The start of spring in Japan is all about the sakura, or cherry blossoms. From hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties to cherry blossom-flavored drinks (not to mention those famous Japanese KitKats)—it’s hard to escape the sakura mania during March and April.
There’s got to be more when it comes to spring in Japan than cherry blossoms, right? After a barrage of events that our social contracts oblige us to attend—bonenkai (year-end party) and shinnenkai (New Year’s party) we’re looking at you—we’re tired of socializing.
Do we really need to brave the cold by gathering underneath cherry trees while peppering forced conversation with expressions of the obvious? Statements like “Kirei desu ne (the flowers sure are pretty)” and “Samui desu ne (it sure is cold)” seem to make up the bulk of all small talk this time of year.
If celebrating the natural cycle of rebirth in Japan by cramming hundreds of people on electric blue tarps to watch pink petals is just too much for you to bear this year, here are five seasonal activities to do this spring that don’t involve hanami.
1. Sample new sake
Is the allure of free alcoholic beverages the only reason why you begrudgingly RSVP to the company hanami party year after year? This spring, skip the middleman and head straight to the source of free-flowing alcohol and imbibe to your heart’s delight.
Experience the labor and tradition of Japan’s national drink nihonshu (sake) at a local kurabiraki, the first opening of a sake storehouse. You’ll know it’s time for kurabiraki when you see sugidama (ball made from sprigs of Japanese cedar) hanging from the eaves—a sign that business is ready with a new season of sake for the year. The events are marked by festivals where visitors can taste a variety of freshly made sake and limited-edition brews. Fukuoka is famous for its large number of kurabiraki.
Here are are a few kurabiraki to try this spring:
- 12th Annual Nakameguro Washu Fes in Tokyo (March 28 & 29)
- Denbeegura Kuramatsuri in Kagoshima (April 25 & 26)
2. Pick strawberries
It’s hard to pinpoint strawberry season in Japan. After all, this red fruit is synonymous with Christmas cake and other winter confectioneries. However, 30 years ago, strawberries in winter were practically unheard of in Japan. They were strictly a spring fruit grown from April to June until Japanese farmers perfected a way to simulate spring year-round.
Strawberry farms across Japan open their greenhouse doors to the public in the springtime for ichigo gari (strawberry picking), when you can pick and eat an unlimited amount of strawberries within a set time.
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