April 15, 2024

Wagashi and Japanese Culture

Wagashi(traditional Japanese sweets) are special not only for their visual beauty, but also for their evocation of Japan’s four seasons, culture, and traditions.
This delicate sweetness celebrates the changing nature of the seasons and adds color to not only annual events such as festivals and seasonal festivals but also to our daily lives as Japanese people.

Tastes and Shapes Reflect the Four Seasons

Wagashi expresses the four seasons. In spring, cherry blossoms and strawberries are used in confections such as Sakura Mochi and Strawberry Daifuku, which attract people. In summer, cool water yokan and shaved ice relieve the heat. In autumn, wagashi made with chestnuts and sweet potatoes herald the change of seasons, and in winter, zenzai and oshiruko warm the heart. These seasonal wagashi remind us of our connection with nature.

Tanabata Wagashi - Milky Way, bamboo leaves, strips of paper
Tanabata Wagashi – Milky Way, bamboo leaves, strips of paper

Tea Ceremony and Wagashi 

Known for their beauty and delicate taste, wagashi also plays an essential role in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
There are two main types of confectionery used in tea ceremonies: main confectionery and dried confectionery.
In particular, the main confectionery is an important element in the world of chanoyu to express the sense of seasonality and convey the spirit of harmony, symbolizing the theme of the tea ceremony and the seasons.
Therefore, the main confections are made by professional artisans, such as “confectionary artisans” and “omoshishi,” in consultation with the host of the tea ceremony, using carefully selected ingredients, reflecting the changing of the seasons and special festivals, with delicate senses and reliable techniques.

Main sweets at the tea ceremony
Main sweets at the tea ceremony

Beauty as a Kogei Art

The visual beauty of wagashi is also of great value. In the tea ceremony, wagashi are considered a craft, and their shape, color, and texture are valued. Each fine confection is handmade by craftsmen and is appreciated as a work of art at the tea ceremony. In this way, the main confectionery symbolizes the pursuit of beauty in the world of tea.

Kikuhasami "scissors chrysanthemum"
HasamiKiku “scissors chrysanthemum”

One of the techniques used to make the main confectionery is the HasamiKiku “scissors chrysanthemum” technique, in which scissors are inserted into nerikiri to form the petals of a chrysanthemum.
Inspired by this technique, Yuko Hayashi, a ceramic artist currently exhibiting her work at Kogei Art KYOTO, has created a series of works.
She took inspiration from the “scissors chrysanthemum” technique and applied it to ceramics, making many minor modifications to inserting scissors into the clay, and finally established the Tsuchihasami “clay scissors” technique.

The process of making "Daruma" with clay shears
The process of making “Daruma” with clay scissors
Yuko Hayashi "Flower_scissors"
Yuko Hayashi “Flower_scissors”

Conclusion

Wagashi are not only beautiful to look at but are a special reminder of Japan’s four seasons, culture, and traditions.
Through these delicately sweet treats, we can sense Japan’s reverence for nature, the bonds between people through festivals and festivals, and respect for the skills of craftsmen.
Tasting wagashi is a step toward a deeper understanding of Japanese culture.