創意和果子 Creativity blooms for Japanese confections in summer
Creativity blooms for Japanese confections in summer
Hydrangea as interpreted by Kasho Kikuya, center, and clockwise from top: Toshimaya; Toraya; Kasho Kikuya; Ryoguchiya Korekiyo; Tsuruya Yoshinobu; and Toraya. Some of the confections are limited production items. (The Asahi Shimbun)
With rainy season at its height, one flower seems to thrive and bloom in the seemingly never-ending drizzle that blankets much of Japan during the early summer months.
While nowhere celebrated like the cherry blossoms, the hydrangea, with its petals in hues of blue, purple, pink and white, adds flair and color to an otherwise monotonous and gloomy season.
So it seems fitting that the flower is a popular theme chosen by creators of Japanese confections, whose intricately designed sweets attempt to capture the sentimentalism surrounding the changing of seasons.
A sampler of the various hydrangea-themed morsels created by artisans at various confectionaries shows the diversity of the ingredients and techniques that are used to create wagashi, or Japanese confections.
One morsel features a ball of bean paste sprinkled with blue- and purple-colored gelatin to recreate an entire grove of hydrangeas. Another more simple creation made of a pinkish, marzipan-like concoction of bean paste, glutinous rice and sugar features a single flower with four squarish petals, while yet another tries to emulate the image of dew lingering on the leaves and petals.
"The shapes, colors and names are essential in creating a sense of the season in wagashi," said Keiko Nakayama, a chief researcher at the Toraya Archives Toraya Bunko, which records the history of Tokyo-based Japanese confectionary Toraya.
According to Nakayama, Toraya, established nearly 480 years ago, has 3,000 titles for confections, some of which are documented in old scriptures.
While adhering to tradition, Japanese confections have also reflected the times.
"With abstract designs, there is the joy of trying to imagine what is being portrayed while listening to the titles. However, many recent confections seem to pursue a realist approach," Nakayama said. "It's a little sad to think that the sense of playfulness has been lost."
While appetites become thinner with the approaching summer heat, the creativity of wagashi artisans appear to reach the apex.
With the arrival of such seasonal motifs as peonies, morning glories, goldfish, fireflies and crystal-clear streams, confectionaries try to evoke a sense of coolness to match the summer weather with "kudzu" and "kanten" (agar) gelatin and other translucent or watery ingredients.
It's not just the artisans who are changing with the times. According to Nakayama, people nowadays are breaking away from the traditional image that wagashi is enjoyed best when served with green tea.
"Some customers tell us that they enjoy their 'yokan' (bean paste jelly) with espresso or cognac," Nakayama said.
Toraya Gallery on the second floor of Toraya's main office in Tokyo's Akasaka district occasionally features exhibitions on wagashi.