10 Upcoming Sakura-Themed Goodies to Get You Hyped for Cherry Blossom Season

Is it that time of year already?!

The other day, I stumbled across a Starbucks sakura latte in a Family Mart convenience store. It’s just one of the many exciting sakura-themed treats we’ll be experiencing for the approaching cherry blossoms, the pink flowers that bloom for just a few weeks in early spring.

People go crazy for it; they lay out picnic sheets, prepare a huge amount of food and beer, and have a great time under the falling petals. It’s enormous fun and I’ll be sure to attend at least one of these events, “hanami” in Japanese, in March.

To celebrate, here are ten upcoming (and current) goodies that various companies release for one of Japan’s most beloved seasons.

1. The Starbucks Sakura Latte

Starbucks is as well loved here as it is anywhere, and the huge American coffee chain has wasted no time in releasing its strawberry jelly treat. Served hot or cold, it’s recommended you only buy this if you really like sweet drinks.

2. Lipton’s Sakura Milk Tea

Don’t like coffee? How about tea?! Lipton’s is releasing a brand new Sakura-infused milk tea to celebrate the upcoming blossoms. You can read more about this on SoraNews.

3. Sakura Kit Kats

Kit Kats may have hailed from the town of York in England, but Japan has made them great. Gaining traction in Japan for their name, which sounds like “kitto katsu” (I’ll surely win) in Japanese and thus giving schoolchildren a boost when they buy them in exam season, Kit Kats now come in an enormous amount of different flavors, ranging from green tea and pumpkin to strawberry and sake.

It’s no surprise, then, that Kit Kats are bought by the bucketful when sakura season rolls around.

4. The Limited-Edition Sakura Pie at Lotteria

Lotteria is a fast-food place mostly selling burgers, similar to McDonald’s. In 2017, they brought out a limited-edition sakura pie for just 180 yen (about $2 USD). It was really delicious, and fans of this sweet treat are praying for a re-release.

5. Sakuramochi

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Sakuramochi have been around for decades; mochi is the word for rice cake, and this seasonal treat is soft rice filled with red bean paste and wrapped in a salted sakura leaf. It’s insanely more-ish and you can find them in supermarkets all over the country come cherry blossom time.

6. Sakura Milk

Perfect for kids and those who aren’t keen on coffee, this snack-sized treat adds a cherry blossom twist to normal milkshakes. I’ll definitely be grabbing one next time I visit Kaldi Coffee.

7. McDonald’s Sakura Teriyaki Egg Burger

Not keen on sweets? You won’t miss out! Every spring, McDonald’s comes up with a range of sakura-themed treats, determined not to be missed out. They have a whole menu of sakura stuff: drinks, burgers, and even fries sprinkled with special cherry blossom salt.

I’m hoping for a return of the sakura teriyaki egg burger. It sounds so bad it has to be good.

8. Lindt’s Sakura Menu

Lindt has shops all over the place in Japan, the sales of their pricy but high-quality cacao-filled treats boosting in February and March anyway due to Valentine’s Day and White Day, respectively. They continue to sell well by introducing their sakura-themed menu, imitating other cafes with blossom-infused drinks and selling their own sakura macarons.

9. Eitaro’s Sakura Jelly

This sakura-themed jelly is a frequent yearly release by Eitaro that dessert-lovers should keep an eye out for. It’s 300 yen for one piece, making it slightly pricier than some others on this list, but a great treat for fans of sakura-infused foods.

10. Sakura Coca Cola

Yet another international brand jumps on the cherry blossom bandwagon! With other Japan-exclusive flavours such as peach cola, it’s not much of a surprise that sakura coke is a thing, too. The fizzy drink is already pretty sweet, so it remains to be seen whether the blossom infusion will improve it or not.

Seasons and related foods change fast, so grab these sakura goodies while you can! Before we know it, it’ll be summer and we’ll all be fainting under the humidity again.

Valentine’s Day JUST Ended And We’re Already Seeing This

It never stops with special events and festival goods spurring businesses to launch the latest and greatest relevantly-themed product.

Valentine’s Day in Japan involves women giving their loved ones and male coworkers chocolates. As you might expect, sales of this sugary treat skyrocket around late January and early February. I did my own share of choccy shopping and am eagerly awaiting reciprocal gifts on White Day.

That being said, Valentine’s Day JUST ended, and already I came across THIS.

Sakura season is ages away! New Year’s Eve was just five minutes ago… wasn’t it?

Trust Starbucks to get ahead with cherry blossom themed drinks.

Buying branded coffee in convenience stores is way cheaper than going to the cafes themselves, and I picked this up for around 170 yen (closer to 600 in an actual Starbucks). I just had to grab this early treat to celebrate the yearly blossom of pink and white flowers millions across the country will enjoy and celebrate in March.

Chocolate and strawberry jelly; what could go wrong?

Verdict: it was revolting.

Shonan No Hoseki Illuminations Event in Enoshima, Japan

Enoshima is a gorgeous island near Kamakura where people go to take a break from the city, see some local shrines, and spend the day with their families. Right now in December, there is a lovely illumination event in Samuel Cocking Garden near Enoshima Shrine.

It cost 200 yen to inside and an extra 300 yen to go up the tower. The lights were impressive, and stepping into the area felt like walking into a new world.

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Illumination events appear all over the cities in Japan around December and January. Though not always festive, they are a public version of Christmas lights that people can enjoy this time of year.

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They certainly pushed the boat out at this garden. Together with the walk past the breathtaking Enoshima Shrine and with a nearby cafe selling french toast, coffee, and other goodies, it was a lovely evening out with friends.

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If you’d like to see this illumination, the event will run until February 17th, 2019. For more information about opening times, see the website below.

Illumination Event website
Access

Taiwan Festival in Ueno Park

It’s rainy season at the moment so the weather consists of thick clouds and the odd shower. I didn’t want to sit in the house all day though so we went to Ueno Park, about half an hour away from our house by subway, to the Taiwan Festival.

It was actually surprisingly busy, but most places in Tokyo are at the weekend. There was merry music and an exotic, sweet smell of Chinese cooking in the couple of rows of stalls.

We started with a drink. Ken got some Taiwanese beer and I bought some mango juice. 500 yen felt like a bit of a stretch but it was thick, not too sweet, and very refreshing.

Ken got all excited so we went to get some food as well. Due to the sweet sauces they use, although it was a chicken and rice dish, it tasted very different to Japanese food. We sat on the damp steps of the park and people-watched while we ate. It wasn’t the most glamorous day out but I was full of happiness because I was with my favourite person.

We went to get some dumplings too but upon getting to the front of the line we saw the guy emptying a bag of frozen ones onto the grill! They weren’t fresh, so Ken got some noodles instead and slurped them while I drank a matcha tapioca milk drink. We listened to some taiko drumming, lined up to throw away our trash (which would probably never happen in other countries) and wandered back.

There are a lot of cool little shrines and things in Ueno Park, and we found ourselves at Hanazono Inari Shrine. It’s a cute row of torii gates and apparently a place to visit to strengthen your relationship, whether its friendship, family, or romantic.

We walked down hand in hand down this path and rang the bell to make a wish. Then, overcome by lethargy from food and the drizzling weather, took the long train home.

Little adventures like these are everywhere in Tokyo if you know where to find them by doing some research first. I happened to find the Taiwan Festival on Tokyo Cheapo, one of my favourite sites for finding events in this great city.

Though it was a little far, it was a nice date. Festivals are always done well in Japan so be sure to check one out when you visit… so long as you don’t mind the crowds.

Delicious Monja-Yaki in the Heart of Asakusa

My boyfriend grew up in Asakusa, East Tokyo. Since it’s almost an hour away by train from our house in Meguro Ward, we don’t go there very often. When he was in high school, he’d climb over the fence and dash off to the local monja-yaki place, where he’s good friends with the owner. She’d let him sleep, smoke, and even drink beer there when he was fed up with school. She’s been like a cool aunt to him for years.

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We went to that restaurant together about two years ago when we first started going out. This time, I walked in and she grabbed my hand, saying “I remember you. Welcome back!” We also met one of Ken’s old friends and her two children, and ate delicious food (and got very drunk).

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So what is monja-yaki?

Monja-Yaki

Japan enthusiasts might have heard of okonomiyaki – the savoury pancake from Osaka that is a tasty and popular street food. Monja-yaki is Tokyo’s version: ingredients mixed together before they’re fried on a large grill. Okonomiyaki was also served here as well as other foodie bits. We started with sausages and cabbage, nom nom.

Monja works by mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl.

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I don’t know all of what was in there, but monja typically contains cabbage, meat, spring onions, beansprouts, and other things. Water, flour, and soy sauce are added so that you can pour it onto the plate.

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Put the ingredients in a circle then pour the watery part in the middle. It’ll all start to bubble and boil.

After that, you use a little scoopy thing to grab some, press it to the plate to cook it almost to burning, and shovel it into your mouth. It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it’s absolutely packed with flavour. My mouth’s watering just remembering it.

We ate some other things, including the heavenly buta kimchi (pork and Korean spicy cabbage), some weird fish cakes, and scallops. I’d never had scallops before and put the whole, chewy thing in my mouth, which took about eight years to swallow. Won’t be trying that again.

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Food always seems to be better when made by an old dear who’s been doing it for years. The monja-yaki was mind-blowingly good and it was a lot of fun eating and drinking with good people in my favourite city.

The restaurant is super local; I didn’t see any tourists, and we had to walk through residential areas for ages before we reached it. The owner is awesome – would you believe that she is 82 years old?

If you visit Tokyo, do try monjayaki. It’s one of the city’s best dishes! You can often get both monja and okonomiyaki at the same restaurant, so try them both and see which you like the most. They’re both delicious and are both cooked in the same way, but are quite different.

Kamakura and Cherry Blossoms

Hi, everyone. Spring is finally here! I hope that wherever you are, the weather is getting warmer and you’re waving a cheery goodbye to winter. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, maybe you’re glad the weather is cooling down.

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I went to Kamakura with some friends to see the cherry blossoms. I decided I didn’t want to do hanami this year (visiting a park or natural space with cherry blossom trees under which to eat and drink all day) since last year I was left disappointed. I’d made a huge picnic only to have the couple we’d planned it with cancel at the last minute. But I decided to go to Kamakura, the lovely town near Yokohama, and it was great!

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Cherry blossoms, locally called sakura, only bloom for a couple of weeks in the year and since there are thousands of them all over the place in Japan, there are many great spots where you can see them. We visited a temple and a shrine, as well as a long pathway with sakura trees either side. It was pretty magical.

We went to Engaku-ji, a gorgeous temple that is really “Japan” in many ways; gorgeous architecture, tranquil grounds, and a sense of peace. My friend Mike joked that all we needed to see was a cat and the day would be complete. Lo and behold, we saw a chubby kitty on our way out.

We also saw some ladies in kimonos riding a rickshaw.

After a wander around the shrine, we walked down the road surrounded by sakura trees. You could see several torii gates in a row, which means the road must have been some kind of pilgrimage path long ago. I bet it looked even more magnificent back then without the cars and buildings.

We were starving after all the walking so we had an awesome lunch at J.S. Burger near the station. Om nom nom.

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I haven’t been getting out much lately so it was a really refreshing day. Kamakura is around an hour away by train but it’s got a completely different vibe from Tokyo and it’s well worth a visit to get a taste of the “real” Japan.

Yakiniku (Korean Barbecue) in Japan

It’s the weekend, and a national holiday on Monday! I’m getting geared up to spend the next three days killing dragons, hunting monsters, and reading books. Not necessarily in that order.

We had yakiniku for dinner, which is the local word for Korean barbecue. You get a grill at your table and order stuff to put on the fire. The meat is all cut thinly so that it cooks after just a minute or so.

Restaurants usually offer a tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) course, but you generally don’t need it. The tabehoudai was around 3,400 yen but they had a set for two people for just 2,500 yen and it was more than enough.

They also had nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) set, but you could only get it if you already ordered the tabehoudai. Therefore, we got just one bottle of sake and then ordered soft drinks to make our own mixed drinks. Forbidden? No. Cheeky? Maybe.

The set was ginormous, have a look. Please forgive the vertical shot though; I am not a clever man.

We also got a big bowl of rice, some sausages, and some kimchi, which is spicy Korean cabbage and one of my favourite foods ever. I remember going mental when I saw kimchi featured in an episode of QI.

It’s pretty much a meat lover’s dream. We had grilled kalbi beef and sausages and rice and kimchi and onion and carrot and pumpkin until we were full to burst. I also had juice with too much sake in and left the restaurant a little merry.

If you visit Japan, definitely be sure to try out “yakiniku.” It’s one of the best not-Japanese-but-kind-of-Japanese styles of eating you don’t want to miss 😀

Japanese “Purikura”

Day 35

Today I went to Ikebukuro with some friends. We were supposed to be going to some kind of museum exhibition, but as the queue ran down the stairs all the way from the seventh floor down to the second, we gave up on the idea. People here don’t mind lining up hours for something if it’s popular, but none of us had the patience. Instead we ate salad and pizza, yum yum.

Edward really really wanted to do purikura. Purukira, a shortened version of the term “print club,” is a photo booth that adds exaggerated airbrushing to your pictures. You can also add writing, pictures, backgrounds, and stickers to make your photos unique.

It’s against the rules in some purikura places to go in if you’re just one guy or a group of guys. We got some funny stares when I walked behind my three British male friends, who are all taller than the junior high school girls occupying the room.

It’s just 400 yen for a purikura, so 100 yen each. You go inside and have to pose quickly because a picture is taken every couple of seconds. It was really fun, and the boys look so pretty!

If you’d like to try purikura, just go to any arcade in Japan. Just remember that if you’re a group of men, you won’t be able to do it, unfortunately. Maybe they had problems with strange guys peeking in the past. Some tourist attractions like Tokyo Tower also have a purikura booth, sometimes with themed backgrounds and stickers. They’re great for couples or groups of friends.

 

Pretty Yokohama

Day 29

Yesterday I met some people from university who I hadn’t seen for years. We went to Yokohama, the second biggest city in Japan and a short train ride away from Tokyo. Yokohama is relatively quiet, spacious for a Japanese city, and has an awesome Chinatown selling goods and food from (where else?) China. It also has a pretty big presence when Chinese New Year comes round in February.

The port is also really pretty and, like that day, we could see some ships getting ready to port. It’s much nicer on a sunny day but still made for a pretty impressive view.

We had lunch in Chinatown and then tucked into some coffee and pie at a cafe. It was a lot of sugar and calories but hey, it was a special day. We passed the small theme park, including the large Ferris wheel. It’s something which I always look at and think “that’s pretty,” while refusing to get on.

Pretty sunset

We did purikura, a photo booth where, as you can see, you can edit your photos after taking them. At just 100 yen each (400 yen per session), it wasn’t an expensive venture. LEP refers to the group we were in at university, and since it was 2012 since we all first met, we called that day the LEP Reunion.

Yokohama has a completely different vibe to Tokyo. In Yokohama, I always feel more relaxed with that “weekend feeling.” Still, I’ve never worked in Yokohama which is probably why. Still, everyone who has been to both cities would probably agree that Tokyo is the more hectic, if equally charming, of the two.

Oh, yeah. I also broke my shoe.

If you visit Tokyo, be sure to take a day trip to Yokohama, it’s a really cool place 🙂

Winter in Tokyo

It’s really really really cold today. The snow has made things a bit mental in other prefectures; a train in Niigata was stopped for fifteen and a half hours, trapping over 400 people on board, and one or two elderly people have died because of collapsing houses under the snow.

Tokyo doesn’t have snow, thankfully, but it’s still pretty biting. Insulation here is awful, so if you don’t have the heater on, cold air penetrates your room whether you’re in a house, a block of flats, or the office.

It really makes me miss home. At least when it’s cold, you’ll feel the warmth as soon as you walk inside. Right now, we get inside our house and have to turn the heater on as soon as we walk in, waiting around fifteen minutes before it’ll heat up the room. Just that room. No central heating here.

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Every time I feel like I hate winter, though, I remind myself of the cockroaches that found their way into our bathroom (not an infestation; there are just a lot of them around when it’s hot) last summer. Cockroaches are terrifying, so maybe cold fingers, and taking twenty minutes to get your bed warm at night is an acceptable alternative. Maybe.

At least I’m not dealing with snow. I shudder to imagine the amount of yuki gakki (snow shovelling) is going on near my old place up in Nagano Prefecture. Still, there are many great things about winter, too: hot beverages and soup inside vending machines, winter sports, heat-tech wear, winter illuminations, etc etc etc.

Bottom line is that it’s cold.