Jun. 9 2012

Sweet Japanese Wagashi

Last Thursday, Yasuno sensei took our Cultural Anthropology class to visit a Japanese confectionary shop around the corner from Yamaguchi Prefectural University. There we learned all about wagashi. These amaimono (sweet things) are a traditional go-along with green tea in Japan.

wagashi closeup
There is so much artistry in created wagashi. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

These starchy, delicious confections dissolve on your tongue. They’re made with different combinations of azuki beans, mochi and sometimes fruit.  Then, they’re crafted into delicate shapes, usually to show seasonal trends.

The one I tried was ‘botan’ (peony), which are currently blooming in Japan. Summer treats are often semi-transparent. The effort to make the wagashi transparent is so that they have a ‘cooling’ effect, to combat the hot summer weather.

How to eat wagashi

Using the little wooden spear you’re given to eat the wagashi,  you’re meant to quarter the mochi, and then eat each piece slowly, savouring your green tea in between.

wagashi cut into quarters
Wagashi, quartered! (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

The maker who served us our sweets and tea was very knowledgeable. He studied for 20 years in Kyoto before opening up his little off-the-main-road confectionary here.

For those of you who don’t know Japan, streets are often a little more convoluted than I’m used to in North America. Off-the-road literally means sort of hidden among a bunch of regular houses with a small bike-path-type trail leading to it.

We asked him how he got any business being so far off the main road, and he said mostly word-of-mouth. People tend to value each others’ opinions very highly in Japan, so it’s no surprise he’s able to keep a fully stocked shop so hidden away.

There was also an adorable cigarette disposal bin shaped like a cat. I couldn’t resist. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Wagashi store address

The name of the place is 涼の郷, which I think translates to ‘Ryō no Go’.

2 Chome-7-25 Sakurabatake, Yamaguchi-shi, Yamaguchi-ken 753-0021, Japan

Japanese vocabulary

Japanese sweet — wagashi, わがし, 和菓子

Sweet stuff — amaimono, あまいもの, 甘いもの

Peony — botan, ぼたん, 牡丹