Beautiful food is an integral part of Japanese culture and perhaps the best kind of food to emphasise this fact is Japanese confectionary. Known as wagashi, Japanese sweets are traditionally served alongside coffee and green tea to heighten the drinking experience.
But what really stands out about wagashi is the depth of creativity and storytelling that goes into such a tiny object. Each style of wagashi is different, telling the story of a season or representing a certain mood or region. There are so many to appreciate and here are six types of wagashi that will make you appreciate the beauty of Japanese sweets.
Fuku-ume are plum blossom-shaped sweets that originate from Kanazawa and are traditionally eaten during the New Year’s season. They have adzuki bean jam placed between two sugar-coated flower wafers, providing a sweet and tart taste that is truly delicious.
The tama-shimizu wagashi is a sweet that is meant to represent rippling water. This is evident by the swirls on top, mimicking the ripples that move out from a lake or pond.
It’s a celebration of the Japanese belief in transience, that life flows as quickly as water and will continue to move no matter the situation.
Originating in Edo (Tokyo), Kintsuba sweets are shaped to represent the sword guard of a samurai’s katana. It’s a regional style that was meant to contrast with Kyoto gintsuba, a round silver wagashi that looks like the traditional guard on a samurai sword.
As the story goes, when gintsuba sweets were introduced to Edo, the actor Icikawa Danjuro put on a play and decided to break from tradition by using a sword with a square guard. This inspired Edo craftsmen to follow his example and create a golden confectionery that was meant to be of a ‘higher quality’ than the silver sweet of Kyoto.
Back in the day, trying to one-up each other was common among sweet makers from different prefectures. Regardless of the intention, kintsuba and gintsuba are both delicious desserts to be enjoyed for their sweet qualities.
A kind of Japanese sponge cake, Imagawayaki is enjoyed across all regions of Japan. It’s thought to have originated in the 18th century and was the precursor to the fish-shaped taiyaki treat.
Traditionally made from batter in a honeycomb patterned pan that’s similar to a waffle iron, Imagawayaki are filled with azuki bean paste. However, modern interpretations feature a range of ingredients, such as ice cream, cheese, vanilla custard and more.
A type of mochi, akafuku is unique to Ise City in Mie Prefecture. It’s different from other wagashi because it’s not crafted in the traditional way of closing red bean paste inside the mochi. Think of akafuku as an inside-out mochi that’s similar to an inside-out sushi roll.
The story of this confectionery is that it’s meant to symbolise the Isuzu River. The top has ridges that signify clear flowing water through the river, while the inside has white mochi to represent pebbles lying on the riverbed.
Mizushingenmochi is one of the most unique types of wagashi, as it’s made from a simple mixture of water, gelatin and sugar. Also known as raindrop cake, this confectionery originates from Yamanashi Prefecture and the water used to make it comes from a spring near Mount Kaikoma.
Caught between a liquid and a solid, raindrop cake is impossible to store or be transported successfully because of its transient nature. Makers use only enough gelatin to harden it for 30 minutes before the sweet breaks apart. It’s the ultimate representation of the fleeting nature of life.