Anyone who’s been in a tea ceremony has probably found wagashi treats as one of the most exquisitely beautiful things they’ve ever seen placed in front of them. They’re small, colorful, and perfectly go with the bitterness of a freshly prepared green tea. Some people might say it’s art in the form of a sweet treat, like poetry in their mouths and painting on their lips. Aside from the green tea, wagashi is something that most people look forward to when attending tea ceremonies. But what exactly is wagashi?
In Tokyo, there are a lot of department food stores where you have probably seen rows and rows of wagashi treats on display. This delicate treat has been around for hundreds of years, commonly seen during special occasions and tea ceremonies. Makers of wagashi use simple and humble ingredients which can be found at home or easily bought from your local shop include: rice flour and glutinous rice flour which is made into its familiar sticky dough; bean paste or anko which is made from boiling the beans until tender and pounding them together with sugar to make it sweet; kanten or agar-agar for the jelly; and lastly, flowers and fruits to make it even more beautiful and to add additional flavors and textures to it. Each wagashi treat is designed carefully and the changing of seasons play a vital role in making them. In fall, expect yellow hints in every wagashi treat that you’ll see as it welcomes the season of autumn after, where chestnuts become readily available and the chrysanthemum (Japan’s national flower) starts to bloom and as the weeks go by, shades of crimson appear. But spring is the most convenient and delicious season where shades of pink are the main color and most wagashi treat is topped with cherry petals, creating a refreshing and youthful scene. Back in the 9th century, under Emperor Ninmyo, rice cakes were offered to the gods to celebrate the search for the white tortoise, which was believed to be a sign of good luck. It evolved into a ritual in the Edo period where young aristocrats devoured tsubaki mochi, which are rice cakes pressed in camellia leaves, while they look up and gaze upon the beautiful cherry blossom trees. Since then, wagashi has become a vital part of special occasions and ceremonies.
Wagashi is also a reflection of times. It can go from its usual traditional, seasonal designs to its more modern ones where colors are mixed and usually topped with crystallized and sweetened flowers or fruits. There’s also a trend where wagashi is now paired with sake (rice wine) and other alcoholic drinks as opposed to its usual pairing with tea. It’s also one of the most instagrammable treats in Japan and you can find it almost everywhere online featured as part of a typical tea ceremony setting or maybe in a restaurant.
You can also find a lot of places offering wagashi making in Tokyo where you can learn how to make one of Japan’s most loved confectionery treats. At Tokyo by Food, you can learn how to make wagashi in our Wagashi (Japanese Traditional Sweets) Class. In this class, you’ll learn everything about wagashi and its rich history and will be guided as you’re taught how to make nerikiri wagashi, daifuku, and mochi. After that, you’ll be able to bring home the wagashi treats you created and get a complimentary green tea that goes well with the wagashi treats you made. This is the perfect wagashi class in Tokyo for those who want to learn more about wagashi and its beautiful aesthetics in both the historical and culinary world.
She’s cooking and baking for her family and friends. She finds grocery shopping therapeutic, always takes the longest time in the Asian section and debates with herself whether she needs that extra pack of instant ramen. A lover of sweets, she dreams of owning a patisserie and publishing her book but most of the time, she’s just really thinking of what to eat for breakfast the next day.