Food / Japan

Day 6: Making Japanese Sweets

Today after school we had a special activity planned out for us by our staff. We paired up with a group of students from Washington University (a friendly bunch for the most part ^^) and went to a cooking school to learn how to make 和菓子 wagashi.

Wagashi are adorable traditional Japanese sweets usually served with matcha during tea ceremony. Wagashi are especially appreciated for their beauty and craftsmanship. Their design changes according to seasons and months, much like ikebana (flower arrangement), kanzashi (hair pins) and shodo (calligraphy). These seasonal traditional arts are much appreciated by Japanese and foreigners alike.

Wagashi on display as examples

The examples looked so perfect I thought it was going to be near impossible to reproduce them, having never done anything like this before. My group and the American group were placed at a long table with all the ingredients set in front of each seat. At the far end of the room was the chef who, as he was making these sweets, was explaining the process in steps (all in Japanese of course). It’s a good thing there was a huge T.V. monitor so that we could see what he was doing!

Our work space, flanked by high school students on either sides

Everyone worked diligently to create the most adorable sweets with perfection. In all honesty, I spent most of my time giggling with one of our staff members about my inability to produce cute-looking things. I had especially a lot of fun with my little pun: 私のお菓子はちょっとおかしいですね!Watashi no okashi wa chotto okashii desu ne! (“Okashii” meaning weird and “Okashi” being the same as “wagashi”). The staff found me clever (*^▽^*)

Nonetheless, I got through it and made my 3 wagashi without them looking too bad. The 4th one was a gift from the cooking school and was made with green tea sponge cake!

Top right cake was a gift, the three others were made by me!

From left to right we made:

  • 緑風 -> Ryokufu “Summer Breeze”
  • Sponge cake
  • 花菖蒲 -> Hanashobu “Japanese Iris”
  • 牡丹 -> Botan “Peony”

We had a lot of fun making these cute cakes and we learned something new about Japanese traditional arts. When I came back home, Nakamura-san (okaa-san) had some visitors (friends who own a bamboo farm and came to visit to give us some locally grown bamboo!). I shared my cute wagashi with okaa-san and our visitors over a cup of tea. They tasted really good, which was a relief. Okaa-san showed me how to make matcha tea ceremony with her collection of bowls and whisks. We had a fun evening, centred around bamboo, wagashi and tea!

All of my hard work payed off!

Tomorrow will be a day off so we’ll get to do some shopping! I’m looking forward to it ^_^

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