September 2017

Autumn is known in Japan as the ‘Season for a Healthy Appetite’. It is an excellent time to enjoy a variety of food and fruits such as apples, persimmons, pears and grapes. There are few popular sweets that are made from seasonal produce such as chestnuts and yams which are only available at this time of the year. These are a great way to enjoy traditional Japanese customs and the tastes of autumn at the same time. These Limited edition sweets, cakes and desserts can be found not only in department stores and convenience stores but also in the long-established traditional sweet shops called Wagashi-ya. Japanese style sweets, called Wagashi, use local ingredients making it a uniquely Japanese way to enjoy different kinds of sweets throughout the year.
 
Little history of Wagashi……
The word “wa-gashi” is literally means “Japanese snacks.” The first character “和” read “wa” is often used to describe things originating from Japan. For example “wa-fuku” means “Japanese clothing,” and “wa-shoku” means “Japanese food.” In fact, “wa” is the oldest known name for the country of Japan. The word “wa” itself means “peace, harmony, or balance.  The second part of the word, “kashi” which changes to “gashi” when paired with another kanji character, means “snack” but originally referred to the fruits and nuts served for guests before confectionary treats were invented.
 
Wagashi became popular during the Edo period where it was almost always served with tea. The original inspiration for wagashi came from Chinese dum-sum and the introduction of sugarcane to the island. European influence may have also played a part as Portuguese explorers visited Tanegashima in 1543. These travelers brought with them European sweets which used eggs and large amounts of sugar.  After this time tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) coined the term wabi-cha to refer to treats that were served at tea ceremonies. Prior to the introduction of Chinese and European influences, simple sweets such as manju and yokan were served.
 
Some of these simple Japanese sweets are available locally here in Iowa; I hope you have a chance to enjoy some of them.
 

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