The Mark of Beauty:Wagashi, Japanese Sweets

NHK Educational

In early Japan, fruits were the only sweets available. The kinds of sweets we know of today developed out of Chinese sweets traditions imported into Japan during the Nara and Heian periods.
Over time, sweets making developed independently in Japan into new traditions. These Japanese sweets were used for teatime treats but also as offerings for rituals or ceremonial events.
Point 1: Seasonality
Wagashi sweets are designed to reflect the events and characteristics of the different seasons.
The quintessential sweet of summer is kakigori, or shaved ice. This cold treat has a history in Japan dating back over a thousand years. Kakigori is still popular today, to the extent that there are even specialty shops for shaved ice.
The bounties of the autumn season are expressed through the motifs, colors, and forms of autumn sweets.
Point 2: The names of wagashi sweets
During the Edo period (1603–1868), sweets production expanded and developed. Edo period documents mention the names of many different sweets. During tea gatherings, cultivated men were expected to be able to hear the name of a sweet and immediately grasp all the nuances and implications of the name.
Point 3: Higashi (Dry Sweets)
Wagashi are indispensable for the Way of Tea.   The sweets typically served with usucha (thin green tea) are the dry sweets known as higashi.
Of course, tea must play a leading role in a tea room, but higashi sweets compliment the flavor of the tea in an understated way.
There are many types of higashi. The most common are molded sweets (oshimono) made with blends of rice flour, sugar, and other ingredients, which are then pressed into sweets molds to dry. Other examples include thinly baked senbei biscuits, jellied sweets, and others.
The Mark of Beauty : NHK Educational
Credits: Story

Echigoya Wakakusa
Kameya Kiyonaga
Habutae Dango
University of Tsukuba Library
Hanazono Manju
Shiose Sohonke
Tsuruya Hachiman

Photography by Tadayuki Minamoto

Music by Motonori Saito

Supervised by
Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University
M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Produced by NHK Educational Corporation


Credits: All media
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