is a traditional Japanese confectionery which is often served with tea, especially the types made of mochi, azuki bean paste, and fruits.
Wagashi is typically made from natural based (mainly plant) ingredients. The names used for wagashi commonly fit a formula — a natural beauty and a word from ancient literature.
Generally, confectioneries that were introduced from the West after the Meiji Restoration (1868) are not considered wagashi. Most sorts of Okinawan confectionery and those originating in Europe or China that use ingredients alien to traditional Japanese cuisine, e.g., kasutera, are only rarely referred to as wagashi.
In ancient Japan, people ate fruits and nuts as confectionery and sweets, to supplement nutrition in addition to grain, such as rice, wheat and millet. In an excavation of a Jōmon period archeological site, the carbonized remains of what appeared to be baked cookies made from chestnut powder were discovered.
According to the Kojiki, Emperor Suinin ordered Tajima-mori to bring from the Eternal Land. 10 years later, Tajima-mori returned with the orange, but Emperor Suinin was already dead. Tajima-mori mourned since he could not carry out his mission and took his own life. By tradition, Tajima-mori is worshipped as spirit like a patron saint among confectionery craftsmen.
Grain processing technology evolved through rice cultivation. People began to produce a parched rice (yaigome), sun-dried cooked rice (hoshi-ii), rice flour, dumpling (dango), mochi, ame (made of saccharified rice malt) and so on. Thus, ancient people's confectionery was very simple.
Japan sent envoys
to the Sui
and Tang Dynasty
from the Asuka period
to the beginning of the Heian period
. They brought back eight and 14 and the recipes. The Tang confectioneries were kneaded wheat flour and rice flour, and fried in oil. These were more advanced than the confectionery technology of Japan in those days. They were served at the Imperial Court and offered to Shintoist
deities. According to one view, a dark brown sugar
was also brought back from China by Jianzhen
who came to Japan from the Tang in this period. However, since sugar-refining technology was not introduced to Japan at this point, the sugar was very rare and was treasured like a medicine. Generally, was used as a sweetener at this time.
During this period, many diaries and tales were written among upper class and aristocrats. The Tale of Genji, The Pillow Book and The diary of Izumi Shikibu have some episodes about confectionery. Moreover, the records manifesting a life situation also increased with improvement of a government institution. They are how we know confectionery culture of those days.
- Tang confectioneries
- Major eights: Baishi, Danki, Hichira, Kakko, Keishin, Tensei, Tōshi and Tsuishi.
- Others: Buto, Fuzuku, Heidan, Hōtō (According to one theory, it is an archetype of Hōtō), Kakunawa, Konton, Magari, Mugikata and Sakuhei.
- Aozashi: It is made of parched green wheat flour and twisted like a thread.
- Kezurihi: Shaved ice flavored with amazura-sen syrup. It is called kakigori today.
- Some mochi-based confectioneries. For example:
- Tsubaki mochii: A mochi flavored with amazura-sen syrup.
- Inoko mochii: A mochi shaped as a wild boar piglet.
Introduction of tea
The first introduction of tea
in Japan is unclear. In 729
, Emperor Shōmu
held a ritual of the tea party after sutra
recitation. In 815
, Emperor Saga
was given a cup of tea by the high priest. During the Heian period
it seems that the customs of tea drinking had not been established outside of Temples and Buddhism, and had not progressed into domestic culture. Therefore, the standard introduction is in 1191
, when the famous Zen
brought back tea seeds to Kyoto
. Then, confectionery was improved as a snack or a light meal to accompany tea.
In 1349, who came from Yuan to Japan with a Zen priest. He lived in Nara, and sold a steamed filled dumplings. However, since meat eating was a taboo in Japan then, azuki bean paste sweetened with honeysuckle syrup, was used as a replacement filling. This was very popular and was presented to the Imperial Court repeatedly. Then, Rin married and was naturalized in Japan. The manjū store which he opened is still operating in in Tokyo as . Moreover, from 1949, Rin was worshipped as ancestor of manjū in Hayashi shrine in Nara.
were shipwrecked on Tanegashima Isle. Some European confectioneries became popular in Japan during the Nanban trade
. These were referred to as , or "Wagashi with a new wind".
In Japan, cattle are not common, therefore non-dairy based confectionery was more popular, in particular castella, kompeito, aruheitō, karumera, keiran sōmen, bōro and bisukauto.
During the Edo period
, the production of sugarcane
became highly productive, and low quality brown sugar
as well as heavily processed white sugar
became widely available. A type of sugar, wasanbon
was perfected in this period and is still used exclusively to make wagashi. Wagashi was a popular gift between samurai
, in significance much like a good wine
. Wagashi is served as part of a Japanese tea ceremony
, and serving a good seasonal wagashi shows one's educational background.
In modern days
Types of Wagashi
- Anmitsu - chilled gelatinous cubes (kanten) with fruit.
- Amanattō - simmered azuki beans or other beans with sugar, and dried. Amanattō and nattō are not related although the names are similar
- Botamochi - a sweet rice ball wrapped with anko (or an, thick azuki bean paste).
- Daifuku - general term for mochi (pounded sweet rice) stuffed with anko.
- Dango - a small, sticky sweet mochi, commonly skewered on a stick.
- Hanabiramochi - a flat red and white sweet mochi wrapped around anko and a strip of candied gobo (burdock).
- Ikinari dango - a steamed bun with chunks of sweet potato in the dough, with anko in the center. It is a local confectionery in Kumamoto.
- Imagawayaki (also kaitenyaki and so on) - anko surrounded in a disc of fried dough covering.
- Kusa mochi - "grass mochi", a sweet mochi infused with Japanese mugwort (yomogi), surrounding a center of anko.
- Kuri kinton - a sweetened mixture of boiled and mashed chestnuts.
- Manju (food) - steamed cakes of an surrounded by a flour mixture, available in many shapes such as peaches or rabbits.
- Matsunoyuki - "the snow on the pine", a sweetened mochi in the shape of a pine tree, sprinkled with ground sugar.
- Monaka - a center of anko sandwiched between two delicate and crispy sweet rice crackers.
- Oshiruko (also zenzai) - a hot dessert made from anko in a liquid, soup form, with small mochi floating in it.
- Rakugan - a small, very solid and sweet cake which is made of rice flour and mizuame.
- Sakuramochi - a rice cake filled with anko and wrapped in a pickled cherry leaf.
- Taiyaki - like a kaitenyaki, a core of anko surrounded by a fried dough covering, but shaped like a fish.
- Uirō - a steamed cake made of rice flour and sugar, similar to mochi.
- Warabimochi - a wagashi traditionally made from warabi and served with kinako and kuromitsu
- Yatsuhashi - thin sheets of gyūhi (sweetened mochi), available in different flavors, like cinnamon, and occasionally folded in a triangle around a ball of red anko.
- Yokan - one of the oldest wagashi, a solid block of anko, hardened with agar and additional sugar.
Classifications / Categories
Wagashi are classified according to the production method and moisture content. Moisture content is very important since it affects the best-before date.
- (wet confectionery) - contains moisture 30% or more.
- (half-wet confectionery) - contains moisture 10% - 30%.
- (dry confectionery) - contains moisture 10% or less.
Wagashi in fiction
- NHK aired a morning drama series called Asuka. The overall theme of the series is wagashi.
- The male lead in the visual novel D.C.: Da Capo has the power to create wagashi, which he uses at various times in the game.