The sakura aren’t in full bloom yet at the castle – most of the trees are covered in buds and only a few have started to bloom. Give it another week or two and we’ll be swimming in blossoms!
Japan is a very season-oriented culture, and nowhere is that better expressed than in the food. Since spring is all about sakura, you can find sakura-flavored treats in every shape and form from the traditional to the modern – manju, tea, chocolate and even ice cream.
My favorite recent discovery is Sakura-An (sakura and white bean paste) Taiyaki. Taiyaki are made by baking a pancake-like batter in a fish-shaped mold. The filling is usually made of red bean paste, but nowadays people put all kinds of flavors inside like chocolate, custard, or green tea.
You can get the “Sakura-an”-filled Taiyaki at the Taiyaki shop near Yohashira Shrine on Nawate street. It has a super sweet, thick, almost cinnamony taste. The store will keep carrying the flavor through “sakura season,” but that pretty much seems to mean “until we run out of bean paste.” Usually the store offers new flavors every month or so.
Another current spring offering on sale is Yomogi-An (Mugwort and white bean paste) Taiyaki. You can find mugwort EVERYWHERE around Nagano-ken, usually by the roadsides. A favorite children’s food project is to gather up the leaves, wash them, boil them, and make Yomogi-dango (rice dumpling on a stick) or mochi (rice cakes).