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Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections that evolved into an art form in the ancient Imperial capital, Kyoto. Though we often attribute desserts with taste and smell, these Japanese morcels are an invitatation to engage all five senses. From an aesthetic standpoint, the shapes, colors and designs of wagashi are all inspired by Japanese literature, paintings and textiles. The mouthwatering confections are made largely from various natural sources as beans and grains that are staples of traditional, healthy Japanese diet. The sense of touch is palbable with the softness, moistness and 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. Each has a delicate fragrance with the subtlest of aromas which enhances 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.
There are five distinct varieties including: Namagashi, miniature cakes that mimick the changing faces of Japan’s nature throughout the seasons; Yokan, a thick jellied sweet made of azuki bean paste, kanten and sugar; Monaka, sweets made of azuki bean filling sandwiched between two thin crisp wafers made from sticky-rice (wafers are shaped in cherry blossoms, chrysanthemum and so on); Manju, steamed bun-like sweets - dough made from joyo (yam) or flour that is steamed, made into a bun and filled with bean paste; Higashi, a glutinous rice flour, sugar and starch mixture or wasambonto pressed in molds to form dry sweets.
Wagashi are traditionally made from red and white Azuki beans; Kanten, a fiber-rich gelatin made from seaweed; and Wasambonto, a sugar with a powdery smooth texture – one of the oldest domestic sugars which is made through a labor intensive and unique refining process.