Wagashi: traditional sweets from Japan
Green tea with an autumn leaf-shaped sweet
What are Wagashi?
Wagashi is the term used to distinguish traditional Japanese sweets from their Western counterparts, which are known as yogashi. Wagashi come in an astounding variety of shapes and styles, and are variously classified according to the cooking method used. Some are steamed, some baked and others vary in water content, namely the uncooked and very moist namagashi or omogashi, the less moist han-namagashi, and dry higashi sugar candies. There are the high-end jo-namagashi served to guests, used as gifts, and presented at tea ceremonies, and the common dagashi loved by all children and eaten as snacks.
Tea ceremony specialties
Wagashi sweets served at the tea ceremony are a universe unto themselves, with a vast array of designs and ingredients. Omogashi are served with thick koicha tea, while higashi are offered with thin usucha. Within omogashi are many varieties like kinton, a sweet ball typically made of bean paste and coated with colourful flakes, and soft gyuhi cakes made of glutinous rice powder and sugar. Both omogashi and higashi convey seasonal themes in their designs and colours, the former typically with abstract nuances of colour and form, and the latter with representations of plants, flowers, and themes such as spring cherry blossoms, flowing water in summer, autumn leaves, and bright winter peonies.
Cherry blossom wagashi
From simple sweets to intricate works of art, it is more than worth it to sample (and photograph) some wagashi for yourself!