Joyful Japanese Spring Festivals and Snacks

By Liv, DMT Collaborator on 12th April 2022 (updated: 28th March 2022) in Blog

Spring is finally springing! In Britain, we all agree that spring can’t come soon enough; the longer days, warmer temperatures and blossoming plants all brighten up our days.

Japanese spring is even more significant, so much so that it is considered the most notable, favourite, and joy-filled season. At this time of the year, as the blossom trees bloom, a celebratory attitude takes over as people start preparations for Japan’s many spring festivals.

Lasting from March to May, Japan’s spring calendar is filled with cultural and religious events, parades and activities enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. Spring in Japan also marks the beginning of the academic and financial year and is a time of change, not only in the weather but often in jobs and home.

This period of change and festivity, of course, comes with a whole host of special dishes. Read on to learn more about Japanese spring festivals, traditions and the snacks that go along with them.

Girls’ Day – 3rd March

Girls’ Day, also known as Hinamatsuri, is a festival celebrating daughters, their future happiness, health and fertility.

Delicate and intricate hina dolls arranged on a red tiered shrine to celebrate the Japanese Spring festival of Girls' Day.

A hina doll display.

As part of the celebration, parents set out intricate displays of ornamental hina dolls and peach blossoms, and pray for their daughters. They also prepare and eat traditional Japanese spring snacks, including:

Hishimochi

Mochi is a traditional sweet snack made from glutinous rice flour with a satisfying squishy texture. This variety is moulded into a diamond shape with layers of green, pink and white, the colours of Girls’ Day. These each have a symbolic meaning: white represents melting winter snow, green new growth, and pink the ume plum blossoms of early spring.

Sansoku Dango

Another sweet treat, sansoku dango, consists of three springy balls of rice dough served on a skewer. They are also coloured with the traditional green, pink and white of Girls’ Day.

Shirozake

To wash down all those sweets, shirozake is served. This is a sweet and mild rice wine, consumed for its cleansing properties. To make them feel part of the celebrations, children may be served amazake, a fermented drink with negligible alcohol content.

Chirashizushi

On the savoury side of things, chirashizushi is served. This is a sushi rice dish with a variety of ingredients scatted over the top, lending it its name, which means “scattered sushi”. The most common ingredients are fresh sashimi and vegetables, as fish is considered a symbol of good luck.

Clam Soup

Clam soup is another dish with symbolic significance on Girls’ Day. It is sometimes served in a clamshell, as the two halves represent unity and the parent’s hope for a happy future marriage for their daughter.

Boys’ Day – 5th March

Japanese sons also get their special day in Japanese spring, although nowadays it is more commonly known as “Children’s Day”. On this day, parents pray for the health and safety of their children.

They may set out a replica samurai helmet for display and fly a carp-shaped flag or kite outside their home, known as a koinobori windsock.

Japanese spring is a time you may see traditional samurai helmets or armour like this displayed outside homes.

Japanese spring is a time you may see traditional samurai helmets or armour like this displayed outside homes.

Kashiwamochi

On Children’s Day, kashiwamochi is eaten. This is a mochi variety that is filled with red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves.

Chimaki

This steamed rice dumpling is served in a bamboo or iris leaf and can be sweet or savoury. The sweet version may be filled with glutinous rice, sweet red bean gelatin or kudzu, and is eaten as a dessert or snack. When enjoyed savoury, it usually includes a filling of meat and vegetables and is eaten as an appetiser, snack, or meal.

White Day – 14th March

If you’ve read our blog on Japanese Valentine’s Day traditions, you’ll have heard of White Day.

While men are typically the recipient of Valentine’s gifts in Japan, White Day, a month later, is an opportunity for repayment. Introduced by the Japanese National Confectionery Industry in the ‘80s, White Day traditions consist of gifting white sweets, chocolate, marshmallows and more extravagant items like handbags to the special girl in your life.

Each edible gift has a different symbolic meaning:

Marshmallows

While marshmallows used to be associated with a pure and innocent kind of love, nowadays, it is said that they represent dislike or a desire to end a relationship because they melt fast.

Hard Candy

Hardy candies supposedly communicate returned feelings, as they last a long time in your mouth.

Cookies

A gift of cookies typically means the giver would prefer to remain friends, symbolising a ‘dry’ relationship.

However, these categories are hardly fast rules. Different gifts may signify a variety of different feelings on White Day, and many corporations have taekn the day as an opportunity to market various gifts to couples.

Cherry Blossom Parties

Perhaps the most iconic image of spring in Japan is the cherry tree in bloom.

The history of the Japanese’s love affair with the cherry blossom, or sakura, goes back more than a millennium when aristocrats loved to gaze upon plum blossoms and create art and poetry inspired by them.

Due to their fleeting beauty, the cherry blossom came to represent the Japanese concept of ‘mono no ware’, a melancholy realisation that nothing lasts forever.

In the Heian Period (794-1195), blossom parties were held by the elites of society and soon spread to the rest of the population. Women would dress in their finest brightly coloured kimonos and plays were held among the blossoms. People would get quite merry drinking sake under the beautiful trees.

Today’s blossom-viewing parties, or hanami, are more like picnics in the park, with drinking, eating, playing games and enjoying light displays.

At the height of the cherry blossom season, which only lasts two weeks, things get competitive. Sakura forecasts are broadcast on TV, telling everyone where the best spots in the country for blossom are and tracking the beginning and end of the season. Many people flock to the best spots early or stake their claim overnight to make sure they have the very best blossom-viewing experience.

Japanese spring just wouldn’t be complete without blossom-viewing parties accompanied by delicious snacks and treats.

Magnificent cherry blossoms bloom on the banks of a river, an iconic image of Japanese spring.

Sakura in bloom for their brief lifespan.

Wagashi

Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets, including Daifuku, a sweet rice flour dough surrounding red bean paste. Another is Yokan, a jellied sweet with red or white beans, sugar and agar.

Sakura Tea

A more traditional beverage, sakura tea is brewed from cherry blossoms and often drank from seasonally decorated teaware.

Sakura Mochi

During hanami, special sakura mochi, wrapped in a salted sakura leaf may also be eaten.

Sake

Sake rice wine is the perfect accompaniment to a hanami picnic, fuelling the revelries and washing down the seasonal sweet treats. Some sake creators have even brought out sakura flavoured variations, to make the occasion of Japanese spring.

The pink facade of Intoku Windsor on a Spring day. It is decorated with a garland of pink balloons to celebrate the grand opening, and pink flowers bloom in the foreground while customers eat outside.

Intoku Windsor’s cherry blossom-inspired facade.

Celebrating Spring at Intoku

Cherry blossom trees may be in short supply in England, but our restaurants take inspiration from this symbolic flower to provide a serene dining experience. Take inspiration from Japanese spring traditions; book today, tuck into some Japanese cuisine, indulge in some sake, and experience the joy for yourself this spring!

Book your table at our Brompton Road or Windsor location to avoid disappointment.

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