Updated: Apr 26, 2022
↑"Cherry blossom Kinton" with a deep and light pink color to represent cherry blossoms in full bloom Seasonal Poetry Created with Wagashi For those looking for a chance to learn about Japanese cuisine and culture in Japan, Kon'nichiwa from Japan Culinary Institute (JCI), and welcome to the JCI blog! March marks the arrival of the spring cherry blossom season that all of Japan is eagerly awaiting. Wagashi ( traditional Japanese confectionery ) stores are filled with motifs of "Sakura, cherry blossoms," "Uguisu, Japanese nightingales," "Nanohana, canola blossoms," and "fresh greenery," which are the most popular springtime delicacies. Yes, spring is the season when the world of wagashi becomes even more glamorous! Wagashi is an edible art form that expresses the Japanese sense of beauty through sweets. In this issue, we will introduce some typical springtime wagashi. If you are interested in Japanese food, why don't you join us at JCI to try your hand at making Japanese wagashi that you can love with your eyes and taste with your tongue? Table of Contents 1. The profound relationship between the Japanese people and cherry blossoms 2. Nerikiri, the quintessence of wagashi 3. Wagashi with Cherry Blossom Motifs 4. Typical Spring Wagashi 5. Summary
1. The profound relationship between the Japanese people and cherry blossoms
↑ Enjoy strolling and partying under the illuminated cherry trees In Japan, once March arrives, a cherry blossom forecast (sakura zensen) is issued along with the weather forecast, reporting daily when the cherry blossoms will bloom in various regions. Of course, Japanese people love the beauty of cherry blossoms themselves. Still, at the same time, they are excited about the outings such as cherry blossom viewing that accompany them. There are numerous cherry blossom viewing spots throughout Japan. Many people enjoy partying or strolling around under the cherry blossoms when the cherry blossoms bloom, calling it Hanami(literary flower viewing). Recently, some spots have begun to light up at night to create a fantastic night view of the cherry blossoms.
↑Crowds gather at cherry blossom viewing spots to enjoy sake, food, and sweet treats (Koizumi Kishio, Hanami at Asukayama, 1934).
↑ Hanami dango, easy to eat and perfect for eating while viewing cherry blossoms
2. Nerikiri, the quintessence of wagashi
The quintessence of Japanese confectionery is "Nerikiri" (photo), an artistic Japanese confectionery that depicts scenes from the four seasons. Some types are only available for a limited time. Nerikiri or Nerikiri-An (sweet white bean-based paste) is made by mixing white Koshi-An(smooth) bean paste, which is made by cooking white beans and other ingredients to remove water, then kneaded with yam and other ingredients. Gradually, the term "Nerikiri" came to refer to crafted confections made with this Nerikir-An. Nerikiri is served on celebratory occasions to entertain special guests or accompany thick tea at tea ceremonies. Special tools such as spatulas and wooden molds are used in the crafting process. The delicate and exquisite artistry requires the skill of the craftsman and his visual sense and creativity. The coloring of the nerikiri also demonstrates the craftsman's sense of artistic expression. In addition to cherry blossoms, other spring motifs include Uguisu, Japanese nightingale, which is said to herald the arrival of spring; Nanohana, yellow canola flower, which is in full bloom at the same time as the cherry blossoms; and Tsukushi, a plant that peeks its brush-like head out of the earth in early spring. As for color, in addition to the cherry blossom color, matcha (green tea), which represents fresh greenery, and mugwort paste are added to add the flavor and fragrance that spring brings.
↑Wagashi craftsman creating petals on nerikiri balls
↑Wooden molds for Wagashi
↑The cherry blossom Narikiri on the right is made using a wooden mold. The Manju bun on the left depicts the spring motif "Tsukushi."
↑"Uguisu" (Japanese nightingale) Nerikiri heralding the arrival of spring. The cute shape may make you hesitate to eat it.
↑"Flower raft" with cherry blossom petals floating in running water
3. Wagashi with Cherry Blossom Motifs
↑Kanto-style sakura mochi's crepe is wheat flour with rice flour for a glutinous texture. For Japanese people, "Sakura-mochi" is a typical Japanese confectionery representing spring. Japanese people are tempted to eat it in spring. It is made of pink-colored dough and red bean paste wrapped in a cherry leaf. There are two main types of sakura-mochi: Kansai-style, made with crushed glutinous rice called Domyoji flour, and Kanto-style, made with thin crepe dough made of wheat flour or other ingredients. Both types are accented with salted cherry leaves that add to the appearance, flavor, and aroma. The salted cherry leaves supporting sakura mochi are produced almost 100% in Shizuoka Prefecture, where JCI is located! The salty cherry leaves are made from Oshima cherry, a variety of Shizuoka Prefecture cherry trees known for their fragrance, softness, and texture. The leaves are harvested in early May when the cherry blossoms have fallen, and the bright leaves have emerged and are then arranged in barrels and pickled in salt for about six months. Next spring, would you like to join us to see the Oshima cherry blossoms?
↑Kansai-style sakura mochi called "Domyoji" Japanese people love cherry blossoms, so many other Japanese sweets are associated with cherry blossoms.
↑"Sakura Joyo Manju" has soft and fluffy skin with salted cherry blossoms added for a spring-like appearance. "Jyoyo" refers to Yamatoimo , Yamaimo , Tsukuneimo (Japanese yam), and so on. These yams are grated and kneaded into the dough, then used to wrap the sweet bean paste and steamed.
↑The cherry blossoms flickering in the agar jelly are elegant and somewhat ephemeral.
↑ Monaka, with a shell made from glutinous rice and filled with red bean paste, also appear in spring in the shape of pink cherry blossoms. Recently, Monaka filled with other ingredients such as chocolate and ice cream is also popular.
↑ Sugar confections in the shape of spring motifs such as butterflies, cherry blossoms, bracken, and tsukushi.
↑The cherry blossom ice cream is wrapped in a salted cherry leaf. Sakura Anmitsu" is like sakura mochi in anmitsu style.
↑"Sakura Anpan" with sakura bean paste mixed with white bean paste and finely chopped salted pickled cherry leaves. The salted cherry blossoms decorated in the center accentuate the sweetness.
4. Typical Spring Wagashi
↑"Kusa-mochi" is full of freshness with its bright green color and unique aroma of mugwort. In addition to cherry blossoms, there are many other spring-inspired wagashi. Kusa-mochi," which is made by kneading yomogi, mugwort paste into the mochi and wrapping it with koshi-an (smooth sweet red bean paste) or tsubu-an (regular sweet red bean paste). Yomogi, which sprouts at the beginning of spring. Along with sakura mochi, it is a popular springtime staple. Enjoy the bright green color and aroma of this springtime delicacy.
↑ Yomogi sprouts are steamed, paste, and kneaded into mochi. Also, monaka, dorayaki, manju buns, daifuku, etc., with sakura-an or matcha-an (green tea bean paste), can create a spring-like atmosphere different from the standard. By making the shell of monaka pink-colored, kneading matcha into the dough of dorayaki, branding manju with spring motifs such as cherry blossoms or Tsukushi, or decorating with pickled cherry blossoms, the essential ingredients are the same. Still, you can change the impression and flavor of the confectionery drastically.
↑"Uguisu-mochi" is another springtime staple, with the yellowish-green color of the kinako(soybean powder) made from green soybeans symbolizing the Uguisu.
↑These rich matcha-an dango with cherry blossom decorations are a hit on social media and perfect for cherry blossom viewing!
↑ Strawberry Daifuku: the red color of strawberries reminds one of spring. White mochi, of course, can be made green by kneading in mugwort, or colorful mochi with fruit juice, etc., to give a sense of the season. You can also change the azuki bean paste to white bean paste, add green tea, chopped salted cherry blossoms, etc., to create a wide variety of flavors! 5. Summary
↑Sakura-cha (cherry blossom tea) with dark pink pickled yaezakura (double-petaled cherry blossoms) floating on top. The saltiness matches the sweetness of the wagashi. In spring, Japan is full of events that remind us of new beginnings, such as entrance and initiation ceremonies, as well as fun events such as cherry blossom viewing. Japanese people love to enjoy the coming of spring with the beautiful colors and spring-like aroma of spring wagashi! Did you find any wagashi you would like to try among those introduced here? Have you ever wanted to try your hand at making this delicate and artistic nerikiri? The world of Japanese confectionery is still profound. Why don't you learn about it at JCI's Wagashi course? We'd love to take you out for a cherry blossom viewing (and eating!) outing, too! If you want to learn wagashi, click here for details!