Photographs by Ishii Hiroaki.
Great flavor × great looks, the aesthetics of ohanami bentō
The gentle spring winds have woken cherry trees from their long winter slumber. All at once, they unfurl their delicate blossoms, heralding in the time of year that Japanese people hold dear—cherry blossom season. Beneath the boughs of flowering cherry trees, people gather to eat, drink, and enjoy spring in a custom known as ohanami (flower viewing). Throughout the country, well-known shops show off their skills by making elaborate ohanami bentō.
Won’t you try one of these bentō? These delicious and aesthetically beautiful lunches feel all the more decadent when accompanied by a cup of sake and a shower of fluttering petals riding the spring breeze. Surrounded by this sublime scenery with an ohanami bentō in hand, you are sure to experience a true feeling of happiness.
A taste of spring
Below are 3 well-reputed bentō-makers and their signature ohanami bentō for the 2015 sakura season. Feast your eyes on these colorful works of art! Please note that the contents of each bentō box change from year to year and the pictured bentō may differ from what is currently available.
The top layer of a tasteful ohanami bentō by the famous traditional Japanese restaurant, Shōfukurō.
Located in Ōmi about an hour from Kyoto and established in 1868, this highly-reputed shop approaches food with “the spirit of Zen and heart of Japanese tea” to produce their tantalizing dishes. Fortunately, it is possible to savor some of their gourmet cuisine at their restaurant in the Tokyo Marunouchi Building, and as noted in the details below, it is possible to savor some of their food in Tokyo too from the Isetan Department in Shinjuku.
The bottom layer of the above bentō by Shōfukurō.
Their ohanami bentō features delicacies such as tilefish sushi, various fish cooked in Japanese sake, fresh mountain vegetables, rich half-dried fish, and a yuzu citrus dessert to cleanse the palate. Shōfukurō works to enhance the natural flavor of each ingredient, and the resulting array of bite-sized morsels will not disappoint.
Address: 8-11 Yōkaichihonmachi, Higashiōmi-shi, Shiga 527-0012
Opening hours: 12:00 – 15:00, 16:00 – 22:00
Closed: 1st, 3rd, and 5th Monday of each month
Price: Special ohanami bentō / 8,000 yen
Note: If putting in an order, you must purchase 3 bentō or more. Please reserve 3 days in advance. In addition, a slightly different version of the bentō can be purchased for 3,500 yen at the Shōfukurō shop in Isetan’s Shinjuku department store.
A spring bentō carefully crafted by Tsujitome in Kyoto.
This ohanami bentō by Kyoto’s Tsujitome contains a treasure trove of simple, yet elegant and delicious foods. Tsujitome is well-known for its preparation of simple meals eaten before a Japanese tea gathering and the founder belonged to a famous tea family. Tsujitome uses the spirit of Japanese tea when preparing its foods. The interesting chipped edge shape of the bentō box adopts a type of tray called “Hattan” used in the Sōtō branch of Buddhism as its model.
Looking inside their ohanami bentō box, one will discover many spring vegetables and ingredients. Some examples include sea bream sushi wrapped in cherry blossom leaves, bamboo shoots, sweet hanami dumplings, egg omlettes, trout and other seasonal fish. The sprinkling of petal-shaped ginger adds a charming touch to the colorful menu. Each box comes with an original lap cover as well to help keep everything tidy.
Address: Sanchome, Sanjo Ohashi-higashi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours: 9:00 – 18:00 (reservation required for restaurant)
Price: Spring bentō / 5,000 yen
Note: Reservation required 3 days before. Or, you can pick up a bentō in the food and bentō area of Isetan Department at JR Kyoto Station with or without a reservation, but be warned that they run out of stock fast!
Sanyūkyo’s ohanami bentō exudes a very elegant feel thanks to their large assortment of high quality foods served in a charming bamboo basket.
For over 30 years, Sanyūkyo has adopted the utmost hospitality found in the practice of Japanese tea to bring customers fine selections of Japanese food in their signature bamboo basket. The elegant shop’s name meaning 3 friends, originates from the Chinese poet Bai Juyi’s (772-846) claim that the 3 friends one will have throughout their lifetime are the koto (a stringed instrument), alcohol, and poetry.
Sanyūkyo’s ohanami bentō offers not just an aesthetically pleasing balance of delightful springtime foods like young octopus and fresh bamboo shoots lightly flavored with dashi, but a nutritionally well-balanced meal too. Tucked into the circular basket are bites of tempura, sushi, and parboiled sea bream, which is soft and juicy on the inside and offers rich flavor. Sanyūkyo’s cooking is favored by many Japanese tea masters for their and guests’ meals before a tea gathering.
Address: 22-1 Kitashirakawa Kubotachō, Sakyō-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyōto 606-8266
Opening hours: 9:00 – 18:00 (front desk hours)
Price: Bamboo basket bentō / 3,500 yen
Note: If putting in an order, please receive 3 days before and you must purchase 2 or more bentō. Also, bentō boxes can be purchased outside of Kyoto at their Takanawa shop in Tokyo, Sanyūkyo in the Kichijoji Tokyu Department basement floor, and Sanyūkyo on the basement floor of Matsuya Ginza. These places also take reservations.
The ohanami experience
Which ohanami bentō was your favorite? Continue our exploration of beautiful bentō here!
Translated and adapted by Jennifer Myers.