Spring, it’s a time when the cold of winter gives way to warm winds. In most parts of Japan the months of March and April are a time for people to shed their heavy jackets and resume outdoor activities. Spring is also a time for moving and house cleaning. If you look out the window when riding the train you can see residents hanging their laundry out on the balcony to dry and doing their spring-cleaning.
Most sightseers visiting Japan know spring for cherry blossom viewing (花見, hanami) and festivals (祭, matsuri). The cherry blossoms draw millions of people both nationally and internationally to places like Kyoto, where historical landmarks are intertwined with the pink flowers. Festivals are also held in most major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Sendai, and Kyoto. During these festivals youth groups will hold dance competitions and adults hoist portable shrines, heralding a successful harvest. While these are all a must see in Japan there are many other smaller, amazing things to do during the springtime that don’t require hours of waiting in line or wading through large mobs.
While the cherry blossoms (桜, sakura) draw your eyes upward you might miss all the flowers blooming at your feet. Japan has many fields and gardens decorating the hillsides and providing a colorful background to historic landmarks. What is nice about historic Japanese garden houses is that quite a few offer traditional green tea ceremonies, where you make fresh green tea and enjoying the colorful spring backdrop. Some of the western historic garden buildings also take you back in time, through a guided tour, to when foreigners first settled into what became Tokyo and Yokohama.
For visitors and residents of Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association operates several different parks such as Koishikawa Korakuen (小石川後楽園, koishikawa kourakuen) and Kyu-Furukawa (旧古河庭園, kyuu furukawateien) gardens. These gardens are not just for spring. They can be visited year-round and have a variety of trees and flowers that bloom during the different seasons. Each park also has its own unique layout and historical buildings. Spring is truly the time when the parks come alive!
The Tastes of Spring
Of course with any change in season comes a change of foods. Summer offers a bountiful fruits and vegetable harvest of peaches, tomatoes, and corn. In autumn, the trees become bare and so the remaining nuts and fruits are harvested and included in the menus. In winter, the cold temperatures mean hot hearty meals like oden, hot pots, and soups to keep up energy and body temperatures. And, with the thawing of spring comes unique and tasty foods and treats.
The fruit of spring would be the strawberry (苺, ichigo). While strawberries are enjoyed year-round, they can become quite expensive and not as flavorful when not in season. There are even unique white strawberries that are said to have an exquisite taste, but also comes with an expensive price tag. If you are visiting the countrysides of Japan, you can also pick your own strawberries from strawberry gardens.
There are a plethora of desserts in Japan. During spring most of the classic Japanese sweets get a cherry-blossom pink makeover. The most popular cherry blossom sweet is sakura mochi (桜餅, sakura mochi). While mochi (glutinous rice flour) is enjoyed year-round, with most eaten as part of New Year’s traditions, sakura mochi of spring is not to be missed. Sakura mochi is a small ball of rice flour filled with red bean paste (餡子, anko) and wrapped in a cherry tree leaf. It is said to be the “taste of spring”.
As many people living in Japan make the trek to Kyoto to take in the history and festival viewing, they forget that sometimes the best trek is only a couple hours away. Japan has a wide mountain range that offers a great way to enjoy a fresh breath of nature and sightseeing activities. Some mountains even have temples and shrines at the top making the adventure even more worthwhile.
Only a couple of hours outside of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo lies mountain ranges like Mount Mitake (御岳山, Mitakesan) and its sister mountains, that provide a spectacular view. Mount Mitake, in particular, is home to Musashi Mitake Shrine (武蔵御嶽神社, Musashi Mitake Jinja), a shrine that is said to have been established almost two thousand years ago. With its waterfalls, rustic village, and Tengu statues, mountain shrines warrant a full day of exploration during the warming weather.
Spring is a great time to be in Japan. The weather is great, the landscape is beautiful, and the food is pink. While locals get caught up on finding the best spot for watching the cherry blossoms and planning for Golden Week vacation they miss excellent opportunities to get out and enjoy what is around them. The same applies to many foreigners who spend hours waiting in line to see World Heritage sites like the golden temple Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺, kinkakuji). So if you are coming to Japan in the spring, or you are a local looking to do something with friends, and you do not want to follow the crowds, remember that Japan has much, much more to offer than the typical tourist sites.
Software Engineer and Blogger
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.
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