In these days of year-round growing of vegetables in temperature-controlled conditions and air shipments of fresh produce from around the world, it's all too easy to forget the seasons. But in Japan, seasonality is still highly treasured, and there's no time like the spring to enjoy certain vegetables that are only available for a short time.

You'll see vegetables that are familiar to the Western palate, such as green asparagus, watercress, sora-mame (fava beans or broad beans) and green peas. There are also spring versions of sturdy year-round produce to enjoy, like tiny new potatoes and sweet spring cabbage. You may already be familiar with quintessential Japanese vegetables such as gobō (burdock root) and takenoko (bamboo shoots) — the ones gathered in the spring are particularly fresh and tender.

Joining these on the shelves of greengrocers for a short time in spring are several vegetables commonly known as sansai, or mountain vegetables. Many bear names for which there are no straightforward English translations: seri, tsukushi, fuki, tara no me and yama udo (more on these later).