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att. Japanese Culture - Enjoy Wagashi
att. Culture - Enjoy Wagashi
You are here: att.JAPAN > General Information > Enjoy Wagashi
att.JAPAN Issue 31, November 2006

Enjoy Wagashi

Today, sushi and tempura are both internationally famous and Japanese food has become popular all over the world. People around the world really are starting to appreciate the presentation techniques of Japanese food.

On the other hand, we do not hear much about Japanese sweets, "wagashi," perhaps as it is difficult to enjoy traditional forms of Japanese confectionery such as moist or dry cakes outside Japan. Although the tea ceremony is well known, there are seemingly few opportunities to enjoy the confectioneries connected to and served in the ceremony. For this reason, I strongly recommend tourists to get involved and take up opportunities to join the tea ceremony or to sample sweets along with Japanese tea in good confectionery shops when in Japan. If you do, I am sure you will really enjoy seasonal wagashi during your stay.

The confectionery types used in the tea ceremony can be classified under two banners - "omo-gashi" and "higashi." "Omo-gashi" is a moist cake cooked by heating or steaming while "Higashi" is a drier and firmer cake consisting mainly of sugar; many types of "higashi" are shaped using various molds which does make them look very pretty and attractive but they still retain an air of subtle modesty. Japanese confectionery used in the tea ceremony such as "nerikiri" is of a lighter color as is tiny "higashi" and although they do not leave too strong an impression as they are bit players in the ceremony, they do have a role to play given that they are part and parcel of the theme all tea parties are supposed to maintain. To this end, they should not attract too much attention to their presence by way of either appearance or flavor.

What senses you may ask, do we need to enjoy "wagashi"? According to Mr. Soko Suzuki, a master of the tea ceremony, the confectionery used in the tea ceremony should be savored by all five senses; taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing - this latter one is included as we should enjoy hearing the names of the confectionery. Each cake is named after a seasonal plant, natural phenomenon or other such natural occurrence and it is truly amazing that we can obtain so many differing messages from just one tiny cake by using each of the five senses and a little imagination.

Another fun aspect of such sweets is learning about their respective backgrounds. Confectionery for use in the tea ceremony developed in areas where the ceremony was popular and many regional cities in Japan are proud of their respective form of confectionery - especially so in Kyoto (Kyoto Prefecture), Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture), and Matsue (Shimane Prefecture); all areas renowned for their "wagashi." These cities' have several long-standing shops in which traditions and traditional tastes have long been preserved and visitors will be impressed by both the great effort that goes into retaining the status quo and also in the often dramatic history each shop can lay claim to - something that adds just a tad more of that 'special' flavor to their sweets.

To enjoy wagashi therefore, please use each of your five senses and learn the background of the sweets - this is my suggestion for "wagashi" beginners. However, some do doubt whether this would help in enjoying wagashi and the tea ceremony as a whole. You may hear: "without knowledge of the tea ceremony, I would not understand wagashi" and even though it is true that understanding the protocol of the tea ceremony is difficult it is not impossible. In addition those unfamiliar with the history or nature of Japan will have difficulties in interpreting the names or colors of cakes. That said the spirit of the tea ceremony is universal. At tea parties guests make efforts to comprehend the intentions of their host in observing the setting, confectionery and the cups used. These attitudes are essential to give thanks for and add value to every moment of our lives. Have fun in savoring the colors, shapes, flavors, touch, taste, and names of wagashi and the impressions you take away of season, location and people you meet will remain with you for ever.

More information on seasonal Japanese confectionery: WEB att.JAPAN - Wagashi (Japanese confectionery)

You are here: att.JAPAN > General Information > Enjoy Wagashi

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