Sakura, or cherry blossom, is one of the most iconic images of Japan. The trees in bloom are a symbol of the fragility of existence, they mark the new school and work year, and even share their name with women across the country. Sakura-viewing picnics called hanami are great fun, but you don’t have to limit yourself to just viewing. These flowers are also delicious in many kinds of food. Who said you can’t look at the sakura and eat it, too?

Sakura are very delicate, and that is the flavour that they impart to food. It has a lightly perfumed scent when used fresh, nowhere near as strong as rose, but it packs more of a punch when it has been preserved. Each of these states lend themselves to different types of food, as you’ll see from my list below. It’s rather a long list, but I wouldn’t say it’s comprehensive. This is just the food I’ve tried!

Click image for larger version  Name:	Sakura tea kitkat.jpg Views:	1 Size:	271.3 KB ID:	1149 Sakura green tea Kitkats

Round 1
• Sakura doughnut with sakura cream filling • Sakura teritama burger • Sakura anpan • Sakura ice-cream • Sakura mochi-flavour caramel corn • Sakura ‘senbei’ • Sakura tea KitKat • Sakura jelly beans • Homemade sakura cake

Round 2
• Sakura soy milk • Sakura mochi • Sakura cookies • Sakura an taiyaki (hot, and cold with cream) • Sakura daifuku • Sakura purin • Sakura roll cake • Sakura castela • Sakura tsukimi • Sakura macaron • Sakura ice bar • Sakura mont blanc • Sakura steamed cake square • Sakura mochi ice-cream • Sakura parfait • Sakura yukimi daifuku • Sakura udon/soba • Sakura onigiri

Click image for larger version  Name:	Sakura mochi.jpg Views:	1 Size:	51.0 KB ID:	1150 Sakura mochi

As you can see, sakura can lend its unique flavour to dozens of different kinds of sweets, and to a couple of things that are more savoury as well. I feel like I’ve found just about everything, and when I say that, I’m not bragging. Although I had the privilege of being in Japan, finding all of these was my personal mission for a long time, and one I did for curiosity as much as anything. It took a lot of time and walking to track some of them down - some more than others! I never really planned to do anything with it all, and it turns out that I’d actually forgotten a lot of what I ate! But I’m pleased that I did it, because now I get to share them with you, and tell you where to find some of the most delicious and interesting uses of sakura.

There’s a lot to get through, but I’ve split it up for our convenience. The two parts relate to my different visits to Japan and, handily, different opportunities to obtain sakura food. Round 1 was when I first went to Japan, and many of those foods I bought from large chains. For example, the sakura doughnut was from “Doughnut Plant New York City”, which was just a hole-in-the-wall style place in Tokyo. It’s not a moment that I remember well (I think I was still slightly jetlagged), but it turned out to be the beginning of my quest. It was lucky that I spotted it at the right time of year; most sakura food can only be bought around when the sakura is in bloom. It starts in late March in the south, and ‘travels’ northwards through April as it gets warmer.

The teritama burger from my list is a McDonald’s speciality – it’s short for teriyaki and tamago, which is egg - and is available all year round. The sakura version contains sakura mayonnaise. It’s a great idea – it got me to buy it! – but I have to say it didn’t leave a huge impression on me. As a subtle flavour, it was easily lost. However, the next sakura item is a fairly traditional one: sakura anpan. I expect other places sell it, but I found it in Vie de France, which has stores all over Japan. As long as it wasn’t a one-off, you can be guaranteed to find it there at the same time every year – and as a seasonal product it’s sure to be popular, so why wouldn’t they keep making it? It’s sweet bread containing sakura an – white beans flavoured with sakura, and it’s a lovely example of sakura used well.

The next two stores where I found food - Don Quijote (the caramel corn) and Kaldi (the jelly beans) - are great for buying all kinds of food. You’ll never know what you might find there. These sweets were rather sugary and more artificial, so I wasn’t very keen on them, but they still provided a fun experience. Similarly, the sakura green tea Kitkats sounded cool, but they mostly tasted of green tea to me. If you want to try them, I found them at Narita airport – they were actually one of my last purchases when I was leaving Japan!

The last two interesting finds on the first part of my list are sakura ‘senbei’ (it wasn’t actually senbei, but it was a similar type of rice cracker) and preserved sakura flowers (which I used to make a sakura cake). The former I got in Kawagoe, in one of the shops in the tourist area, and the latter was from Hakone – I got them at a hotel/onsen and I’m sure they’ll be at others. These foods are particularly interesting because you should be able to find them outside of sakura season; both are foods that keep well. I enjoyed being able to make my own sakura food, and the cake I came up with was rather tasty – you could pair it with a bit of green tea icing to combine two stereotypical Japanese flavours. The contrasting colours would look amazing, and then you can finish off the decoration with more sakura flowers – simple and delicious!

My favourite of this first round was the ice-cream. I felt like it was the first time I had a true taste of sakura without anything else getting in the way. Now, you might have noticed that I didn’t mention where I found the ice-cream, and there’s a reason for that. I can’t remember. I’m sorry. However! I do remember that there’s a fantastic ice-cream seller in Asakusa, near the temple which, among its dozens of flavours, also seasonally stocks sakura ice-cream. I can’t guarantee the same experience as mine, but I am determined to make sure that you have the opportunity to buy some sakura ice-cream for yourself!

After that slightly embarrassing lapse in memory, let’s move onto Round 2. Round 2 was when I was living in Sendai, and almost every single one of them was bought in the city. This was also more recent, and I documented it better, so although there’s a longer list, I can actually tell you where to get (almost) everything this time! I’m going to guide you right to them, complete with directions.

To start, we’re going to take a stroll along the covered arcades. But just before that, we need to visit Sakurano department store. In their food basement we might be able to find the lovely sakura castela (a type of cake) I bought from there. It’s simple, light and pairs well with sakura.

After that, it’s time to go to the entrance of the arcades. We’ll start at the Parco end – it’s nearest the main train station, and Parco also holds the second of our sakura treats. On the seventh floor is Nana’s Green Tea, a café that sells a wonderful variety of Japanese sweets. I highly recommend their parfaits as well. They have a limited edition special item that changes with the seasons, and naturally, in spring it’s sakura – in this case a beautifully presented roll cake. It was delicious, too; quite sweet but designed to go perfectly with slightly bitter green tea.

Click image for larger version  Name:	Sakura roll cake.jpg Views:	1 Size:	37.9 KB ID:	1152 Sakura roll cake from Nana's Green Tea

Next on your stroll down the arcades, just before you enter Clis Road, you should see a taiyaki shop just off to the left. Don’t miss it, because you might just find a sakura taiyaki. Taiyaki is batter cooked in fish-shaped moulds and traditionally filled with an (azuki bean jam) or custard. I’ve had both hot and cold sakura-an filled ones, and although I enjoyed them, a whole one was a little overpowering at once. There’s minimal batter and extra filling, so this might be one best shared or enjoyed alongside some more tea.

Our fourth treat is a bit further away. Keep walking through to the Vlandome section, and turn right after Fujisaki department store so you’re heading towards Kotodai-koen and City Hall. On your right you’ll see a tea shop called Ocha no Igeta (お茶の井ヶ田) that also sells sweets – here is your sakura daifuku. If you like daifuku, there’s no reason you won’t like this one. It’s a high-quality store, for one, and for another – yum. The creamy filling and chewy rice casing are nicely balanced and it’s a cool, refreshing treat to give you some energy after walking around the city.

As you cross the road and head out of the covered part of the shopping arcades, passing the Disney Store, a small alleyway hides the home of the sakura parfait from my list. The give-away to its location is the red neon sign saying “Yakiniku House”; the café is called Hikoichi (彦いち). It’s a lovely place with quite a traditional atmosphere, but it’s also popular. Go early in the day and be prepared to wait in a queue so they don’t sell out before you get there. I’m not keen on jelly, but the fact that it was sakura made it worth it. The parfait also had sakura-an on top, and I have to say, it goes very well with ice-cream.

Click image for larger version  Name:	Sakura parfait.jpg Views:	1 Size:	47.2 KB ID:	1153 Sakura parfait from Hikoichi

A little further up towards Mitsukoshi department store (but before it), look out for a Lotteria store. When you reach it turn left; Kent Cookies will be on the left. They have many kinds of seasonal cookie flavours – including sakura, of course. They are buttery and rich, which does overwhelm the sakura a little, but they’re still delicious and great for taking home as a sakura souvenir.

The aforementioned Mitsukoshi could provide you with more sakura treats, but perhaps not the ones I got there. The sakura mochi ice-cream I had (and loved) was from a food fair, which was a limited-time special event. However, Mitsukoshi’s food hall is large and is sure to have some sakura treats – perhaps even more sakura anpan at one of the bakeries.

We’ve finished with the shopping arcades, but we have more treats to find. For the rest of the list, we need to go further afield than Ichibancho (the city centre). First, there are a few I’m unsure of. Sakura tsukimi, which was a small cake filled with custard, was probably from the station, as was the onigiri – which was notable for using preserved sakura. The purin (pudding), ice-cream bar and yukimi daifuku were all from various konbini (convenience store) – and you can find them no matter where you are in Japan.

Click image for larger version  Name:	Sakura yukimi daifuku.jpg Views:	1 Size:	49.4 KB ID:	1151 Sakura yukimi daifuku - in a convenience store near you (hopefully!)

But now we’re going back to Sendai, and to the sakura macaron. This was the hardest to track down, but I wanted to find one once I’d realised it was one sakura sweet I’d not had! I eventually found it to the west of Kitayobancho subway station, but sadly I can’t remember the name of the patisserie. Perhaps you can? Next on the list is the soy milk, which was probably from Don Quijote. There are two large ones, only a walk or a short subway ride away: one at Kita Sendai and one on Bansui Dori, which runs parallel to part of the shopping arcade. Like all the flavoured soy milk I tried, it was very sweet, but it also had a very clear flavour of sakura, and was almost certainly vegan. There's a sakura treat to suit everyone!

Even further out of the city, a train ride followed by a walk or bus ride is required for the second savoury one: sakura soba and udon (noodles), at Banzan Soba (蕃山そば). This is located along the Sakunami Highway, between Rikuzen-Ochiai and Ayashi stations. The flavour didn’t come through at all, but they were a delightful shade of pink! Another Senzan train will take us to Yamagata City, home of the patisserie chain Satoya. It takes just over an hour from Sendai station, but you needn’t go any further than the S-Pal mall adjoining Yamagata station to buy a sakura mont blanc – one of Satoya’s many locations is here. The mont blanc itself has a great mix of flavours and textures; it even contains a disc of green tea cake. In fact, the only problem with it is that it doesn’t travel too well – mine ended up a little squished into the side of the box.

And on that squishy note, we come to the end of my sakura odyssey. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and gained some inspiration for your future travels. Sakura season is a lovely time to be in Japan and I want you to enjoy it to the fullest! Is there anything from my list that you really want to try? Do you have anything else to add to it? Let me know in a comment – I’d love to find out!