I first encountered [easyazon_link identifier=”4416812930″ locale=”US” tag=”l04d5-20″]wagashi[/easyazon_link] by chance.  When opening the [easyazon_link identifier=”B000GFK7L6″ locale=”US” tag=”l04d5-20″]NY SundayTimes[/easyazon_link] Magazine a photograph of a bright orange and white fish, – called kingyo or goldfish – suspended in a transparent block of ice or water appeared near the top on page three.  Puzzled as to what it could be I flipped forward to the full article.  The article neglected to mention anything about what I was looking at – or perhaps assumed I should know.  It was a short media soundbite about a Japanese confectionery shop in Tokyo that was long on promotion and short on the one detail I wanted most to know.  At that time a Google search meant driving to the local library and flipping through data cards then hoping one of your choices held a nugget of knowledge that would aid and assist you on your quest.  Patient research did not always provide answers prior to the internet – even rarer when it involved a foreign country.  As it stood I was left to stew in my curiosity for years to come.  My knowledge of the natural laws of food creation did not include suspending a fish in clear gel.  I was puzzled.  How something so beautiful could also be food went beyond my experiences.  I would not forget that image.  The impact it had on my imagination magnified as time passed by.  Success in solving the mystery eventually came years later – a chance event that could be put almost entirely down to natural forces.  In this case cultural cross pollination provided the name of the creator – [easyazon_link identifier=”B00NXF4A14″ locale=”US” tag=”l04d5-20″]TORAYA[/easyazon_link] – a wagashi maker from Japan had finally arrived in New York.




若葉蔭  or Wakaba-kage is considered a relatively new design and was first created in 1918 – the year of Taisho Seven.  Toraya has more than 500 years of history in Kyoto.  It was established latter 16th century and has been a key supplier to the Emperor for centuries.  Wakaba means fresh green leaves and kage means shade. You can imagine the feeling when you find a shade under a tree in a heating summer day. It’s made of ‘kohaku(amber).’ When we make jelly, we use agar(寒天 kanten) instead of gelatine in Japan. It looks cool and we can enjoy the decoration inside. This one has a little red and ivory colored fish along with a green maple leaf making it appear like it’s swimming in a river in June.  At long last I had an answer to what it was I was looking at many years ago that had left me stuck at the opening of a pandoras box of food culture.  The name wagashi was now part of my vocabulary but little did I know there was much, much more to this story yet to be told.  Living in a national park in the northern mountains of Osaka this river scene unfolded before my eyes each June.  Before rainy season, when the maple trees (momiji) were full of bright green leaves, the kinjyo were particularly active in the mountain river that flowed top down towards the concrete, steel and glass valley below.  Each day, depending on the weather, a different still life snapshot could be seen.  Water, fish and fallen maple leaf juxtaposed in a suspended state of animation for fleeting moments – just enough time for the passing hiker to soak in its image of tranquility.  The image cast in the wakabakage is one such moment to be savored and enjoyed for those too busy to be in the mountain forest where nature plays its favorite reels each passing year.


When faced with the question of how food is made a recipe book is perhaps the most common device to unlock the mystery.  The authors of [easyazon_link identifier=”4894442884″ locale=”US” tag=”l04d5-20″]WAGASHI[/easyazon_link] took a different approach.  It offers no recipes.  It does not tell you how they are physically made nor the ingredients required.  Rather, it seduces the reader into the spiritual and philosophical world that embodies all that is wagashi.  Readers who take flight on this journey will be enlightened as to just what wagashi represent and how they can enrich your life.  Beneath the book’s cover,  the inspiration behind the creation of each individual wagashi is revealed by way of 4 clues.  A name,  season or festival,  image and classical poetry inform the reader both visually and linguistically.  No shop encountered, story read or gift box eaten can teach you this about wagashi.   Somehow, by whisking away all that is superfluous a sparkling clarity is found in this book.  It is an illuminating lesson in how best to communicate through storytelling.

[easyazon_link identifier=”4894442884″ locale=”US” tag=”l04d5-20″]WAGASHI[/easyazon_link] are a symbolic ritual with which to celebrate unique moments in a season.  Few cultures are more in tune with seasonal change than the Japanese and food is an important symbol of that change.  This book is organized by month and season, mirroring the natural order in which wagashi can be found in markets throughout the year in Japan.  It opens the possibility to readers not living in Japan to approach the wagashi experience day by day just as it was before global trade clouded our senses.  Even without the tasting and three dimensional visuals one can readily obtain a keen sense of the cultural value each wagashi communicates.  In some ways it reintroduces the daily routine of acclimating to natural tides – something that is often lost in the contemporary city life with 24 hour services and food arriving from everywhere at all times of the day.  Within the book each bi-fold (2 page) section includes 1 page of a photograph of the wagashi and the other with the name and poetry in both English and Japanese.  Interspersed throughout the book are vintage graphics relevant to the elements of the season.

 The color of cherry blossoms at their peak are splendid

The light green of just-budding willow

branches is also very beautiful.
The scene of light-green weeping branches blown
in the breeze sinks into the viewers’ eyes and minds.


When Japan opened itself to global interaction in the Meiji Era it also switched it’s calendar from the Chinese Lunar calendar to the solar calendar used by Western countries.  Since wagashi symbolize seasonal events in accordance with the Chinese Lunar calendar, a change in calendar has resulted in a change in the Japanese sense of seasons.  One particular example demonstrates this point clearly.  New Years in the Chinese Lunar is closely associated with the beginning of spring.  On the other hand  a Solar calendar New Years occurs in the middle of winter.  In the Imperial Court a New Year Poetry Party called Outakaihajime begins with recitation of tanka poems composed by the Emperor and Empress.  Noh starts the New Year with a performance of Okina  “An Aged Man”  which celebrates early spring.  Kabuki Theatre offers Hatsuhara Kyogen which means “The Early Spring Program”.  The tea ceremony and confections also offer varieties that are related both to the New Year and the coming of spring.  With this anomaly in mind one can more easily associate the symbolism of some wagashi with its corresponding seasonal moment.




[easyazon_link identifier=”4894442884″ locale=”US” tag=”l04d5-20″]WAGASHI[/easyazon_link]- The graphics of Japanese Confection is a fantastic book as a graphic collection of different Wagashi and alos Japanese poetry.  Understated yet stunning graphic design by Kazuya Takaoka, Mutsuo Takahashi and Hiroshi Yoda.  The book takes the reader on a journey through the seasons complimented by the poems that reinforce the visual communication of each wagashi.  The book is one of the best print designs we’ve ever seen and should be seen as a prototype for effectively communicating a food culture of a place not yet lived in.

Japanese Wagashi Book



BOOK:  [easyazon_link identifier=”4894442884″ locale=”US” tag=”l04d5-20″]WAGASHI[/easyazon_link], THE GRAPHICS OF JAPANESE CONFECTION ©2003