An Open Letter to Starbucks

Dear Starbucks,

I understand what you are trying to do with your debut of the “Cherry Blossom” Frappuccino here in the U.S., but you are going about it all wrong. Yes, we have indigenous cherry trees here in the U.S., but our most famous anecdote involves a six-year-old George Washington confessing the sin that he cut at it with a hatchet, known as “the cherry tree myth.” I would hate to cry cultural misappropriation, but as someone who lived in rural Japan for five and a half years, I wish to inform you that you are sending a mixed message to your American customers. What you are serving is a strawberry Frappuccino with matcha (powdered Japanese green tea) toppings, and those flavors are Americanized, too.

I say this because it is only when I read the American flavor profile description, that I find the beverage is “inspired by the Japanese sakura tradition.” The drink is described as a blend of strawberries and cream which with chocolate and matcha drizzle, topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of matcha.” Where is “the sakura tradition” aside from the drink being pink? Putting matcha on it as a sugared sauce or sprinkled on top would make it a bastardized version of a Japanese tea ceremony at best.

efa758f45291439db08c590317072582What does the actual beverage look & taste like? (image: Starbucks, USA)

In the U.S., we do have a growing Japanese national population as well as multi-generation Japanese-Americans. I have an inkling that I might not be the only one who finds your marketing scheme rather misleading and to an extent offensive. I am sure the growing popularity of Japanese culture in the American mainstream has contributed to the desire to market something special from within Japan overseason; especially when you consider the tourism markets between Japan and the U.S. However, you’ve lost the crux of the meaning in your translation of a Japanese cultural icon for the American masses.

To the Japanese, the cherry blossoms have meaning. Every spring, it’s the new start to the academic year complete with graduation ceremonies and entrance ceremonies, as well as new employees starting their careers. Part of the Japanese sakura tradition is “hanami” which is the enjoying of viewing the cherry blossoms. Part of the experience of the tradition is walking underneath the clouds of pink or having barbecue picnics with friends, family and colleagues.  In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo gifted Washington, D.C. with 3,000 cherry trees to celebrate the relationship between his country and ours, and the Capitol celebrates their blooming annually. When a flood destroyed cherry blossoms in Japan, the we were able to help them regain some of their trees with cuttings from the ones we originally received.

Completely Lost in Translation

Unlike the American” Cherry Blossom Frappucino,” the Japanese releases acknowledge the combination of sakura and strawberry. The Japanese titles of  both hot and cold beverages do not only acknowledge the combination of sakura and strawberry.

  • Sakura (Cherry) Blossom & Strawberry Latte
  • Sakura (Cherry) Blossom & Strawberry Frappuccino

20120202sakura_1(image: Starbucks Japan’s press release)


The Japanese do not conceal the actual flavor combination in the title. The Japanese limited release beverages do not have matcha sprinkles and matcha drizzle like the American beverages. The drizzled sauce is an original blend of sakura and strawberry, the white chocolate shavings are dyed pink to resemble cherry blossom petals, and the drinks are served in exclusive paper and plastic cups with cherry blossom patterning. There is not a drizzle or sprinkle of green tea anywhere near it. It’s like drinking a river coated pink with cherry blossom petals in the springtime.

20160202sakura_4Limited edition Sakura Chiffon Cake (Japan only)

To complement the beverages, a pink chiffon cake is also made available for a limited time. It is covered in white icing with served with actual, edible sakura blossoms on top. A to go latte is also available at convenience stores, and while it does have the cherry blossom pattern on the cup, it plainly informs the customer that it is a strawberry latte with crushed strawberries. Annually, a matching series of tumblers, mugs, and café beverage accessories are made available with a new cherry blossom pattern. The Japanese are able to get away with it because it’s part of their cultural heritage. Heck, you can even buy beers with seasonal prints on the cans, but they aren’t advertising it as having cherry blossoms.

m_0217_blogBilingual marketing in Japan with accuracy and transparency.

Your frozen drink is slated to be released on March 20th, the first day of spring, but for many places in the US, it is still too chilly for a frozen beverage. Why is there no latte option available? If the weather is optimal, depending on your location in the Japan archipelago, one could enjoy a cold beverage, but for the majority of the country, March is still pretty cold.

From an American marketing standpoint, I am sure that “Cherry Blossom Frappuccino” seems appropriate and snappy, but you are misleading your consumers by requiring them to read the description prior to ordering the beverage. As someone who has lived and breathed the excitement under the Japanese cherry blossoms, I was completely excited when I read the headline, and spectacularly disappointed when I read the ingredients listing. Call your drink a Spring/Matcha Strawberry Frappuccino, and drop the façade that it has anything to do with cherry blossoms or the Japanese tradition. It is insulting, and I’m not buying it.

Please be more culturally considerate and do your research.

As always,


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