Or “delicate”? or “elegant”? Or any other relevant synonym for this little beauty?
Although you may see a few of these traditional Japanese confectionery items here and there in America, such as dango and mochi, they can’t compare to the art, beauty and sheer variety of these sweets in Japan. While walking through the busy food departments of the department stores (there’s no better way to describe it–they aren’t supermarkets or grocery stores, and if you keep walking down, you’ll hit souvenir shops or bookstores), I passed by so many of these displays, but have only eaten it at two opportunities.
Japanese confections, called wagashi (和菓子) is often made with sugar, mochi and red bean paste, and served with tea. As Toraya Confectionary, a traditional Japanese confectionary shop, describes, “Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections that evolved into an art form” (source; please click for more information and pictures). As a result, there are many, many types of wagashi, which you can find out more about here.
The first time I tried wagashi was the first night I had arrived in Japan. Unfortunately, my stomach was still queasy from flying that I don’t remember much of the taste other than the fact that it was quite sweet. The second time was when my host parents held a musical concert and I had invited several of my classmates over for the first time. Both times, my host mom served these delicate Japanese confections with green tea in the Japanese-style room (washitsu 和室), lined with tatami mats to welcome me and my friends to the house.
That first night, my host mum introduced a few rules about the Japanese-style room:
- Always take off your slippers when entering the washitsu
- Sit on the mat/cushion, called a zabuton (座布団)
- Sit on your knees and heels, especially women; if your legs start hurting you can also shift your weight so your legs are still beneath you but you’re sitting half on the ground and on one leg
- Men also have the option of sitting cross legged
(This way of sitting resulted in my legs falling asleep many, many times.)
In addition, during the private welcoming ceremony, I also learned about the proper way to go about drinking tea in this situation–to lift the teacup cover, check for condensation and gently setting it on the table, top down with the edge under the saucer so that it does not roll away. It was all very precise and elegant. As I was soon to find out, food and eating was not just about the taste, but also about appearance and maintaining an elegant image.
When my friends came over for the concert, my host mum asked me to explain everything I had learned to my friends, making it an even more personal experience for me. Now when I see these tiny and exquisite pieces of art, I not only admire the artistic skill that the confectionery makers put forth for us, but I also remember a new family for the first time and that only makes it all the better.