The magnificent cherry blossoms came and went much earlier than usual this year in many parts of Japan. Spring-term opening ceremonies at elementary schools across the country will be without their usual bloom. Here on the mountainside east of Osaka, however, many trees are still at their peak and this will be the last weekend for hanami flower-viewing until next year.

I first learned about many traditional hanami pastimes at picnic in Uesugi Park, Yonezawa City: composing blossom-inspired poems, singing mikeless karaoke and, of course, eating and drinking. Hana yori dango (sweets before flowers) is an expression that is used to remind us that while viewing the flowers is fine, the top priority of these blossom-viewing parties is food.

From the Girl's Festival in early March until the sakura petals fall, it seems that everything — including a lot of food — is pink. From the deep-hued ume pink to the delicate, almost white cherry-pink, menu items are colored with a pastel palette. It's well known that Japanese sweets (wagashi), especially, take on the color of the season. One famous such sweet is Kyoto's sakura mochi.