Discovering Japanese Aesthetic
Beauty through “Wagashi”
Wagashi is traditional Japanese confectionery known for its mesmerizingly intricate designs and vivid colors while also being low in calories and healthy, as it is made primarily from rice and beans. A true pleasure to see and delight in, the beauty of the four seasons is exquisitely expressed in your palm and embodies the Japanese spirit of hospitality. Set out on a journey to discover the aesthetic beauty unique to Japan through these delectable treats. There are various ways to experience them. Wear a kimono to a tea ceremony, make your own wagashi, or deepen your knowledge of ingredients and techniques. Enjoy the various ways to savor this truly unique Japanese sweet.
Enjoy Wagashi with Matcha Tea in a
Traditional Tea Room While Appreciating
the Four Seasons of Japan
Enjoy Wagashi with Matcha
Tea in a Traditional Tea Room
the Four Seasons of Japan
Ms. Chen and Ms. Shi visited the ancient capital of Kamakura, dotted with temples, shrines and historical buildings. After changing into kimono with the help of traditional stylists, they set out for a wagashi-tasting and -making experience hosted by the wagashi maker Kuu. The venue that day was Houan, a teahouse built 90 years ago—the ideal setting to enjoy exquisite wagashi with a cup of matcha tea.
Among wagashi, “jo-namagashi” refers to the highest-quality and most sophisticated moist confections. The artisans carefully select the finest beans and sugar and handcraft each delicacy one by one using expert techniques while taking inspiration from nature and the scenery of Japan. These confections are usually served with matcha green tea to enhance the flavors and aroma of the tea. First, take a bite of the wagashi and then sip matcha tea while the sweetness lingers in your mouth. The subtle bitterness of the tea provides a perfect balance when paired with a sweet taste, enhancing the overall experience.
“Nerikiri” is a type of jo-namagashi made by wrapping sweetened white kidney bean paste in dough, which is then sculpted into different shapes, such as flowers. In the workshop, participants first wrap the white bean paste in a colored pink dough, and then, the dough is molded into a petal-like shape. A spatula or thin stick is used to make the patterns. Mixed with “gyuhi,” which is made from glutinous rice flour and sugar, the dough retains its delicate and soft texture over time.
This time, Ms. Chen and Ms. Shi made “yae,” a spring wagashi delicacy with cherry blossom-flavored bean paste. Kuu offers hands-on experience programs for foreign visitors. Chairs and tables are available for those not accustomed to sitting on the floor.
1415 Yamanouchi, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa
Approximately 1 hour 10 minutes by train from
·Houan is not usually open to the public.
·Wagashi experiences are not held on a regular schedule. Reservations must be made with Kuu in advance.
The Tradition and
Innovation of Wagashi Passed
Down to the Present Day
The emergence of wagashi in Kyoto dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), and a of long-standing confectionary stores still exist. As the ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto has been blessed with many high-quality ingredients and an abundance of underground water, which has provided an environment suitable for making wagashi. Along with the tradition of preparing and serving matcha powdered green tea to guests known as “Chanoyu,” the art of wagashi, which appeals to the five senses in evoking the scenery and landscapes of Japan, has refined and matured, especially in Kyoto. Founded in 1803, Kameya Yoshinaga has carried on the tradition of making wagashi using fresh and clean water that springs up from the well in front of the store as well as high-quality ingredients such as azuki beans, sugar and rice.
The Tradition and Innovation of
Wagashi Passed Down to the Present Day
The wooden signboard, which has been on display for many years, evokes the long history of the wagashi culture that has taken root in Kyoto. The traditional way of making wagashi has been passed down to the present day.
The nerikiri is made by layering cherry blossom petals on top of each other. The shades of pink and white express the spring season in Japan.
While staying true to the traditional method, Kameya Yoshinaga’s wagashi are also imbued with a modern sensibility. One example is the “sliced yokan.” A new take on a classic thick jelly dessert made of red bean paste and agar is used as a topping for toast and has captivated even those who may not prefer wagashi.
There is a cafe where you can savor wagashi with tea. In addition to matcha, pairing Japanese sweets with green tea or hojicha (roasted Japanese green tea) has become a recent trend.
The store also offers workshops where you can make namagashi featuring the seasonal elements of Japan while watching the skillful handiwork of the artisans up close. (Reopen after renovating in late August 2023)
Kameya Yoshinaga Honten (main store)
17-19 Kashiwaya-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Approximately 1 hour 20 minutes by airport limousine bus and subway from Itami Airport
Reservations required for the wagashi-making classes.
The Charms of Healthy
and Beautiful Mochigashi
Among Japanese confections, mochigashi, or sweet rice cakes, made from glutinous rice is not overly sweet and therefore considered healthy. As the rice is pounded, it produces a smooth texture that feels as if it is going to melt in your mouth. The sweet taste of the rice paired with the rich flavor of the red bean filling and the aromas of yomogi (mugwort) and sesame that are added to give colors make the confection not too sweet yet delectable. Mochisho Shizuku, a confectionary store in Osaka, uses ingredients sourced from contract farmers committed to pesticide-free cultivation, including glutinous rice from Shiga and black beans from Tamba, Kyoto.
The Charms of Healthy
and Beautiful Mochigashi
Using pesticide-free, naturally grown glutinous rice raised by farmers in western Japan, the beautiful mochi with a chewy texture is produced through the handiwork of skilled artisans and vintage machinery, both inherited from the predecessors.
In addition to traditional sweets such as “daifuku,” which is a round mochi filled with sweetened red bean paste, the store offers products with a modern twist such as mochi colored with beets and mochi filled with fresh raspberry or strawberry.
The store has a cafe space where you can enjoy a set of mochi sweets and tea. The low decor, minimalist interior is imbued with the hope of the owner that customers can appreciate the delicate flavors and aromas of the ingredients and relax their bodies and mind.
The Delicate Handiwork of
Learn about “amezaiku,” Japan’s traditional candy craft artistry. You’ll be amazed by the meticulous handiwork of the artisan. They sculpt an intricate figure using their fingers and traditional scissors in merely five minutes, right after the heated candy is wrapped around a stick. Mixed with red, blue and yellow food dyes, the candy creations of goldfish, dogs, frogs and other creatures are brimming with vitality and appear as if they are about to move. While the traditional amezaiku usually has a milky white color, the Asakusa-based amezaiku shop Ameshin creates translucent sculptures. These beautiful pieces of edible art can be purchased at the shop, but the hands-on workshops are also popular. Get some amezaiku candies for gifts and souvenirs.
The Delicate Handiwork of
The dynamic-looking life-like amezaiku is one of Japan’s traditional crafts that has survived for centuries since the Edo Period (1603-1868). The artistry and masterful skills of the artisans today keep the tradition alive for generations to come.
In the hands-on workshop, participants can learn how to craft their own candy rabbit. You have a chance to practice before starting to make the actual amezaiku, and the artisan gives detailed instructions so even first-timers can make it with ease. Children are also welcome to participate.
Asakusa Amezaiku Ameshin Hanakawado Studio
1F Hori building, 2-9-1 Hanakawado, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Approximately 55 minutes by train from Haneda Airport
Reservations required for the amezaiku-making workshop.
Set Out on a Journey to Encounter
Your Favorite Wagashi
Recently, some emerging creators and influencers have elevated traditional wagashi into an art form. Fusing tradition with modern aesthetics and foreign cultures, they open up new possibilities for wagashi.
“Harumado” by Takeno to Ohagi
“Japanese Afternoon Tea” by Sasaya Iori Bettei
“YO KAN KA” by Tasuki
“Ka no Aya” by Tsuruya Yoshinobu
Also popular are visually beautiful wagashi that look like luxurious chocolates and are still only made with healthy ingredients such as rice, azuki beans and kidney beans. Other choices include yokan (red bean paste hardened with agar) combined with various ingredients such as fig compote, coconut cream and cheese that offer a new taste sensation. In addition, wagashi that go well with liquors such as wine and whisky, as well as those created by a pâtissier inspired by French cuisine, have also been in the spotlight. These new types of Japanese sweets, or so-called “new wagashi,” are imbued with exquisite craftsmanship, a deep respect for tradition and a commitment to healthy ingredients, allowing you to indulge in Japanese tradition and modern aesthetics through all five senses.
In addition to Kamakura, Kyoto, Osaka and Asakusa,
many places in Japan boast their own specialty sweets.
Blessed with abundant nature, Hokkaido is the top producer of azuki beans. Take a break from driving with “dorayaki” (pancake sandwich with sweet azuki bean filling), or warm yourself with “oshiruko” (warm soup made from boiling azuki beans with sugar and served with rice cakes and chestnuts) after skiing. Enjoy the rich flavors of fine azuki beans amid the magnificent scenery.
Having flourished as a castle town, Kanazawa retains many old architectures and townscapes as well as an array of traditional crafts. One of these is the art of gold leaf, which is made by beating gold into an extremely thin sheet. Wagashi adorned with gold leaf is a unique treat you can enjoy in Kanazawa. Stroll in a kimono along the quaint streets of the Higashi Chaya District, which is lined with wooden structures from olden times, and find your favorite Japanese confectionery store.
Hiroshima boasts a variety of local gourmet foods such as okonomiyaki (savory pancake dish) and Momiji manju (maple leaf-shaped steamed buns filled with red bean paste). Recently, Hassaku Daifuku, a rice cake confectionery with white bean paste and an entire hassaku orange inside, are gaining popularity. Many wagashi stores in Hiroshima offer this daifuku as a seasonal treat that lets you enjoy the unique bitterness and refreshing taste of the citrus fruit. Be sure to try it for yourself if you find this sure-to-delight treat while strolling around Hiroshima.
Framed by the mountains and ocean, Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture is home to Dogo Onsen, known as the oldest hot spring in Japan. The city is also the setting for a famous Japanese novel. Dango, a traditional rice dumpling depicted in the novel, is a popular specialty of the area. A skewer of multi-colored dango dumplings is exceptionally photogenic. Why not enjoy relaxing in a “yukata” cotton kimono at a hot spring inn with dango and a cup of tea?
Located in Kyushu, Nagasaki has been open to foreign cultures since ancient times and is a popular destination for its unique townscape greatly influenced by the West and East. Castella is a sponge cake originally introduced by the Portuguese during the Muromachi period (1336-1568) but has evolved over the centuries in Nagasaki as a local sweet. Characterized by a rich egg flavor and fine texture, Nagasaki’s castella is available in a variety of flavors, including green tea, brown sugar and cheese. Find your favorite one while enjoying walking along the alluring streets of Nagasaki.
Take a tour around Japan and experience
the profound beauty of Japanese confectionery that
embraces tradition and modern trends.