Wagashi no hi (the Day of Japanese Confectionery)
Starting in the Heian period, the Emperor Ninmyo prayed to the gods with an offering of 16 wagashi on June 16th to pray for his people to live healthy and happy lives when a plague spread throughout Japan.
With the popularity of tea and sugar during the Edo period ( 1603-1867) due to sugar being more widely available the development of stores selling sweets to be eaten with tea flourished. Before this tea was introduced in the Kamakura period ( 1185-1333) and zen monks partook in drinking tea with a small snack.
With demand, different wagashi stores introduced their own styles of sweets. Kyoto style wagashi were beautiful edible pieces of art to be eaten with a tea ceremony where as Tokyo style wagashi were more simple in design.
Wagashi comes in so many shapes and is a wide term for many varieties of Japanese desserts and confectionery as well as sweets eaten with green tea. Wagashi plays an important role in representing the seasons and you may find motifs used in the confectionery each month bringing a celebration of nature from the cherry blossoms of early spring with the wagashi known as Sakura Mochi to traditional sweets eaten at the equinoxes and offered to ancestors known an Ohagi .
In the autumn you may see wagashi shaped like maple leaves, chestnuts or persimmon. Summer wagashi maybe in the form of a cooling jelly or kuzu kiri, where as winter wagashi could be a zenzai
( warm red beans with Dango or Mochi )
Wagashi are normally consumed with green tea, the bitter taste of matcha is complimented by eating a sweet before hand never together.
The word wagashi is made up of two characters wa (和 Japanese) and kashi/gashi (菓子 sweets). There are different forms of wagashi : Namagashi or fresh which are normally kept refrigerated and eaten on the same day, Mushi which are steamed like manju or uirou , Mochi the ones we all know so well like Dango, Nagagashi which contain a coagulation ingredient like kanten or agar agar which we normally see in the form of summer jellies or yokan.
Yaki gashi are confections that are cooked think something like dorayaki or Taiyaki.
Nerikiri are the wagashi you normally find at Japanese tea ceremonies they consist of bean paste normally in a variety of colours that has been mixed with a binder like rice flour and come in a variety of shapes ( normally depicting a flower or something of the season). Higashi is a dry confection and can come in the form of a hard candy or wasanbon made from fine grained sugar. The most common being rakugan which come in a variety of shapes. Beika refer to snacks made from rice like senbei.
Agegashi refer to deep fried snacks like karinto.
Have you tried any of these types of wagashi yourself? You may have visited a Japanese tea shop or visited a family run wagashi store or maybe been bought them as a gift which is a very popular thing to do in Japan.
If you would like to purchase some beautiful wagashi yourself and your not in Japan the online store Minamoto Kichoan have a wonderful selection. They also have their own stores around the world and their flagship store in Ginza Tokyo selling their tradition confectionery made in Japan, many are seasonal with summer confections of jelly like this Kingyo jelly or ones containing fruits.
Autumn ones may contain things like nuts like their Gozenguri
or my favourite one the Suikanshuku which has a whole dried persimmon filled with white bean paste.
Just check the ingredients if you are wanting vegan ones as some contain egg.
I have some recipes for you to try making your own at home from Dango to yokan, Sakura Mochi and daifuku why not give it a try. You could make them for a special occasion or to honour an event. Why not try making Ohagi at the equinox or minazuki at the end of June.
A pyramid stack of Dango are offered to the moon for the moon viewing festival Tsukimi around September-October.
or maybe you could make hanami Dango (three colour Dango balls for Hinamatsuri).
I hope you can try making some wagashi for yourself they also make nice gifts or enjoy them with friends for tea time.
In the summer when the weather heats up you could try making a refreshing jelly wagashi. I recently purchased some 100% Mikan juice made in Wakayama from the wasabi company.
Mikan is one of the most popular citrus fruits in Japan it’s sweet and refreshing and can be used to make salad dressings, or cocktails. It’s nice as a thirst quenching drink mixed with sparkling water or frozen for an ice lolly.
For wagashi day I decided to make a simple , very easy to make jelly. To make it more appealing I served it as orange segments.
All you need is one orange cut in half and scoop out the fruit.
Add to a pan one cup of Mikan juice and sprinkle over one teaspoon of powdered agar agar. Gently heat up the Mikan juice and take off the heat before it boils. Allow to cool slightly and put it in the fridge for 5 mins to slightly thicken. Remove from the fridge and pour the Mikan juice into your orange halves. Allowing it to thicken will stop any leaks.
Place your orange halves in the fridge to set. When ready to serve slice a half into a further half to serve as an orange segment. Delicious on a hot day with an ice cold matcha.
Wagashi no hi’ was established by ‘Zenkoku Wagashi Kyokai’ (Japan Wagashi Association) in 1979. It is now observed every year on June 16. I’m not sure I want to eat 16 wagashi but it’s nice to have one with a green tea and wish for health and happiness.
Seasonal shop window wagashi displays in Kyoto