There's almost a palpable sense of anticipation throughout Japan as cherry blossom season nears. People pay close attention to the "sakura zensen," or "front line" news forecasts of the cherry blossoms, which informs them when and where the trees will be blooming and at what stage the blossoms are. Then the fun begins! Deciding where to go, what to eat—planning a visit to see the blossoms is almost as much fun as the actual viewing!
"Hanami," or "cherry blossom viewing" is a time for friends, family and colleagues to get together and have a picnic under the cherry trees while admiring the blossoms. Generally, everyone has a rollicking good time, though sometimes things get a bit boisterous (read: lots of sake). People enjoy special box lunches called "hanami bento" and other seasonal goodies; despite the fact that the temperature might still hover near bone-chilling, no one seems to mind!
Aside from hanami bento, special foods eaten during this season include "sakura mochi," a delicate pink mochi filled with sweet red bean paste and wrapped in a pickled sakura leaf. The flavor combination of sweet and salty is absolutely delicious.
There is also unusual and savory "sakura-yu," which is made by placing one or two pickled blossoms in hot water. It is salty and a bit sour, with a wonderful aroma, and evokes even more of the special mood of the season.
"Hanami dango" is another type of sweet confection that has been a standard seasonal snack since long ago. It consists of three skewered dumplings made of rice flour, each one a different color (pink for sakura; white representing the last of the winter snows; green, a sign of the coming summer).
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