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The Art of the Five Senses
Types of WAGASHI
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The Art of the Five Senses

The Art of the Five Senses
Types of WAGASHI

Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections that evolved into an art form in the ancient Imperial capital, Kyoto. The character pronounced 'wa' denotes things Japanese, while the characters for 'gashi', an alliteration of kashi, have come to mean confections. Wagashi represent the essence of Japanese culture, and continue to be vital force in Japanese life.

What is wagashi?

Rooted in a deep love of nature and seasonal changes, the unique aesthetic of the Japanese people gave birth to wagashi, which then reached its present maturity during its long history. So deeply bound is wagashi to daily life in Japan that there is a confection for almost every seasonal festival and every milestone in an individual's life.

The principle element of wagashi is an, a bean paste which is made of beans and sugar. In particular, azuki beans are a defining ingredient, without which wagashi can hardly be conceived. Its hearty flavor goes without saying, and its reddish color has associations with ancient beliefs that red wards off disaster and disease. The beans are cooked with sugar, then mashed, and finely strained to produce a smooth azuki bean paste called gozen an (koshi an), or, by leaving some of the solid bits of the beans intact, it becomes a whole azuki bean paste or ogura an (tsubu an). These two pastes are the mainstay of wagashi, while other beans, such as the white azuki beans and the white kidney beans, are used to produce a white bean paste called shiro an. These different bean pastes become the basis for the wide variety of wagashi.

In addition to bean pastes, Toraya uses agar-agar, rice flour, and other plant-based products for its wagashi -- although eggs are used on occasion.

The Art of the Five Senses

Wagashi is sometimes called an art of collaboration among the five senses. In evoking the seasons and landscape of Japan, the shapes, colors, and designs of wagashi appeal to the sense of sight. The rich flavors of natural ingredients appeal to the sense of taste. The textures we experience when we take the confections by hand, cut them for serving, or place them in our mouth, appeal to the sense of touch. The delicate aromas appeal to the sense of smell. Even the sense of hearing is stimulated by the sound of the lyrical names, with their literary or seasonal associations. Thus, our appreciation of each small confection is greatly expanded by five layers of sensual stimulation.


Shapes, colors and designs of wagashi, inspired as they are by Japanese literature, paintings and textiles, and often representing evocative images from nature, are a feast for the eyes.


This is of course a primary sense through which we experience wagashi. Since wagashi are made largely from various beans and grains that are staples of traditional, healthy Japanese diet, we are able to savor the distinctive flavors of their natural ingredients.


The softness, moistness, or crispness one feels when taking a piece of wagashi in one's hand, when cutting it to serve a friend, or when placing it in the mouth, all reveal the freshness, quality and uniqueness of wagashi's ingredients.


Fragrances of wagashi are delicate. Their ingredients have the subtlest of aromas which enhance the pleasure of the sweets without overwhelming the flavor and fragrance of the beverage with which they are served.


Wagashi's appeal to the ear comes from hearing the lyrical Japanese names of the different varieties spoken aloud and from the images these names evoke. Many names are derived from classical prose or poetry, while others may suggest a season.
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