Sakura season is when the cherry blossom comes out in brilliant floral force in Japan. Here we break down why it’s so culturally important and provide some top tips for which Japanese drinks to imbibe to get into the spirit of the season.
There are all kinds of images synonymous with Japan: the dizzying nightlife of Tokyo, remarkable food, anime, Samurai, sake, great whisky, and Godzilla. It’s a rich and diverse culture. But arguably the most beautiful sight in all of Japan is the arrival of the cherry blossoms, or sakura, in spring. Blooms of delicate pink and white petals dot parks, rivers, and towns in a scene that must have those who love a bit of Instagram frothing at the mouth.
Japan’s national flower
The sakura is Japan’s national flower. It appears on the 100 Yen coin. It’s a fixture in art, poetry, food, drink, and more. There’s a whole season where millions of locals and tourists alike flock to witness the so-called ‘cherry blossom front’. It begins in the south and west in late March and moves northward and eastward across the country until early May, when the last flowers in Hokkaido fall to the ground. Sakura means a great deal to the Japanese as it symbolises spring and with it hope, beauty, and the impermanence and transience of life. It occurs as the new school and the fiscal year begins, and signals an opportunity for new and shared experiences.
A ritual known as ‘hanami’ is typically observed, which translates into flower watching but is really an immersive experience that can entail whatever your heart desires. It’s a traditional Japanese practice that anyone can take part in. You can observe from afar or up close. You can have a picnic in the park with your bento boxes, head into the towns, or ride along the rivers. As long as you’re taking in the full majesty of sakura season, there’s not really a way to do it wrong.
Sipping to sakura season
Unless of course, you’re like us. In which case, doing it wrong means missing out on the opportunity to make some terrific drinks with some of the finest booze Japan has to offer. Sake and sakura, for example, are a match made in hanami heaven. From the time when rice farmers would enjoy a well-earned break under the blossoms to companies bringing workers out for hanami team-building drinks, it’s a combo that still shines today.
The increasing international popularity of sake has led to increased availability and a glut of innovations. Akashi-Tai, which has been making sake since 1918, is an example of a market leader that has been a relentless trailblazer of premium Japanese sake. From the more traditional flavours of its Honjozo Tokubetsu to the yuzu-infused citrus delights of its Ginjo Yuzushu, there’s plenty of options to enjoy sakura season sake style.
If you’re more in the mood for cocktails, however, we’ve got you covered. Below are some cracking sakura serves so that, even if you can’t make it to Japan this year, you’ll be able to get into the spirit of the season all the same and bring a little blossom brilliance to your own home. Kanpai!
Nothing is more refreshing on a Spring day than a classic Japanese-style Highball, or simpler to make. Here, we’re using Hatozaki Blended, an elegant, smooth whisky that marries both malt and grain whiskies in a combination of cask types, including sherry, bourbon, and Mizunara oak.
50ml Hatozaki Blended
100ml soda water
Pour the whisky into a tall glass filled with large ice cubes. Top up with your soda water then stir, and garnish with a slice of lemon.
A delicate, beautiful, and simple Sour made with traditional Japanese umeshu (plum liqueur) and 135 East Hyogo Dry Gin, which is created using sake spirit and a balance of London dry gin and Japanese botanicals.
Pour all of your ingredients into a cocktail shaker without ice and give it a good dry shake for about 30 seconds. Add a healthy amount of ice and then shake again, before straining into your glass. Garnish with dried hibiscus flowers.
A slightly more complex but richly rewarding Martini is made with salted cherry blossom, which you can pick up online, as well as gin and sake.
A few hours before you serve the drink, soak the salted cherry blossom in hot water to remove any excess salt, then transfer to cold water until you’re ready to serve the drink (pro tip: tweezers will help you avoid damaging the flower). About 5 minutes before serving, chill a cocktail glass in the freezer. Fill a mixing glass with ice, then add the sake, gin and maraschino liqueur. Give it a good stir then strain the drink into the chilled glass and garnish with your signature cherry blossom.