The Joys of Japan’s Seasonal Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is heavily seasonal (and regional), with different “specialties” popping up across the country as the seasons turn. From “street food” and snacks to desserts and main courses, menus across Japan change–often radically–with the seasons, making a visit to Japan in the summer a very different culinary experience from a trip in the autumn, winter, or spring.

Certain staple flavors, like matcha (a powdered form of green tea), remain on the menu year-round, though the form may change throughout the year.

Matcha-flavored cakes, like this one I purchased in Tokyo Station while waiting to catch a shinkansen (bullet train) for Kyoto, are available in any season:


But the sweetened, iced form of matcha–pictured here with a traditional, peanut-sprinkled jelly “sweet” at a restaurant outside Kasuga Taisha in Nara Park–is far more common and easier to find in the spring and summer months.


When I return to Japan, three weeks from now, matcha-flavored treats will still be common, and hot tea (o-cha) is available almost everywhere. However, the seasonal summer treats I enjoyed during last year’s research trip to Iga-Ueno, Kyoto, Nara, Miyajima (near Hiroshima) and Tokyo will be difficult, if not impossible, to find.

But I’m not worried.

Autumn is my favorite season, and it’s a favorite in Japan as well. Momijigari (“leaf viewing” or hunting for autumn foliage) is a popular pastime in Japan during October and November, and Japan’s cuisine takes on a distinctly autumn palate during these months as well. Autumn specialties include roasted sweet potatoes (yakiimo), chestnuts (kuri), kabocha/pumpkin and new rice, as well as sanma, a small, silver fish cooked primarily in autumn.

Hot coffee (and lattes, and cafe au lait) remains popular too. Here’s a beautiful latte I enjoyed at an independent coffee house in the lower levels of Kyoto Station while waiting for a train:


Although my allergy to fish takes sanma off my menu in any season, I plan to try (and photograph) as many other Japanese autumn specialties as possible, and to share the experience here on the blog and on my other social media feeds (on Twitter, I’m @SusanSpann, and on both during my travels and in the months to come.