Showing posts with label wagashi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wagashi. Show all posts

Friday, 17 August 2012

Japanese Wagashi: The Art of Five Senses

Wagashi made of white Azuki beans served at the tea ceremony which I
was invited to. The wagashi evokes the image of a fish swimming in a stream.
Two months ago, I was invited to a tea ceremony by a Japanese lady, N-san whom I met at my traditional Japanese dance class.  She brought me to Uji where her sister lives and after lunch, we set out for a popular tea room.

Uji is famous for the production and distribution of quality green tea, and the trip opened my eyes to another aspect of Japanese culture. During the tea ceremony, wagashi or traditional Japanese confection was served along with the tea. 

"Can you see that this is a stream?" asked N-san's sister, pointing to the wagashi that was served. She explained that Japanese wagashi often evokes images of nature and provides a sense of the season. 

I always thought that Japanese wagashi looks pretty but have never associated it to an art form. But the interaction with N-san and her sister that day piqued my interest and I read up a little on the internet on the history of Japanese wagashi.

When we savour a piece of wagashi, we may not have realised that the wagashi is made with the concept, the Art of the Five Senses in mind. Apart from the appearance of the wagashi, alot of thought also goes into creating a unique texture, taste and aroma which complement the context in which the wagashi is served. In addition, there is also the concept of sound that completes the whole concept of a wagashi. This refers to the name of the wagashi which is meant to evoke classic literature or images of the season.
Wagashi with poetic names in the window display of a restaurant at Kyoto Station. From left: The notes of water; Summer robe; Glory in the water.
Minazuki sold in supermarkets. 4 pieces for 420 Yen.
In the month of June, a common wagashi seen in supermarkets and confectionery is Minazuki (水無月). After I found out that the naming of wagashi evokes classic prose and poetry, I have been very curious about the name of Minazuki which in Chinese means "The water with no moon".  I thought it must have to do with the red beans blocking out the reflection of the moon in a triangular pond or something.  But what does the red beans signify?

After some research, I learnt that the name has nothing to do with the moon but more with the month.  As the character for "moon" and "month" is the same, I misunderstood one for the other. Minazuki  actually means the "Month of water".  In other words, June, the month in which the fields are irrigated. There is also another explanation which links it to the month of the rainy season but this second explanation is said to be erroneous. 

Minazuki is often eaten in June when summer begins. As it is made to look like a piece of ice, you supposedly feel cool after eating it. Apart from Minazuki, I also spotted a few other types of wagashi in the supermarkets. If you look at them, you will find the similarities with Minazuki, and generally many other types of wagashi of the season. They all have a translucent appearance which I believe is meant to bring about a sense of coolness.  

A variety of summer wagashi found in the supermarkets.
It takes some imagination to eat these wagashi and feel cool as a result I guess.  I tried Minazuki and it has no cooling effect on me. I still prefer ice-cream, or even better, ice kacang.