Sakurayu (cherry-blossom tea) (桜湯)
Sakurayu is a hot drink with a salt-preserved cherry blossom in it.
During once-in-a-lifetime events, such as ceremonies involving marriage, sakurayu is used in place of green tea because tea is used in the saying 'cha o nigosu,' which has the meaning of glossing over something or making things look right only on the surface and therefore gives green tea a negative image.
Pickled cherry blossoms
The salt-preserved cherry blossom used in sakurayu is called sakurazuke (or pickled cherry blossom), and the calyces is removed from the blossom before it is pickled in plum vinegar and salt. The flowers are bottled in such a manner that the flower closes up in a ball along with the stem. When the cherry blossom is placed in a Japanese tea cup and hot water is poured over it, the salt melts, whereupon the petals open up and float on the surface of the water.
The production of sakurazuke began at the end of the Edo period in Chimura, Hadano City, Kanagawa Prefecture, and today approximately 80% of sakurazuke is produced in this area. Each year, beginning in about mid-April, a late variety of yaezakura (double cherry blossoms) called Kanzan is picked at 50% bloom, processed and bottled.
Pickled cherry blossoms are used as an ingredient for clear soup or are cooked in rice to make Sakura Gohan (Cherry Blossom Rice), and its aroma and color are enjoyed as a seasonal treat. The people of Hadano City enjoy Sakura Onigiri, a rice ball with pickled cherry blossoms.
Sakura Anpan, a bun filled with red bean paste and topped with pickled cherry blossom, is sold by Kimuraya-Sohonten (Japan's first bakery), which uses the pickled yaezakura; it's one of the popular anpan products, which are made with rice-cultured yeast used in the fermentation of sake.