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Now in Full Bloom! Traditional Japanese Sweet "Ohagi"

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

↑ Cute pastries? No, it's Japanese Wagashi, "Ohagi"!

Ever-evolving Wagashi is a Hot Topic on SNS!

Hello from Japan Culinary Institute, and welcome to JCI's blog for those looking for an opportunity to learn about Japanese cuisine and culture in Japan!

In Japan, it is customary to visit the graves of the deceased around the vernal equinox in March and the autumnal equinox in September. "Ohagi" is a traditional Wagashi made and offered to the ancestors and eaten. Ohagi is a simple confection of glutinous rice wrapped in sweet bean paste. Still, it has recently evolved into a colorful and lovely confection that has become a topic of conversation on social networking sites (see photo above). We introduce the connection with ancestors, which Japanese people cherish, and the "Hana Ohagi (Flower Ohagi)," which is currently the focus.

Table of Contents

1. About "Ohigan" in spring and fall

2. What is "Ohagi"? Names and variations

3. Beautiful and Delicious New Ohagi

4. Summary

1.About "Ohigan" in Spring and Fall

↑ Front: Tsubu(mashed)-an and Koshi(smooth)-an Ohagi, Left: Ohagi with black sesame and Kinako (soybean flour). Back: When made at home, it is carried in a stacked wooden container.

In Japan, families visit the graves of their ancestors during the week of "Ohigan" in spring and fall. The Ohigan period lasts for seven days, three days before and three days after the mid-day of the spring(or fall) equinox. In 2022, the middle days of the spring and fall equinoxes will be March 21 and September 23, respectively, both of which are national holidays.

Both the spring and fall equinoxes are days when the length of day and night are approximately the same. The date is not fixed but changes from year to year, depending on the sun's navigation. The custom of visiting graves on Ohigan is because the sun rises in the East and sets in the West during these two weeks of spring and autumn. It is believed that "the afterlife," believed to be in the far West, and "the present world" in the East, are most easily connected.

↑ Along with flower offerings, it is customary to offer Ohagi to ancestors' graves on the Ohigan (nowadays, offerings are increasingly taken home instead of being left as is) due to hygiene issues.

In Japan, there is a common saying, "Hot and cold weather lasts until the Ohigan," meaning that by the time the spring equinoxes are over, the weather will be warmer, and around the autumn equinoxes, the summer heat will be over. On the Ohigan, the Japanese traditionally make Ohagi at home, place them in stacked boxes, enjoy them with family members, serve them to relatives, and offer them to ancestors' graves.

2. What is "Ohagi"? Names and variations

↑"Bota-mochi (Spring Ohagi)" with sweet mashed bean paste. The flower in the background is " Botan (Peony)," which is the origin of the name. What kind of Wagashi is "Ohagi," a classic sweet on Ohigan? Ohagi, which evokes a nostalgic feeling for the Japanese, has different names and shapes depending on the region and season. Ohagi is a simple rice cake that shapes cooked glutinous rice into a round or bale shape and wraps it with An(sweet red bean paste). Another popular style is to prepare An in the center of the glutinous rice and coat with soybean flour or ground sesame seeds with sugar added. In other cases, steamed glutinous rice is pounded to the point where the grains remain, or a blend of glutinous mochi rice and Uruchi(regular) rice is used. Some Japanese confectionery shops serve Ohagi during the Ohigan season and all year round.

↑ In some regions, steamed glutinous rice is lightly mashed with a pestle and used.

Although they are generally called "Ohagi," they are initially called by different names and made differently depending on the season. In spring, it is called "Bota-mochi" after the spring flower "Botan (peony)" and is often made with Koshi-an (Smooth sweet red bean paste). It is also made larger, following the fluffy peony flower.

↑The name "Ohagi" comes from the autumn flower "Hagi (bush clover)."

On the other hand, when freshly harvested azuki beans are available in fall, they are made smaller, using Koshi-an (smooth sweet red bean paste) instead of Tsubu-an. Today, many people do not care about these differences, but initially, there was a distinction between them. In addition to the season, the way it is called, the recipe, the way the glutinous rice is mashed, and the ingredients used to wrap it vary from region to region and from household to household. Even Ohagi incorporates a sense of the season, and the fact that they even change the name is uniquely Japanese!

↑Azuki beans are harvested in the fall, so the skin is soft, so we savor as Tsubu-an (sweet red bean paste).

↑ Kinako (soybean flour) made from roasted soybeans. Sugar is usually mixed in.

↑ Cross-sectional view of Ohagi

↑ From the front: Ohagi with Koshi-an (smooth sweet red bean paste), white sesame, and kinako (soybean flour).

↑Ohagi with anko (sweet bean paste) inside

5.Beautiful and Delicious New Ohagi!

↑”Hana Ohagi,” decorated with tinted white bean paste with dainty decorations.

Now, following the traditional Ohagi, let us introduce the latest Ohagi style," Hana Ohagi," which has become one of the most talked-about sweets in Japan. The small, round shape, light colors, and delicate flavors and decorations have become a hot topic of conversation on social networking sites. Long lines form at popular specialty stores, and the most popular flavors are selling out quickly.

↑Rose Ohagi that even the shading seems genuine! Sophisticated beauty is here!

The coloring ingredients are added to the white sweet bean paste as the element of color changes according to the season. For pink, they use salted cherry blossom paste, strawberry or raspberry jam, or purée in spring. Yellow is a paste of candied lemon peel, chestnuts, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, etc. For green, they use matcha green tea, and for purple, purple sweet potato, etc. Unlike traditional Wagashi, they create a new taste when flavored with cocoa, chocolate, or liqueur. They are also decorated with toppings such as nuts and dried fruits to make them even more adorable.

↑In addition to the standard Tsubu(mashed) and Koshi(smooth)-an (sweet red bean paste) at the back, new flavors such as coconut, beet, pistachio, and orange are also available.

↑ This is a Sakura-mochi-style Ohagi burger made of glutinous rice with barley and sandwiched with anko (sweet bean paste)!

↑Bite-size so you can enjoy a variety of flavors!

4. Summary

↑ From left to right: Kyoto-style Ohagi with Tsubu-an, green tea-an, and Kinako (Courtesy of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan and Image provided by: Kyoto Prefecture Liaison Council of Life Research Groups)

By introducing Ohagi, we hope you have learned that even simple traditional Japanese sweets have evolved with the times.  We are delighted to see this new movement, which is getting the younger generation not eating Japanese sweets as much anymore, and more interested in Wagashi.

And of course, the Japanese love plain traditional Ohagi, too!

Which type of Ohagi do you want to eat?

New Wagashi is a creation of beautiful and delicious combinations of traditional Japanese ingredients and a variety of other elements.

Traditional Wagashi is rooted in the heart of the Japanese people!

You can learn both at JCI! Why don't you join us to make a unique and photogenic Wagashi? Furthermore, JCI offers the Wagashi course and the Japanese food chef training course that includes Wagashi making as part of its curriculum.

In addition to Wagashi, JCI also offers a variety of lessons on tea, sake, and other Japanese food-related topics, details of which you can find below!

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