Day of Cherry Blossom
Nevertheless there is something to be said about the beauty and wonder the cherry blossom season brings.
The general flower language of cherry blossoms is “spiritual beauty” and seeing the cherry blossom definitely gives you a feeling like no other, touching the soul in an almost spiritual way.
There are 9 original species of cherry blossoms in Japan, and there are about 100 varieties, each coming into flower at different times depending on where in japan they are. The earlier blooms tend to appear in tropical Okinawa in January, with the last on the northernmost island of Hokkaido in early May.
The arrival of the cherry blossoms in Japan is a big deal, people eagerly wait for the forecasts of when the blossoms will bloom making the national news when the first blossom opens.
Cherry blossom viewing or “hanami” 花見 as it’s known started in the Edo period. Throughout Japan many people will be celebrating the cherry blossoms with viewing parties and picnics, taking place in gardens and parks.
Often you will see blue sheeting laying on the ground for people to sit on while they have special food and drink sake under the blossom while generally enjoying the arrival of spring.
This can go on well into the evening when viewing the blossom under lanterns that light up the branches is known as yozakura.
Many sakura themed and flavoured foods are eaten at this time, one of which is a popular confectionery called sakura mochi 桜餅 a traditional Japanese wagashi confection with over 300 years of history when Tokyo was still called Edo. This wagashi heralds the arrival of spring.
It is a soft, chewy, sticky rice cake filled with sweet azuki red bean paste. Did you know there are two types ? You may be familiar with the sakura mochi with roots in the Kansai region around Osaka called Domyoji made from domyojiko (道明寺粉), which is glutinous rice steamed, dried, and coarsely ground. The main characteristic of Domyoji Sakura Mochi is the distinctive stickiness of rice grain. As domyojiko is difficult to find outside of japan I always use mochigome a Japanese short-grain glutinous rice. The recipe for this is basically the same as my Ohagi recipe but you just colour the rice pink with a natural dye like a few drops of beetroot juice and wrap the mochi in a salted preserved sakura leaf. Cherry leaves are what gives the mochi that distinctive flavour.
The salted preserved sakura leaves are also hard to find but you can buy them from Nihon Ichiban on line from Japan.
They are often also decorated with preserved sakura flowers again you can buy these on line or why not use my recipe to make your own. This year I also intend to try preserving my own leaves.
The next sakura mochi is called Chomeiji Mochi which originated in the Kanto region, and was created around 1717 in an old Buddhist temple in Mukojima, Tokyo, named Chomeiji 長命寺. Unlike Domyoji mochi, the Kanto version has an outer pink thin crepe made by baking a mixture of wheat flour, glutinous rice flour, sugar, and water. The pale pink crepe is rolled and wrapped in mashed red bean paste and are then neatly wrapped inside salted cherry leaves.
People in the Kanto region (greater Tokyo areas) use shiratamako (白玉粉) a type of glutinous rice flour as the main ingredient for the mochi. They are super easy to make if you manage to gather all the ingredients it just takes a bit of planning a head if you want to make your own Sakura flowers and leaves but you can buy them if you wish.
This is how I made Chomeiji mochi 長命寺餅
Makes around x5
Ingredients & method sakura flowers and leaves rinsed in water and dried between kitchen towel. One of each for each mochi
Anko Tsubuan (粒あん) The paste has a chunky texture or Koshian (こしあん) The paste has a fine, smooth texture. Rolled into log shapes.
20 grams of Shiratama flour
Mixed with 40ml of water (mix and wait ten mins)
Then add 5 grams of sugar, 40 grams of plain flour and another 60ml of water.
Mix well until smooth and strain through a sieve.
Add a few drops of pink food colouring I like to use a natural dye so I use beetroot juice.
Heat up a non stick frying pan til hot then wipe neutral oil without flavour I use Tiana coconut butter over the pan with kitchen towel and then wipe it off (you do not want an oily pan)
Take a tablespoon of your mixture an add it to the pan add another and spread the batter out thinly into an oval shape.
This takes only second to cook once it’s solid flip it over for a few seconds to solidify on the other side. Remove and add to a plate and repeat the process until all your batter is used.
Lay a sakura leaf with the veins visible then place on top one of the crepes then add one of the anko logs and roll the leaf from the base and you are done. Continue with the rest and finish with a salted sakura flower. You can store these in an airtight container for a few days in the fridge.
Why not make yourself a bento this spring. One of my favourite places to buy bento boxes is Bento & Co in Kyoto. They have a wonderful on line store and ship really quickly from japan.
One memorable day last year I sat under a cherry blossom in my local park with my bento box and sake on a warm day.
The cherry blossom petals were falling like snow around me. Did you know there is a word for this ? 桜吹雪 Sakura-fubuki. It’s the little memories like this that stay with you. Another memory of Sakura-fubuki is when I visited Japan over cherry blossom season, I was walking in the Yasukuni Shrine and all the blossoms were falling.
The Japan Meteorological Agency determines the state of Tokyo’s sakura season by the flowers on a particular tree in the Yasukuni Shrine called the Index Tree. When only five or six blossoms have opened, Tokyo’s cherry blossoms are considered “in bloom.” When 80 percent of the buds on the tree have opened, Tokyo is considered to be in “full bloom.” Forty seven other prefectures have their own index tree.
I hope you are able to enjoy hanami even if you are not in Japan just by doing those little things that make you feel closer.