Wagashi, a word that is perhaps unknown to many of us, but that describes such an elegant and traditional candy making art in the Japanese culture.
Those of us who enjoy tea, also like indulging in a little something deliciously sweet along with our tea. Here in America, that might be a cookie, a brownie, a delicious tea bread, pound cake, or even some lovely scones (okay, maybe not traditionally American, but we sure do love them!).
However, If you happen to be visiting Japan (as someday I hope to be), you will very likely find yourself lucky enough to have your tea (especially green tea) accompanied by a bit of wagashi.
What is this wagashi, you ask? Well, let me tell you first and then please watch this short video that I’ve included below for you. It is beautiful, and I promise you won’t be sorry you took a couple of minutes to do so!
Wagashi is the art of Japanese confectionery (candy making). An art whose roots run very deep in the country’s culture. Broken down, the word itself means “Japan sweets.”
Japan = “Wa,” and sweets =”gashi.”
They are delicate sweet treats made with fruit, mochi (soft, pounded gooey rice), and azuki paste (made from the small English red mung beans). This combination of ingredients, which are natural and indigenous to Japan, produce a very moldable and soft texture.
These fancy delicious treats, created to honor the beauty that is nature, come in different shapes and flavors depending on the season. Just as each season delights us with a different flower and taste, so it is with wagashi, which originated as an accompaniment to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony (this being the primary reason for its deep roots in Japanese culture).
Wagashi, most often presented in the form of traditional flowers and fruit can also be found in whimsical shapes as well. It is the perfect accompaniment to green tea, as its sweetness balances the flavor of the not-so-sweet green tea. Tradition calls for it not just to be pleasing to the palate, but pleasing (in its delicate beauty) to the eye as well.
In Japan, there is a family that has not only excelled in but also thankfully preserved the sophisticated and complicated confectionery art of wagashi. The fifth and sixth generations of the Fukushima family are presently carrying on this remarkable tradition, currently offering at least 200 different kinds of these treats made during the year.
During January, one might have been enjoying an exquisite plum blossom, but once spring has sprung, you’ll be sure to see some lovely camellia blossoms and daffodils on the menu!
In the video, you will see a sample book created in 1867 handled with the greatest of care. The book preserves the founder’s wagashi designs and is a constant reminder to the family of the extreme importance of maintaining the spirit of its founder.
It is inspiring to see how the same exact designs and seasonal motifs that are in this ancient book are still used by the family today. They even still have and use wooden molds that have been passed down through many generations. Hand molding is, of course, used as well.
After 170 years, the Fukushima family proudly continue to create delectable masterpieces in the tradition of their ancestors. And one day, I hope to be fortunate enough to delight in their incredible beauty and sweetness!