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Goin’ Japanesque!

Sakura Niku (Cherry Blossom Meat)? A Japanese Food Culture That Impresses Foodies

Nowadays, Japanese wagyu beef and shimofuri (marbleized) beef has become world renowned for how delicious it is. Have you however, heard of Sakura-niku (literally translated as cherry blossom meat)? You may wonder what it is for having the term for cherry blossom, “sakura” in its name. Today we would like to offer some information on the sakura-niku. Photo:


What is Sakura-niku


In Japanese, sakura-niku refers to horse meat or cheval. There are many people who do not eat horse meat due to religiouss or cultural reasons. Horse meat has traditionally been eaten in Japanese food culture and it is particularly famous also as a local cuisine of Kumamoto. Horse meat is low in calories and fat and high in protein. It is rich in minerals (particularly iron and calcium) and vitamins so it is considered to be healthy. It is however, less common and a bit more expensive than beef, pork or chicken so it is something that is eaten more often by the gastronome.


Why the name Sakura?

歌川広重 御殿山花見之図

There are several reasons.

The first is the color of the flesh. When fresh horse meat is cut, the flesh looks a vibrant pink color so it was called the sakura meat. However, as mentioned above, horse meat contains many elements that oxidize easily so once it comes in contact with air it oxidizes fairly quickly and turns a brownish red color. 

The second reason originates from the historical background. During Edo Period of Japan, due to sumptuary laws and Buddhism, there were periods of time when eating meat was not permitted. People were not able to openly eat horse meat, and so sakura meat was a secret term used to refer to horse meat. The reason for its naming was the color of the flesh as the first reason mentioned above, and that it was in season and tastes the best around the time of cherry blossoms. Similarly, other meats that use names of plants as their secret names include Botan (peony) for wild boar meat, Momiji (maple leaf) for venison.

About Momiji (Maple) meat: 4 Sets of Japanese Art Motifs Symbolizing Good Luck


Sakura Meat Cuisine

There are some dishes that use sakura meat that are unique to Japan. Definitely try them if you find some that interest you.  

1. Basashi (Sashimi)



This is sashimi of horse meat. Similar to fish, fresh cuts of raw horse meat is eaten. It is common to eat it with a sweet soy sauce along with grated ginger or grated garlic. There is even soy sauce that is specifically for basashi that is available for purchase. The part of the meat from the mane is considered rare and delicious.

Related: Learn About Soy Sauce: How Much Do You Know About Shoyu?

2. Sakura Nabe (Hot Pot)


This is cooked in a hot-pot style similar to sukiyaki and shabushabu.

3. Uma Nigiri Zushi (Sushi)


Fresh, high-quality horsemeat looks beautiful like blooming cherry blossoms. You can see how it got its name. It is also very tasty eaten with the wasabi.

4. Sakura Natto



The horse meat is chopped very finely and is eaten with scallion, natto and quail egg.


Where to Eat Sakura Meat

Shibuya Niku Yokocho (Shibuya Meat Alley)



In an area with a distinct Japanese atmosphere, similar to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, there are a total of 24 meat shops in rows without any partitions. It is a very relaxed atmosphere. One of the 24 stores called Nikuzushi offer delicious uma-nigirizushi for a reasonable price. If you are a meat-lover, we would urge you to make a visit to the street because it is a place that offers a variety of meat dishes. Information: Map

Ebisu Yokocho (Ebisu Alley)



Nikuzushi that was introduced above also has a location in Ebisu Yokocho. Here is another place you can eat very good horse meat. At Ebisu Yokocho, there are a number of restaurants that offer Kansai style Kushi-katsu (breaded and meat/vegetables fried on a skewer), beef tongue, fresh seafood etc making the entire alley a place worth visiting. Information: Map


Within Tokyo, there are also a number of other restaurants that specialize in serving horsemeat. We recommend not only viewing the sakura as part of hanami, but also experiencing eating sakura meat.

Related: Other Sakura Articles

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