What is Hanami and why is it so popular in Japan?
Hanami, meaning “to view flowers”, is a traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the cherry blossoms each spring. It is a time for families and friends to gather and appreciate the beauty of nature whilst enjoying a picnic together under the blossoms.
Hanami has deep roots in Japanese culture, born out of an appreciation for the fleeting beauty of flowers, which are often short-lived. Cherry blossoms are only in full bloom for a few days each year which is why people often celebrate hanami late into the night. Hanami also has strong ties to Buddhism as it symbolizes the impermanence of life and the transient nature of beauty.
You don’t need to be in Japan to enjoy your own hanami party this spring. You can find cherry blossom trees in much of Europe and the US, and if you don’t live near any sakura spots then any kind of spring blossoms will do, or even a beautiful nature spot.
Read on to discover how to throw a Japanese hanami style picnic to remember, what items to bring, and ideas and inspiration for dishes, drinks, and snacks!
A 3-Step Hanami Guide for Beginners
Step One: Choose the Location, Date, and Time
The first step in organizing your hanami party is to decide on a location, date, and time for your party. A strong connection with nature is an important factor, so try to plan your event in a place that coincides with some seasonal flowers or trees blooming or pick a spot that’s particularly scenic or in an area of natural beauty.
Step Two: Plan Your Menu
Once your location and date has been decided, you’ll need to plan your menu – this is the fun part! The menu can be divided into the following categories: cooked or savory dishes, snacks, desserts, and drinks. Below is a list of some of our favorite recommended dishes and popular snacks you can usually find at a traditional Japanese hanami picnic.
5 Japanese Savory Foods for Your Hanami Party
Food items such as the ones mentioned below that can be eaten easily with chopsticks are perfect for your hanami picnic:
Karaage – this Japanese style fried chicken is a popular festival food often sold at hanami events. Good karaage is cruchy, juicy, and tasty – to make it authentic you’ll need a high-quality batter mix like this one from Nisshin that you can fry the chicken in. Serve it up with some lemon wedges and Japanese mayo for seasoning.
Takoyaki – another festival favorite food originally from the Osaka region, these deep-fried octopus balls are the perfect hanami party food and are sure to impress.
You’ll need to invest in a takoyaki mold pan or grill, but these can be found relatively cheaply online. We love this takoyaki recipe by Just One Cookbook and you can easily order many of the key ingredients such as the batter mix, takoyaki sauce, and takoyaki sets online via the Japanese Taste store.
Onigiri – these Japanese rice balls are a popular convenience store item and make for a filling and delicious snack. If you can’t make it to a Japanese convenience store, don’t worry – it’s easy to make your own onigiri if you live outside of Japan, we particularly love this simple recipe by wandercooks.
You’ll need a few essential items to make onigiri in addition to the rice such as furikake rice seasoning for flavor, and nori seaweed sheets to wrap the rice balls in. For professional-looking onigiri you can even try using these onigiri wrappers so the rice stays fresh and to keep the nori crunchy!
Bento Boxes – hanami bento boxes or packed lunches are ideal picnic foods and can easily be prepared in advance at home. You can put anything inside a bento box, but popular hanami picnic items include sushi rolls and tamagoyaki (Japanese-style omelet).
You could try making your own temaki sushi (handmade sushi rolls) with these nori seaweed wrappers which are perfect for easily wrapping the rice and sashimi by hand. To make perfect Japanese omelets every time, try investing in a cast-iron tamagoyaki pan like this one from the Japanese Taste store.
Once your dishes are prepared, you’ll need some bento boxes to carry them in. If you don’t have a bento box at home already then check out this beautiful cherry blossom themed double-layer bento box.
Hot Miso Soup – during the springtime it can still be a little chilly during the day and evenings, so a hot thermos of miso soup is the perfect antidote to cold weather. Miso soup is a popular Japanese dish made using miso paste made from fermented soybeans.
You can make your own classic miso soup at home from scratch using miso, dashi stock, wakame seaweed, tofu, and green onion. Alternatively, you can buy an instant miso soup mixture to save you time like this one from Marukome which simply requires adding hot water to the soup mixture and mixing well.
5 Japanese Snacks for Your Hanami Party
In addition to savory dishes it’s always a good idea to have some snacks for your guests to enjoy. Below are a few of our favorite Japanese snack foods:
Calbee Jagarico Potato Sticks: these crunchy potato chips are shaped like sticks and sold in cup packaging similar to instant noodles. Some of the most popular flavors include Hokkaido Butter - flavored with high-quality Japanese butter from Hokkaido, salad flavor with ingredients such as carrots and parsley, and a cheese version flavored with cheddar and camembert cheese.
Senbei: these are rice crakers that can be sweet or savory in taste, and popular flavors include soy sauce senbei, nori senbei flavored with Japanese seaweed, salted senbei, and chili pepper senbei. Sweet flavors include sarame senbei coated in sugar granules and sato senbei dusted in powdered sugar.
Wasabi snacks: wasabi is a popular snack flavor in Japan and there are many types of treats you can try if you are a fan of this spicy condiment. One of the best-selling wasabi snacks are roasted green peas covered in a wasabi coating to create a hot and crunchy treat.
Kaki no tane: this small rice cracker is made from mochi rice whose name means ‘persimmon seed’ in English due to their orange seed-like appearance. Their traditional spicy soy sauce flavor is salty and spicy in taste, making them a popular snack to eat whilst drinking beer. Kaki no tane are often sold in a mixture containing peanuts.
Cheeza crackers: these crunchy oven-grilled crackers contain real cheeses such as camembert and cheddar to create a best-selling Japanese snack.
5 Japanese Sweet Treats for Your Hanami Party
After your savory snacks and dishes have been eaten, you’ll want to serve up some dessert at your hanami party – here are some of our recommended Japanese sweet treats that you can easily find online:
Pocky: these are crunchy biscuit sticks coated in chocolate and are one of Japan’s most popular snack foods. The clever design of the Pocky stick features a unique biscuit handle which can be used to pick up the biscuit without getting covered in chocolate.
Tokyo Banana: these light and fluffy steamed sponge cakes are filled with a banana custard cream made from banana puree and have a soft texture. They are also the official souvenir of Tokyo; you can always find a long line of people waiting to purchase Tokyo Banana cakes in Tokyo airports!
Meiji Almond Chocolate: A best-selling snack from one of Japan’s leading chocolate manufacturers, sweet and buttery shiny chocolate covers crispy pieces of almonds grown in California and imported to Japan especially for Meiji.
Black Thunder: these yummy handy pocket-sized chocolate snacks are filled with pieces of chocolate biscuits as well as chocolate coated rice puffs.
Matcha Kit Kats: There are more than 300 varieties of Kit Kat that have been created in Japan. One of our favorite flavors is the matcha green tea version which is blended with white chocolate and rich Japanese green tea powder from Uji, Kyoto.
Japanese Drink Ideas for Your Hanami Party
When it comes to drinks, alcohol is often served at hanami parties. If you want to serve alcoholic beverages with a Japanese twist, you can try serving Japanese beers such as Asahi or Sapporo, or you could purchase a nice bottle of sake to share.
However, it’s also a good idea to serve a selection of refreshing soft drinks in case you have any designated drivers, non-drinkers, or children attending your event. Here’s a few recommendations for some popular Japanese soft drinks:
Pocari Sweat – A best-selling Japanese hydrating energy drink that’s non-carbonated and slightly sweet in flavor with a mild taste of grapefruit.
Asahi Wilkinson Dry Ginger Ale – this carbonated Japanese non-alcoholic ginger ale is a dry and mellow drink sure to go down a treat at your hanami party.
Iced Coffee – cold coffee is extremely popular in Japan. You can get in on the action too with Key Coffee Premium Stage Cold Brew Coffee Bags, made from a blend of arabica beans which have a clean taste and rich aroma, ideal characteristics for cold brewed coffee.
Matcha Latte – traditionally matcha lattes are quite difficult to make at home, requiring a lot of time to prepare, but this Instant Matcha Latte powder from Muji is an easy way to enjoy this popular Japanese drink on the go, by simply adding hot or cold water. This instant powder mix contains premium Japanese matcha from Uji in Kyoto prefecture.
Royal Milk Tea – this sweet tasting beverage can be served as a hot or cold drink. Nittoh Kocha Instant Royal Milk Tea Powder is made with Japanese black tea leaves and Hokkaido milk to create in a rich, smooth-tasting drink.
Step Three: Set the Scene
Now that you have decided the location, timings, and planned your menu, it’s time for the final details.
Essential items you’ll need include something to sit on like a ground sheet or picnic blanket, as well as serve ware like disposable chopsticks, plates, and napkins.
You also need to consider how you will keep your guests entertained. For example, do you want to organize any games or activities? Or perhaps you can make a special hanami playlist on Spotify and bring a small Bluetooth speaker with you for some background music.
Finally, if the event is likely to continue into the evening do you want to bring any lighting with you like small LED candles or solar lights? If the temperature is likely to drop you could also provide warm blankets for people to use and pocket hand warmers.
As for the clean-up, please do remember to bring garbage bags with you and dispose of any rubbish and recycling according to the local rules.