Sakura R Us: Cherry Blossom-Themed Items in Japan

Tiffany

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—it should start 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, there are some sakura-themed items that you can still find all year round; for example, sakura-matcha KitKats, while not readily available in groceries or convenience stores, can always be found at Narita Airport. There are also some sakura-scented perfumes, lip balms, and air fresheners; accessories like phone charms and key chains are not uncommon, either. 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—it’s popular to release sakura-flavored food and drinks in early spring.)

1. Tumblers and mugs

sakura items
Photo from Starbucks Japan
Photo from Starbucks Japan
Photo from Starbucks Japan

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, and this year is no different.


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The 2017 lineup will go on sale from 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”).

2017’s themes are harmony and purity, the former being more vivid, and the latter having lighter, more subdued shades of pink. The Harmony and Purity lines will be sold from February 15 and March 1 onward, respectively. Expect to pay 1,188-2,592 yen for a glass, 1,836-3,888 yen for a tumbler, 1,836-3,456 yen for a mug, and 2,700-4,860 yen for a bottle (all prices mentioned are tax-included).

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.

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2. Drinks

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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 blossom cream Frappuccino with crispy swirls (616-702 yen), or a sakura blossom cream latte (464-594 yen). Both drinks will feature milk sauce, pink shaved chocolate, and maple whipped cream. You can also get its sakura latte, a part of its Starbucks Discoveries line, in convenience stores—2017’s flavor is sakura raspberry milk (219 yen). But Starbucks isn’t the only place to get your sakura latte fix; many other coffee shops, such as Cafe de Crie, will also have their own take on the sakura latte.

From February 16-April 17, 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—not exactly the most cheapo drink, is it?). Last year, another chocolatier, Max Brenner (with branches in Omotesando Hills, Tokyo Sky Tree Town Solamachi, and Hiroo Plaza), gave Lindt a run for its money with its Cherry Blossom Choctail (750 yen), a chocolate drink with a touch of sakura flavor and matcha cream. It remains to be seen whether they’ll release a sakura-themed drink this year.



As for tea, Coca-Cola’s Kocha Kaden, the bottled milk tea brand you see in convenience stores, released a seasonal flavor—sakura cherry milk tea (140 yen). (Fun fact: 2016’s was cherry milk tea, and 2015’s was cherry blossom milk tea.) Not to be outdone, Kirin’s sakura and strawberry milk tea (139 yen), which has a mild, subtle flavor, hit convenience store shelves recently.

IMG_6750
Photo by Tiffany Lim used under CC

Lipton has also joined the fray this year, with a mild, refreshing sakura tea to hit convenience store shelves on March 1st. It’s already 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).

And last year, proving that even energy drinks are getting in on the sakura craze, too, Red Bull released a sakura-flavored drink called The Spring Edition (205 yen). There’s no word yet as to whether it will be released this year as well.

You probably shouldn’t be surprised that there’s sakura booze, too; Sankt Gallen Brewery created a beer made with cherry blossoms that will be sold from February 23 onwards (prices start at 2,040 yen for three bottles). You can also find Suntory’s sakura cherry chu-hi in convenience stores and groceries.



Photo from Coca-Cola Japan
Photo from Coca-Cola Japan

As for soda, last year, Pepsi joined the sakura bandwagon with the launching of a pink, sakura-flavored Pepsi (140 yen). This year, while Pepsi has been quiet, Coca-Cola will release a special, limited-edition bottle with a sakura design (125 yen) on February 13. No, it’s not sakura-flavored, but you’ve got to admit, the design is lovely and perfect for spring. It won’t be available for long, so get it while supplies last! Meanwhile, Kimura Drink, the maker of the famous Japanese soda, ramune, is bringing back their sakura cola, which they promise is made with sakura extract—look out for it from February 23 onward.

McDonald’s also usually adds something sakura-related to the menu for spring. A sakura or cherry float has been a constant fixture in early spring, and this spring’s McFloat (310 yen) and McFizz (250 yen) are both cherry-flavored.

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 to indulge you. 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!

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Photo by Takayuki Kusano used under CC

Last year, Krispy Kreme had a sakura donut to welcome spring – none this year, unfortunately. But if you want to go for something fancier, Dominique Ansel Bakery has a sakura rooibos tea cronut for March’s monthly flavor. Meanwhile, sakura cakes are easier to find – you’ll see them at cafes, department stores, stalls, and so on. Starbucks usually has a sakura chiffon cake (410 yen, tax included) to accompany its drinks.

As for macarons, Lindt‘s got that covered—along with their drink, they’ll serve sakura macarons for 302 yen a piece. (While there are no announcements as of this writing, watch out for the luxury macaron shop Ladurée, which has a branch in Ginza and stalls in Mitsukoshi Ginza, Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi, Lumine Shinjuku, and Haneda Airport. They’ve sold sakura macarons in the past.) And if cupcakes are what you like, be on the lookout for Magnolia Bakery (as they released a sakura cupcake last year) and LOLA’s Cupcakes.

Don’t forget about ice cream! Parks with sakura festivals, more often than not, will have a stall where you can buy some soft-serve sakura ice cream. And this year, some parks – Ueno, Inokashira, Yoyogi, and Hamarikyu, among others – are even taking that one step further, with the introduction of a sakura ice creampuff (180 yen) on March 4th. And check out McDonald’s for their McFlurry Sakusaku Sakura (290 yen), soft-serve ice cream topped with salted pickled cherry blossoms and crushed pink waffles.

Convenience stores aren’t just sitting there and missing out on this opportunity to cash in on the sakura craze, either. Most of the major convenience store chains have also launched sakura-themed sweets in time for spring. FamilyMart, for instance, has a matcha-sakura parfait (298 yen) and sakura pancakes (138 yen). 7-11 also has its own sakura parfait for the same price, as well as other related sweets.

Sakura-themed sweets at 7-11 | Photo by Tiffany Lim used under CC
Sakura-themed sweets at FamilyMart | Photo by Tiffany Lim used under CC

Sakura jellies are a thing, too – Akita-based confectionery Eitaro has been producing sakura jellies 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, Danone Japan releases cherry blossom-flavored yogurt during springtime.

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Photo by crayonmonkey used under CC

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

Photo from Calbee
Photo from Calbee

For spring 2017, Garrett Popcorn Shops is bringing back its Japan-exclusive sakura tin can design from February 15-March 31. It won’t come with sakura-flavored popcorn, but it would go well with its spring-themed popcorn, white chocolate cranberry caramel crisp, which will also be sold from February 15-March 31.

Last year, potato chip maker Calbee launched sakura butter potato chips in selected Japanese regions. This year, it released sakura shrimp potato chips in early February, but unfortunately, it’s also a regional exclusive – this time, exclusive to Shizuoka Prefecture. But don’t worry if you can’t travel to Shizuoka; the Calbee store, which has branches in Harajuku’s Takeshita Street and Tokyo Station, just launched a limited-edition flavor: sakura potato chips, made of red-skinned potatoes from Hokkaido to give the chips a deep-red color that’s evocative of yozakura (sakura at night).

While we’re on the topic of savory food, here’s something more traditional: you might see some sakura onigiri (most likely not at a convenience store, but at an onigiri shop), which actually have dried, pickled cherry blossoms.

In 2014, McDonald’s Japan had a sakura burger—nope, it wasn’t made of cherry blossoms, but its buns were pink, and it had pink “sakura” mayonnaise that was made of daikon (Japanese radish). They haven’t brought it back since then, but since 2015, they’ve been offering fries that came with sakura salt during spring. This year’s offering is fries with sakura shrimp salt (300 yen, medium-sized, a la carte), named after a kind of tiny shrimp.

5. Miscellaneous merchandise

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Photo by OiMax used under CC

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.

We’re still on the lookout for limited-edition sakura products to be released this year, but here’s a look at some of what came out last year:

sakura tokyo

In contrast to the super-cheap artificial sakura, a beautiful limited-edition sakura watch (56,160 yen) with Swarovski crystals hit the markets on March 3, 2016. Nike also fueled the sakura craze with its cherry blossom collection, with shoes ranging from 8,424-14,040 yen.

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 this time around.

Note: this article was last updated on February 10, 2017.

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