The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cherry Blossom Viewing Yakitori (Grilled Chicken)

Only hard rain will deter the ohanami party
Down here in Georgia, the cherry blossoms have come and gone, but I know they are nearing their peak in my old stomping grounds in Japan. The weather tends to be iffy, but cherry blossom season is arguably the best time to be in Japan. Not only is the country covered in great swaths of billowy pink and white clouds, it is  one great national festival that begins in the south and works it way north with the opening of the blossoms. 

Ise City has 1,000 cherry trees
along the Miyagawa River
Ohanami is huge. You can follow blossom viewing reports on the news. Kyoto and other famous cherry blossom viewing areas become overrun with national and international tourists. Japan has an official travel site for cherry blossom travel at Japan Travel Info that has great information about the season. 

There are some amazing national spots to see the explosion of color, but almost every part of Japan has a particularly beautiful area -- usually a park -- with a lovely grouping of cherry trees. And under these trees you will find groups of people sitting and laying on blue tarps, drinking and eating. 

It's ohanami or cherry blossom viewing party. And IMHO, the best dang party of the year.
Note the blue tarps

Families will stroll under the trees and picnic. Night viewing with hanging lanterns or spotlights are popular. But what will catch your attention is the insane revelry of the company party. Office workers, still partially clad in suits, get hammered on warm canned beer, sake, and whatever other liquor someone brings. Earlier in the afternoon, the company sends out their junior workers to stake a claim under a tree with tarps, portable grills, coolers of food, and cases of beer. Workers leave the office at a reasonable hour or even early (unusual for Japan) and head to the spot. Then the real partying begins.

This is some of the craziness that
 happens at Ohanami parties.

Once we had children, my husband and I had to chill on the ohanami parties. We chose more family-friendly picnicking but still brought the tarp, portable grill, cooler of food and beer. Back in the U.S., we live in a city in Georgia that has quite a few cherry trees, including a neighbor's that hangs over our fence in our backyard. Having an ohanami party is still a must, although we tend to eat at our patio table and stare at the tree from afar instead of putting the tarp under the tree. 

This year hubby made yakitori (skewered grilled chicken), aspara-bacon (grilled bacon wrapped asparagus) and tomato-bacon (grilled bacon wrapped cherry tomato).

Dudes, you so have to make this. Especially now that we're entering prime grilling season. Shizuoka Gourmet has a nice post on the basics of yakitori. has a list of all the different types of yakitori you can get at a true yakitori restaurant. I'm offering a basic recipe of what many Americans might call terikyaki grilled chicken.

Festival yakitori in Japan
Basic Yakitori: grilled (yaki) chiciken (tori)

Chicken thigh (about 3 lbs), skinned and boned
2 bundles of green onion (white part only), if you like onion
1/3 c mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking, you can substitute cooking sherry)
2 T soy sauce
1/2 t minced fresh ginger (we use ginger paste, works nicely)
1 clove minced or pressed garlic
bamboo skewers soaked in water (so they don't burn)

Cut chicken into about 1 inch pieces, making certain the pieces are roughly the same size. If you're using onion, cut them into 1 1/4 inch lengths. The chicken will shrink.

Mix the marinade and soak the chicken. Some recipes will have you thread the chicken on the skewers and brush the marinade on while it's cooking. You can do it either way. Marinating is easier and you get a stronger sauce flavor. You know how I feel. It's your kitchen. Whatever.

Skewer the chicken alternating with the green onion if you're using the onion. 

Grill the skewered chicken on a grill or broiler. Cook, turning once, until meat is no longer pink inside.

Aspara-Bacon and Tomato-Bacon

Rinse the vegetables. Wrap a 1/2 piece of bacon around each veg.

For the asparagus use 2 skewers and thread about 4 aspara-bacon horizontally (will look like a ladder). 

Use bacon wrapped cherry tomatoes (grape tomatoes are too small, others are too big) and thread them on one skewer.

Grill or broil for about 15 minutes until bacon is crisp.
Asparabacon from Isekaya Ginji restaurant


  1. Oh the food looks yummy. The cherry blossom is my fave tree. I've always wanted to have one planted in my yard.

  2. Thanks Savannah! I love cherry trees, too. They are so gorgeous and for such a short time, which suits the Japanese melancholic spirit. Where do you live? I've seen in catalogs that you can grow them in pots. I'd love to get a weeping cherry tree in a pot. The ones you see in the US are mostly yoshino cherry trees. This is the 100th anniversary of Japan giving Washington DC their cherry trees.

  3. I sent the Yakitori recipe to my husband. I hope he gets the hint.

  4. I hope he does, too, Brinda! Enjoy! It's pretty easy.

  5. These recipes sound wonderful! My hubby and I would love to take the kids to Washington DC and visit all the "important American"'d be even better when the trees are blooming! :)

  6. Remember to bring a blue tarp and a grill with you if you go to D.C.;) I heard it's beautiful. I've been to DC twice, but not for cherry blossom season. Your kids will enjoy it and easy to get around if you don't drive.

  7. Yum! Yakitori! I'm going to try the aspara-bacon. Everything's better with bacon.

    I love cherry blossoms. My cherry tree has white blossoms and because of the weird weather, it bloomed early this year.

  8. If you like tomatos, the tomato-bacon is yummy, too. We bloomed early, too. And now it's cold this week. Yuck.