Spring is an important season in Japan, with many events such as graduation and entrance ceremonies. It is a season when many people start a new chapter in their lives, whether it be a new academic year or enter the workplace. During all of this, one flower stands out in particular: the sakura. The delicate pale pink leaves of the sakura petals can be seen all over Japan, especially in parks where people enjoy “flower viewing (hanami)”. Therefore there are many sakura themed items, but the one that I’d like to introduce today is the “sakura mochi”, a traditional Japanese sweet. This delicacy emerged in the Edo period, in both Kanto and Kansai. The Kanto style is called “Chomeiji (長命寺)”. The name comes from the temple where this was created, where a guard was thinking of a way to use the fallen sakura leaves on the streets and created what is now known as the sakura mochi. This style has a thin and crepe-like mochi part, which wraps around the red bean paste.
In contrast, the Kansai style is called “Domyouji (道明寺)”. This name comes from the temple where the glutinous rice to make the sakura mochi was often eaten as non-perishable food. In this style, the glutinous rice is steamed, dried, and coarsely ground, and takes the form of a manjū with a filling of red bean paste.
Though the Kanto and Kansai styles are quite different, something that they have in common is the leaves. Most sakura mochis are wrapped in “Oshima sakura (大島桜)” leaves, which are cured for around half a year, creating a distinct flavour. The leaves serve many purposes, such as to prevent the mochi from drying up, to protect the mochi from dust, to add the fragrance of sakura, and to create an impact on the sweet bean paste with its salty taste. The preferences regarding the size of the leaves may differ in the Kanto and Kansai regions ((Kanto prefers bigger leaves compared to Kansai), but whether to eat the leaf or not is not a fixed rule, and depends on the individual. Sakura mochis are typically sold through late March to early April, which is when most sakura have blossomed. You can find sakura mochis at many supermarkets and Japanese sweets shops, so please pick them up if you have a chance!