Michelly always sees Japanese artwork depicting cherry trees loaded with blossoms. They seem “as indicative of Japan as maple trees are for New England, and palm and coconut trees are for Hawaii and the Carribean,” Michelly says. But with all those iconic cherry trees, why do you hardly see cherries used in Japanese cuisine?

For one thing, the cherry trees in Japan have been bred for their flowers, not their fruit, Bkeats says. The Japanese cherry trees are like the pear trees that blossom in the spring all over the Northeast: “Beautiful small white flowers that fall off like snow in a breeze, but no pear fruit,” Bkeats says. The Japanese cherry tree “can bear tiny undeveloped fruit, but nothing worth eating,” babette feasts adds.

Also, dessert just isn’t a huge part of Japanese culture (although wagashi, or traditional sweets, are typically served with tea or as a snack). “The Western concept of desserts is not a significant part of the typical East Asian meal,” Bkeats says. “There is no widespread tradition of ending a meal with a sweet course.”

Cherries sometimes find their way into savory Japanese foods, though. “I once ate some sushi that contained eel with cherry—though it was savory, definitely not dessert,” Wawsanham says.

Discuss: Where are the cherries in Japanese cuisine?

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