Tomorrow is the first day of Spring. At 6:45 p.m. EDT on March 20, the sun appears directly overhead at Earth’s equator. This moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the start of spring.
For this year’s celebration of the arrival of Spring I want to bring light upon the Japanese tradition of Vernal Equinox Day or Shubun no Hi. Before World War II, Vernal Equinox Day was known as Shunki Koreisai, a Shintoist holiday observed to honor past Emperors of Japan. In 1948, during the Meiji-period, in accordance with Japan’s post-war mandate for separation of church and state, Shunki Koreisai was repackaged as Shubun no Hi or the “Vernal Equinox” (when day and night are of equal length), a day to pray for bounty. It is a Japanese national holiday established so that people can commune with nature and show their love for all living things.
At this time, the Japanese usually visit the graves of their ancestors, clean the tombstone, offer incense and flowers. And as the Buddha on this day saves all souls, the visit to the cemetery is considered a joyful event. From the old ritual of offering food to the ancestors developed the custom of eating botamochi, a ball of soft rice covered with sweetened bean paste.
Cherry Blossom Season
Shunbun no Hi is also the time that the chill of winter finally fades away. Temperatures gradually rise and the colorful bloom of cherry blossoms is near. Spring in Japan mean only one thing: Sakura (Cherry Blossoms). Cherry Blossoms sweep along the length of the country each year, beginning with Okinawa in the far south in February and working its way along Japan to northern Hokkaido in May. During Cherry Blossom season the Japanese head out into the local parks and gardens with picnic food and drinks for a hanami – or “flower-viewing”.
Starbucks Cherry Blossom Frappuccino
Cherry Blossoms, or Sakura, are not just beautiful to look at—they taste good too. Like wasabi or pickled ginger, the sweet-and-sour flavor of the blossoms (preserved with salt and vinegar) is a signature flavor in Japan. The bright pink color and distinctive tang are enjoyed all year long, but are especially popular when the trees are in full bloom. Cherry Blossoms are such a vital part of the Japanese culture that even Starbucks has gotten in on the action. Since 2010 Japanese Starbucks have been serving a distinctive Frappuccino, Cherry Blossom Frappuccino to celebrate Sakura and the season. Based on what I have read from other bloggers about the Japanese Starbucks version of the drink, each year the flavors have varied as the humble Cherry Blossom has met the flavors of caramel and chocolate or became concocted into Sakura Chocolate Frappuccino with strawberry flavored toppings. In earlier years, the Starbucks Sakura Frappuccino has had a distinctly Japanese flavor, floral and a bit salty and not at all tasting like “cherries” as one might expect.
With spring’s welcome arrival this year comes the first time that Starbucks has offered the Cherry Blossom Frappuccino in the United States. This year, the chain is offering the Sakura Blossom & Strawberry Latte and Sakura Blossom & Strawberry Frappuccino Blended Crème drink in Japan.
In the United States, we are getting the Cherry Blossom Frappuccino. The Frappuccino is a rosy pastel pink blend of strawberry flavoring, white chocolate sauce, and matcha powder blended with milk and ice. In terms of flavor, it is incredibly similar to the normal Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino – a bit of a disappointment for those of us hoping the get a sense of the famous Cherry Blossoms. Though it celebrates cherry blossoms, there are actually no cherries in this new Frappuccino. So think of it as your typical Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino, but with a little Japanese twist with the added matcha drizzle and sprinkle of more matcha on top.
As I was seeking the true flavors of a Japanese spring and cherry blossoms, I thought of how I could give true meaning to the Sakura namesake Frappuccino and came up with my own version of a Sakura Frappuccino. I’m making my own concoction and you can join me here tomorrow for my Spring Equinox Sakura Frappuccino post.