The weather’s getting warmer, and the plum trees have started blooming, which can only mean that spring is just around the corner. That also means that the much-awaited sakura (cherry blossom) season is drawing near—starting in late March! What with these tiny, beautiful pink blossoms being loved by locals and tourists alike, you can count on companies to cash in on the cherry blossom craze, leading to an abundance of sakura items in early spring.
Of course, some sakura-themed items such as accessories and beauty products can be found all year round. For this article, though, we’ll be focusing on the limited-edition and/or seasonal items, most of which are edible. (For some reason, although no one can quite pinpoint what sakura actually tastes like. And no, just because they’re cherry blossoms doesn’t mean they’ll taste like cherries.)
1. Tumblers and mugs
This author is specifically referring to Starbucks Japan’s sakura collection of tumblers, glasses, water bottles, and mugs, which is so popular that the items get sold out quite easily. The lineup has also gotten international attention—now, even neighboring countries like Taiwan and the Philippines have sakura-themed tumblers as well. For some reason, Starbucks has always released their sakura lineup (drinks, baked items, tumblers, etc.) before sakura season; they tend to go on sale from mid-February.
The 2018 lineup went on sale on February 15 and (on paper, at least) are supposed to be in the market until mid-April, but based on this author’s observations from the past few years, you’d be lucky to still see the tumblers on sale in April (hence Starbucks’s disclaimer of “until supplies run out”).
2018’s themes are Looking Back and Looking Forward. The Looking Back line was released on February 15th, while the Looking Forward line will be released on February 28th. Including tax, prices start at 1,404 yen for a glass, 1,836 yen for a tumbler, 1,620 yen for a mug, and 2,268 yen for a bottle.
Here’s a quick tip, though: the fact that these tumblers are limited-edition, as well as their brand, adds to their appeal (not that the designs aren’t appealing; they are lovely)! But if you don’t care about getting a limited-edition tumbler from a famous brand, many souvenir shops have tumblers with pretty nice sakura designs (and they’re available all year long). Nana’s Green Tea has a sakura-themed tumbler as well.
Coffee? Tea? Or even… soda? Take your pick!
Along with its tumblers, Starbucks will have sakura-themed drinks as well. From February 15 to March 14, you can order a sakura strawberry pink mochi Frappuccino (630 yen) or a sakura strawberry pink milk latte, (464-594 yen), both of which feature sakura-strawberry sauce. You can also get its sakura latte, a part of its Starbucks Discoveries line, in convenience stores—2018’s flavor is sakura caramel milk with mixed berries (237 yen), a mild-tasting drink with berry bits.
Starbucks isn’t the only place to get your sakura drink fix; many other coffee shops, such as Cafe de Crie, will also have their own take on the sakura latte. Also, from February 16-April 1, at the upscale Lindt Chocolat Cafe, with branches in Ginza, Omotesando, Shibuya, Jiyugaoka, Kichijoji, Tachikawa, and Kita-Senju, you can enjoy its White Chocolate Sakura iced drink (772 yen take-away, and 1,388 yen in a glass).
None of these drinks contain coffee, so if you want your caffeine fix, go for Doutor’s Premium Roast Coffee Sakura, which goes on sale from March 1st. Smelling of sakura trees and mixed with sakura powder, it’s available as ground (100 grams for 680 yen) or drip coffee (5 bags for 480 yen).
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As for tea, Starbucks added a tea-based sakura drink this year—sakura strawberry pink tea (464-594 yen). Coca-Cola’s Kocha Kaden, the bottled milk tea brand you see in convenience stores, usually releases a seasonal cherry and/or cherry blossom-flavored milk tea for around 140 yen. Last year, Kirin, not to be outdone, offered sakura and strawberry milk tea (139 yen), but as of this update, it remains to be seen whether Kirin will bring it back this year.
In 2017, Lipton joined the fray with a mild, refreshing sakura tea, which will make its return this year. From February 28th, it will be available on Rakuten and Yahoo! Japan (both links in Japanese) for 324 yen (excluding shipping). With shipping, it comes out to slightly over 800 yen.
You probably shouldn’t be surprised that there’s sakura booze, too; Sankt Gallen Brewery created a beer made with cherry blossoms—prices start at 2,040 yen for three bottles. Asahi also unveiled Sakura no Utage (Cherry Blossom Banquet), a fruity spring-themed beer, in late January; additionally, its Super Dry beer will come in cherry blossom-themed packaging to celebrate spring. You can also find Suntory’s sakura cherry chu-hi in convenience stores and groceries.
And what about soda? Coca-Cola released a special, limited-edition bottle with a sakura design (125 yen) in January. No, it’s not sakura-flavored, but you’ve got to admit, the design is lovely and perfect for spring. Meanwhile, Kimura Drink, the maker of the famous Japanese soda, ramune, is bringing back their sakura cola and introducing another intriguing sakura-themed drink – sakura shrimp cider.
McDonald’s also usually adds sakura-related treats to its spring menu, but there’s been no news thus far. It’s highly likely that, as in previous years, they will have a sakura or cherry float.
3. Sweet treats
If you have a sweet tooth and you like sakura, you’re in luck, as there’s an abundance of sakura-themed food. You don’t even have to limit yourself to popular chains to get your fix of cherry blossom sweets; small, independent cafes might also have something of their own, too!
Sakura cakes should be easy to find; you’ll see them at cafes, department stores, stalls, and so on. Starbucks, for one, always offers a sakura chiffon cake (410 yen) to accompany its sakura-themed drinks. This year, they even have a new addition to their sakura lineup, a sakura donut (270 yen) with a pink glaze and sakura powder.
As for macarons, Lindt‘s got that covered—along with their drink, they’ll serve sakura macarons for 302 yen a piece. And while there have been no announcements as of this writing, Ladurée—which has a branch in Ginza and stalls in Mitsukoshi Ginza, Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi, Lumine Shinjuku, and Haneda Airport- has sold sakura macarons in the past.
If cupcakes are what you like, be on the lookout for LOLA’s Cupcakes. But if cinnamon rolls are your thing, stop by Cinnabon for its sakura Minibon (390 yen) with sakura-flavored cream cheese frosting.
Don’t forget about ice cream! Hitting convenience stores on February 27th, Haagen-Dazs’ sakura mochi an ice cream (324 yen)—sakura ice cream topped with mochi, sakura bean paste, and sakura sauce—proves that there’s no such thing as sakura overload. Parks with sakura festivals, more often than not, will have a stall where you can buy some soft-serve sakura ice cream. Some parks—Ueno, Inokashira, Yoyogi, and Hamarikyu, among others—are even taking that one step further, with the introduction of a sakura ice cream puff (183 yen).
Popular snacks such as the biscuit stick Pocky and the soft cookie Country Ma’am also have limited-edition sakura-flavored variants this year. And while sakura-matcha KitKats can be found at Japanese airports all year round, the KitKat Chocolatory, which offers gourmet KitKats, currently offers a limited-edition sakura strawberry KitKat set. For 1,080 yen, you’ll get five KitKats in a tubular package meant to look like a graduation diploma, as well as a sakura-shaped charm made of cherry blossom wood.
Convenience stores aren’t just sitting there and missing out on this opportunity to cash in on the sakura craze, either. So far, this year, we’ve spotted a sakura roll cake (190 yen) at FamilyMart and, at Lawson, sakura-matcha roll cake (210 yen) and sakura jelly (150 yen).
Speaking of sakura jellies, Akita-based confectionery Eitaro has been producing this sweet for over a decade now. You can find them in selected department stores in Tokyo, or you can save your time searching by ordering them online for 300 yen a piece, 900 yen for a box of three, or 2,460 yen for a box of nine. Sun Fruits at Roppongi’s Tokyo Midtown also has a sakura jelly called the sakura bavarois (540 yen).
But if you want something slightly healthier, we recommend Danone Japan‘s cherry mix yogurt. In the past, it released sakura-flavored yogurt in spring, but this year’s release uses Sato Nishiki cherries, a well-loved type of cherry in Japan.
Enough about Western sweets, though. (Yes, there’s more.) We haven’t even gotten to the traditional ones yet! For starters, sakura mochi is, well, mochi wrapped in a cherry blossom leaf, and sometimes garnished with a dried cherry blossom. Mochi is an umbrella term for different kinds of rice cakes, so there are several variations of sakura mochi, one of which is named domyouji after the flour that’s used to make it.
There’s also hanami dango, sweet dumplings that are always served in threes (pink, white, and green to symbolize cherry blossoms, snow, and grass) and are typically eaten at hanami (cherry blossom-viewing) picnics. The pink color may just be food coloring or anko (although this author has seen a recipe that recommends using sakura extract), but it’s still associated with cherry blossoms. Check out wagashi (traditional sweets) shops too; they usually have very intricately designed sweets that not only taste good, but are also a sight to behold (so beautiful that you might not want to eat them even).
4. Other food/snacks
Garrett Popcorn Shops is bringing back its Japan-exclusive sakura tin can design from February 15-April 9. It won’t come with sakura-flavored popcorn, but it would go well with its spring-themed popcorn.
In 2014, McDonald’s Japan had a sakura burger. Nope, it wasn’t made of cherry blossoms, but its had pink buns and “sakura” mayonnaise made of daikon (Japanese radish). They haven’t brought it back since then, but since 2015, they’ve been offering sakura salt fries in spring.
Lastly, for something more traditional, at an onigiri shop, you might see sakura onigiri with dried, pickled cherry blossoms as filling.
5. Miscellaneous merchandise
Ever admired cherry blossoms so much that you wished you could take some home with you? Well, thanks to 100-yen shops and flower shops, you can… just, obviously, not the real thing, of course! As early as now, the 100-yen shops have already started rolling out their artificial sakura—branches with blossoms, wreaths, and even a packet filled with petals (perhaps for those who want to recreate scenes in anime and dramas in which there are showers of petals?). They can make for some nice (and really cheap) home decor!
Additionally, if you’re into sending snail mail, this is a great time to send sakura-themed greeting cards and postcards, and there should also be an abundance of sakura-themed stationery: stickers, washi tape, you name it.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to thinking of sakura-themed products, so we’re looking forward to what merchandisers will think of next time.
This article was last updated on February 25, 2018.
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