How could I not participate in April’s Hello Japan mini-challenge hosted by In Spring It Is The Dawn when it features my name?

Hello, my name is Sakura and my Japanese grandfather named me after Japan’s most well-known and beloved flower. And every spring, as we drove through the city, he would say to me that everyone was calling my name.

Of course, growing up outside Japan meant that most of the time I was called Sa-koo-ra or Sa-kyoo-ra. Or Saki. Or Sak. Or Saaak as my nephews now call me. So only my mum and my Japanese friends say my name right. And Sri Lankans say my name slightly differently to the Japanese way, but not as distorted as the English way. So I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me if people mispronounce my name. In fact I’m more used to people calling me Sakoora than the Japanese way. As it is, my surname is even more difficult to pronounce. When I introduce myself to a Japanese person, I get either of these two reactions: a great big smile as they are tickled pink to see someone who doesn’t look Japanese with a really Japanese name or an embarrassed silence because they think it is an alias because I want to be Japanese. Both make me smile.

One of the things that really made me happy when I was a student was that there were two beautiful cherry blossom trees in the front quad of my university. I didn’t notice them until my first spring there when all of a sudden they spectacularly burst into bloom, their whitish pink flowers like cotton candy, petals swirling in the London wind. It made me feel less home-sick. So if you are ever near Gower Street in London on a lovely spring day, why not stop by UCL and have a peek?

(© UCL)

And to finish off, I decided to celebrate spring by treating myself to some of this from Minamoto Kitchoan, a famous Japanese confectioners with stores worldwide:

Sakura-mochi is made of delicately flavoured sticky rice, lightly pounded so that it still retains some of the grainy texture, filled with azuki paste. The slightly salty flavour of the mochi from the preserved sakura flowers (the pink thing on top) contrasts nicely with the sweet red bean paste. And it’s wrapped in a leaf from the sakura tree which is also edible. It’s one of my favourite Japanese traditional sweets (wagashi) and to me, it heralds the arrival of spring.

Minamoto Kitchoan 44 Piccadilly, London W1J 0DS