Traditional Sweets That Tell a Story

Tuck into these sweet facts about Wagashi

By NHK Educational

The Mark of Beauty : NHK Educational

【Wagashi】PrologueOriginal Source: Nakamuraken

One type of Chinese-style sweet called Seijo KankidanOriginal Source: Kameya Kiyonaga

The fruity origin of sweets

In early Japan, fruits were the only sweets around. The kinds of sweets we know of today developed out of Chinese sweets traditions, imported into Japan during the Nara and Heian periods.

Habutae Dango (Silken Balls)Original Source: Habutae Dango

A sweet for every occasion

Over time, sweet-making developed new traditions and purposes across Japan. Japanese sweets were used as teatime treats, as well as offerings at rituals or ceremonial events.

(From left) Hisago zakura (Cherry Gourd), Nobe no Haru (Spring in the Meadow), Hanagoromo (Floral Cloak), Harunoya (Spring Meadow)Original Source: Shiono

Seasonal sweets

Wagashi sweets are designed to reflect the events and characteristics of the different seasons.

Kakigori (shaved ice)Original Source: Chimoto

Summer sweets

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.

(Clockwise from top) Kuri Kanoko (Chestnut Fawn), Momijiyaki (Autumn Leaf Bake), Yamaji no Nishiki (Mountain Path Brocade), and Hatsu Shigure (First Drizzle)Original Source: Toraya

Autumnal sweets

The bounties of the autumn season are expressed through the motifs, colors, and forms of autumn sweets.

Nanchohoki (Collection of the Tsukuba University Library) by Namura JohakuOriginal Source: University of Tsukuba Library

Name that sweet

During the Edo period (1603-1868 CE), sweet production expanded and developed. Many different names of sweets have been documented during the Edo period and during tea gatherings, cultivated men were expected to be able to hear the name of a sweet and immediately know all the nuances and implications of the name.

【Wagashi】The names of wagashiOriginal Source: Hanazono Manju, Shiose Sohonke, Tsuruya Hachiman

Higashi (Dry Sweets)Original Source: Kamehiroyasu

A teatime treat

Wagashi are traditional sweets, often served with usucha (thin green tea) are the dry sweets known as higashi. Although tea plays a leading role in the tea room, higashi sweets are used to compliment the flavor of the tea in an understated way.

Higashi (Dry Sweets)Original Source: Kamesuehiro

Pick your favorite higashi

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.

【Wagashi】Higashi (Dry Sweets)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
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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