01 Sep Tea Ceremony and Wagashi
Tea Ceremony and Wagashi: the confectionary culture is the mirror of Japanese soul
What do you know about Japanese Wagashi and Tea Ceremony?
Today I want to talk about this millenial tradition, with its wisdom and extraordinary sense of aesthetic. I think we don’t know a lot about this tradition and its values in Europe.
When you travel around Japan you can’t resist the sweets which are selled in many shops and bakeries. They are so small, in perfect shapes, very colourful. You order one piece just to taste it and after a day you count 10, 20, hundreds of them 🙀.
The origins of Japanese confectionary are very ambigous. Wagashi literally means ‘Japanese sweets’, and the term refers to any Japanese confections invented in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868), although some sweets existed already during Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1185) period. Most wagashi are made with a combination of rice flour, anko (azuki sweet red bean paste), and/or fruit. They are usually served before receiving green tea or during the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Some well-known varieties of wagashi include daifuku, dango, dorayaki, mochi, taiyaki, and yokan.
What is so special about Wagashi? It’s not only a matter of gluttony! They reflect the Japanese’s soul and their constant pursuit of beauty in the “everything”. In fact Wagashi’s design could depend on the season, the nature around, the fest and the celebration’s occasion. In this sense they are pure entertainment and nourishment for your eyes’ soul.
Furthermore you can’t forget the context where you taste Wagashi: the Tea Ceremony, as said before. This is the expression of wisdom as you get in touch with the deepest meaning of honouring each individual meeting together in a specific moment and place for that specific occasion. In this case you honour every single tea meeting with other persons because it’s a unique event which will never happen again in the same way (ichigo ichie: one opportunity, one encounter // 一期一会).
But this is not all! Participants give importance to the reciprocal needs a lot, as they consider the moment so precious. The participants include the guests and the host, which appreciate each other without judgment in mutual empathy (omoiyari // おもいやり ). Furthermore the hospitality is sacred and you can experience it everywhere and Tea Ceremony is not an exception! It’s a way to consider the individual as worthy and high respected (omotenashi // おもてなし).
During my journey in Japan I could live this multidimensional experience during an exiting Tea Ceremony with Wagashi in Kyoto as well as in the private sphere of a Japanese family, when I was in the South of Japan – Kyushu island. I felt welcomed in an extraordinary way, everything seemed to be perfect to me and I enjoyed every single second. I couldn’t expect I could eat a small sweet so slowly, as I was captivated by its colours and details 😅
The warmth, the non-verbal communication and the atmosphere of the moment is something you will remember for all your life.
In this occasion I had the honour to meet Sumire, a very nice girl who is learning the ancient tradition of Japanese confectionary in Kyoto.
Here I want to show you some pictures of her products. She can express her inside world by means of her skilfully hands and her sense of beauty. These Wagashi are really unique masterpieces!
When I asked her to tell me something about these sweets she couldn’t answer as I expected. She replied it is not easy to express the Japanese confectionary culture in words. Especially in other languages it seems to be a very hard work because it’s a very complex culture.
Sometimes words are not properly enough or even not necessary.
I think the best way to understand and contemplate them is by tasting! Let them guide you through all the emotions of this fascinating ancient tradition.