The Seasons of Japan
There are four distinct seasons in Japan, and they are each a celebrated occasion. Spring, summer, fall, winter in Japanese is haru, natsu, aki, fuyu (or shun-ka-shū-tō). Each season and seasonal transition is a deeply evocative experience that is woven into the fabric of the society. The changing seasons are captured in the language, the dress, the festivals, and the food. The best way to get a taste of the seasons of Japan is to sample the cuisine that the country is known for during each distinct time of year. Here is a run down of Japan’s traditions, icons, and foods that are connected with each season.
Spring – Haru 春
After a long winter, everyone welcomes haru meku, the signs of spring. Spring is the time to plant new crops, such as the all-important rice, so it’s considered to be the season of renewal and hope. Hina Matsuri, known as Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day, is celebrated on March 3rd. Spring is also the time to glimpse the short-lived radiance of sakura, or cherry blossoms. No sooner do these delicate pink blossoms appear than the wind seems to carry them off, a reminder of the fleeting nature of beauty. At flower-viewing events (hanami), a common food to eat is dango, or mochi rice balls on a stick.
Mocchan Dango Mochi are Japanese snacks that are the epitome of spring. These sticky rice dumplings have a satisfyingly chewy texture and sweet but not-too-sweet flavor. They come in the tricolor pink, green, and white hues that are associated with Hina Matsuri.
Summer – Natsu 夏
Summer in Japan is generally hot and muggy. Rainy season (tsuyu) occurs in summer, which means there are lots of rainbows (niji) and mosquitos (ka). Summer is also a time of many festivals and celebrations. Obon is a festival held in August to honor deceased relatives that are said to come back to visit the living. When the heat cools things down at night, the people come out to enjoy fireworks and street food like yakitori. Refreshing foods are also popular, such as cold soba noodles (zarusoba) and watermelon (suika).
A Japanese snack that brings to mind summer is Dondon Yaki. These little senbei rice crackers are named after beating taiko drums that are commonplace at summer festivals. The senbei are made with tonkatsu sauce flavor, which has a delightful sweet, tangy, and peppery taste.
Fall – Aki 秋
Fall is when the harvest is in, the moon is big and low, and the leaves change colors. A popular autumn celebration is Moon Viewing (Tsukimi), which is when people gather to admire the full autumn moon and show appreciation for the fall harvest. Others enjoy Momijigari, autumn leaf-gathering trips in the countryside. Some classic fall foods that people enjoy during this time of abundance are sweet potatoes, chestnuts, apples, pears, peaches, and grapes. Lots of Japanese candy takes its inspiration from fall fruit flavors (e.g., kaki or persimmon).
The Aomori Apple Caramel Yakkoi Sable Cookie is autumn wrapped up in a dessert. Aomori, situated in Honshu’s colder northern region, is known for apples that are reportedly the best in the world. Add caramel, and you have a match made in heaven. Sable cookies are generally more crisp and crumbly, but these ones are yakkoi, which means soft and chewy.
Winter – Fuyu
Japan has some mountainous places with gorgeous winter views. Yukimi is the custom of finding a scenic spot to enjoy the snow. Some prefer to do more than take pictures, which is why skiing and snowboarding are quite popular in Japan these days. Foods to warm the belly tend to be popular during winter, such as hot pots variations: oden, sukiyaki, and shabushabu. Winter is also a time for people get ready for toshi no yo, the end of the year. Osechi-ryōri is traditional New Year’s food and includes specific delicacies, including sweet sardines, black soybeans, lotus root, and mochi.
Seafood like oysters (kaki), crab (kani), and sea urchin (uni) are another favorite winter choice. May we recommend Uni Rice Crackers as a way of sampling the essence of Japanese winter cuisine? These puffy and crisp senbei have a light soy sauce and seafood flavor that are salty and umami without being overpowering.
A Taste of the Season in Japanese Snacks
The seasons of Japan and their culinary companions are uniquely significant. Lucky for you, you can many of these flavors in the Classic Bokksu: Seasons of Japan, a curated Japanese snack box that highlights the best of what Japan has to offer throughout the year.
If you are the type who likes surprises, you can sign up for Bokksu’s Japanese snack subscription box that has a changing roster of treats and a guide to walk you through the 20-24 individual items. Or you can cut to the chase and order an individual Japanese candy box or snack box from Bokksu that contains your favorite Japanese sweets, savory snacks, and teas.
Itadakimasu! いただきます (Bon appétit!)