region is made from steamed glutinous rice paste and it has a more granulated texture. 

 

4. Strawberry Daifuku

Strawberry daifukuStrawberry daifuku, a pretty and delicious snack | Photo by photoAC

Strawberry daifuku or ichigo daifuku (苺大福) is a popular type of wagashi that welcomes spring with sweetness and good luck as daifuku (大福) means big fortune or big luck. While the traditional daifuku mochi is stuffed with sweet red bean paste (あんこ anko), strawberry daifuku features a whole strawberry covered with just a thin layer of sweet red bean paste and wrapped with chewy and soft mochi.

 

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When you cut the strawberry mochi into half, you’ll be awed by a beautiful presentation—a heart-shaped red strawberry nestled in soft, white mochi. Strawberry daifuku are widely sold in local confectionery shops and supermarkets. Look out for strawberry daifuku made with branded Japanese strawberries like Amaou (あまおう) from Fukuoka and Tochiotome (とちおとめ) from Tochigi. Interested in trying more strawberries in Japan? Check out these varieties of Japanese strawberries

 

5. Plums

UmeboshiHealthy Japanese plums | Photo by photoAC

Japanese plum blossoms may not be as well known as cherry blossoms but they are the first flowers to bloom in spring. Plums or ume (梅) are an important Japanese delicacy, and plum-based dishes are a popular staple in Japan. A springtime snack, umeboshi (梅干し) pickled plums, has a strong sour taste and it boasts great health benefits. 

The tangy umeboshi is a wonderful snack to start a meal. Try a popular local way to enjoy umeboshi by eating it with plain rice. Plums are used as a condiment and garnish for meat and vegetable dishes, as well as in beverages. Umeshu (梅酒), plum wine, and plum-flavoured alcoholic drinks are enjoyed with Japanese food. 

 

6. Hatsugatsuo

Fresh and premium spring bonito or hatsugatsuoFresh and premium spring bonito | Photo by photoAC

Many spring foods are referred to Hatsumono (初物) as hatsu means first and this group of seasonal food is usually made using fresh spring ingredients. Hatsugatsuo (初鰹), or spring bonito, is the first bonito fish of the year. Bonito fish in the Pacific Ocean swim to the waters near Japan and the freshly caught fish in spring are in high demand as spring bonito tastes fresher and lighter with less fat. 

Hatsugatsuo is best savoured fresh as sashimi with a tinge of wasabi and soy sauce. Seared bonito (鰹のたたき katsuo no tataki) is another delicious way to enjoy fresh slices of bonito sashimi that are perfectly seared. 

 

Celebrate Spring with April’s “Spring Beginnings” Omiyage Snack Box

Spring Beginnings Omiyage Snack Box by JAPAN RAIL CLUB

Spring is the time for new beginnings and treats. Try more spring-inspired food with JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s April 2024’s “Spring Beginnings” Omiyage Snack Box. This specially curated seasonal snack box burst with seasonal flavours infused with cherry blossoms and plum. 

The spring delights include Sakura Mochi (さくらもち), as well as Sakura Karinto (さくらかりんと), which is a sakura-infused deep-fried Japanese snack by Marui Suzuki, our Maker of the month. Savour creative fusion products like Fried Okra with Plum and Bonito (さくさくオクラ 梅かつお), together with Plum Blend Drip Coffee (梅ブレンド) by Saza Coffee. 

Apply the promo code “SPRING14” to celebrate spring with discounts of up to USD33! By starting a monthly subscription with JAPAN RAIL CLUB, you will enjoy a customised box of Japanese snacks delivered to your house every month. Happy spring!