The cherry trees are beginning to bloom across Japan, and it is time to prepare for hanami (cherry-blossom viewing), which has been an annual custom since the Heian Period (794-1185).
Though hanami literally means “flower-viewing” and typically refers to admiring sakura (cherry blossoms), in practice it’s a season of drinking, eating and having a good time with family and friends under pink cherry flowers.
In addition to public parks and other open viewing areas, there are a number of hotels in Tokyo that boast beautiful Japanese gardens, and can be good locations for viewing sakura in Japan. Many of them will hold sakura-related events, offering cuisine made from seasonal ingredients.
Spring seems to be the season when innovative chefs are inspired by
fresh ingredients such as sea bream, shellfish and a variety of sansai (mountain vegetables). Unique menus can be made using those delicacies only available at this time of the year.
In Tokyo, The Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo and the adjacent Grand Prince Hotel Shin Takanawa, located just in front to JR Shinagawa Station, for example, will hold its annual Takanawa Sakura Festival from March 19 through April 10. Their Japanese garden is made public so that everyone can enjoy the 230 sakura trees of 19 species that bloom until the end of April.
The Sakura Tower’s Steak House Katsura has set up special balcony seats in the restaurant’s garden where guests can savor charcoal-broiled fish, seafood and steak while their feet are warmed under a kotatsu (heated table). The ¥35,000 course menu here includes lobster, grilled Kobe beef, abalone and king crab. The hotel’s Ristorante Caffe Ciliegio, where guests can view the garden through floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall windows, offers an Italian lunch menu for ¥7,000.
In Gotenyama, a neighborhood of Tokyo that is also famous for its magnificent cherry blossoms, Tokyo Marriott Hotel has started a spring culinary promotion “Marriott Spring Delight” at its restaurants and bars.
At Lounge and Dining G, for example, a variety of sakura-themed menus are available through April 15. The restaurant recently opened an outside terrace where guests can enjoy a Sakura Terrace Box (¥3,900). These lunch boxes are wrapped in furoshiki (square cloth) and consist of 16 small dishes, from appetizers to desserts, with a cup of soup. They are available from noon to 4 p.m.
The restaurant also offers Sakura Afternoon Tea, which includes sakura scones into which cherry blossoms are kneaded, sakura yokan (black bean paste), cherry macaron and other desserts served with a choice of tea or coffee. The tea set is ¥3,600 per person and is available from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo’s garden in Mejiro is another prime cherry-blossom viewing spot in Tokyo with 120 sakura trees. Through April 10, guests can enjoy a variety of spring-inspired menus at its eateries while soaking up the floral spectacle. Japanese restaurant Miyuki, for example, offers Hamanu Gozen (¥5,500) at lunch time and a lavish Kaiseki multicourse dinner (¥16,500), while Italian restaurant Il Teatro offers a spring lunch and a dinner course menu featuring fillet of veal with spring truffles at ¥5,500 and ¥16,500, respectively. An all-you-can-eat buffet lunch and dinner are also available at a banquet hall in Hotel Chinzanso at ¥4,200 for adults and ¥2,600 for elementary school students.