Wagashi are delicious Japanese sweets, often served as part of a traditional tea ceremony. They are crafted to look like symbols of the season Japan is experiencing at the particular moment when the sweets are made. In Kyoto, Japan’s most traditional city, the way of making wagashi is known as Kyogashi and there are many places around the city where you can try your hand at making some Kyogashi for yourself!
I had the opportunity to experience making Kyogashi sweets myself. It was autumn at the time, so all of the sweets we made had an autumn theme. The snacks we made were shaped like the falling leaves and had bright fall colours like yellow and red. We arrived at a very traditional looking Wagashi shop next to a shrine and were led through to the kitchen at the back. Then we removed our shoes and went upstairs to the classroom, where we would have our lesson in making the sweets.
First we all had to wash our hands thoroughly, they were very strict about this! They were so strict, that when someone took out their camera to take a photo, they had to go and wash their hands again before they were allowed to touch any of the ingredients. We made two different types of sweets, and used a coloured white bean paste which felt a bit like soft play dough!
We made two different types of leaf shaped sweets. For the first one, we flattened the yellow dough out into a leaf shape and spread a little bit of the red dough across it to give it an autumn colour. Then we etched a leaf pattern into it and wrapped it around an uncoloured ball of the sweet bean paste. The other leaf was made by covering another ball of the sweet bean paste completely and then shaping them into a five pointed leaf.
Although the lesson was taught in Japanese, the demonstration was clear enough for us all to follow, and after we’d finished making the sweets they brought us all some traditional green tea so we could eat one of our sweets along with it. Green tea (matcha tea) is traditionally eaten with something sweet in Japan, as the sweet taste cancels out most of the bitter flavour of the green tea and makes it smooth. We each made five sweets and for the remaining four they gave us a box to take them home in.
If you want a traditional experience while you’re in Kyoto which will leave you with a tasty treat to take home, you should give Kyogashi-making a try!
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・Wagashi Calendar: Japanese Sweets and When to Expect Your Favourites
・Namagashi: An Exquisite Type of Japanese Confectionary