Traditional Japanese teatime sweets, known as wagashi, are in a league of their own. While western desserts are often equated with excess and indulgence, the dainty wagashi instead calls for quiet appreciation over a calming tea session. As their colour, shape and flavour vary according to the time of year, these sweets are all about capturing the essence of the season in a miniature, edible form.
In its earliest, simplist form as rice cakes, wagashi was used as a ceremonial offering. Today, wagashi remains a key component at many special occasions. The ingenuity of wagashi lies in the fact that it's made from just a few simple ingredients. Glutinous rice flour is turned into sticky, chewy dough known as mochi; boiled beans are mashed with sugar into a paste; and then there's jelly or agar-agar, along with seasonal fruits and flowers. But taste is just one aspect of wagashi; texture, colour and shape are every bit as important. The level of artistry lavished upon wagashi is incomparable, as the ingredients are moulded into little pieces of edible art, almost too pretty to eat.
Wagashi can be broadly classified into three categories: namagashi (fresh confections), han namagashi (half-dry confections) and higashi (dry confections). Within these categories are many variations since these sweets tend to change with the seasons. In spring you'll find many pink-coloured wagashi celebrating the cherry blossom season, whereas late winter is a time for strawberries with wagashi made to resemble snow, ice or plum blossoms. Summer sees many clear gelées that give off a cool feeling while autumn's wagashi reflect the changing colours of the leaves as well as the flavours of persimmon and chestnut.
Note: The availability of the wagashi featured in these photos is dependent on the season.
Art direction by Mayumi Hashimoto, photography by Entaniya Studio