The Japanese cherry blossom, or sakura, is celebrated for its fleeting weeks of beauty. Sakura season varies based on geographic locations, and the bloom forecast is tracked on Japanese public television. I have been lucky enough to experience sakura in Tokyo and Kyoto. My favorite place to view them was Heian Jingu, a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. I have included a few photos from my visit there.
Sakura season revolves around food as much as it does the namesake flower. Picnics under the sakura trees and sakura-flavored frappuccinos at Starbucks are unavoidable during the few weeks of sakura frenzy. The most essential sakura treat, however, is sakura mochi (桜餅). Some of my favorite memories from Kyoto involved sitting by the Kamogawa River with these pretty pink wagashi.
Both cherry blossoms and leaves are edible. While shopping for sakura mochi ingredients at Mitsuwa Marketplace, I was disappointed to find out that they did not carry any pickled sakura leaves, the focal point of this wagashi. A kindly employee suggested that I travel to Washington DC to harvest some of their blooms before the season was over. This jogged my memory that my family had a cherry tree at home in Urbana, Illinois. I used leaves and blossoms from that tree to make this wagashi.