Kyogashi Confectionary Museum and Tawaraya Yoshitomi – The Charm of Kyogashi Sweets
While Japanese food is commonly equated to sushi, ramen, tempura, sukiyaki and other conventional Japanese gastronomic delights, Japanese sweets and desserts are equally enticing and deserve attention. Many travelers who come to Japan for food tripping drop by traditional coffee shops serving green tea matcha ice cream and cake or other popular desserts, such as anmitsu (red beans, agar jelly, mochi, fruits like orange all topped with sweet black sugar syrup); shiruko (azukii red beans and mochi); yokan (thick agar jelly with red or white bean paste); warabi mochi (jelly-like mochi covered with kinako soybean powder), and many others.
Kyoto is especially known for traditional sweets, particularly colorful (pink, green, yellow, beige, light purple) higashi dry confectionery shaped as leaves, flowers, fruits or Japanese crests, which usually accompany a bowl of matcha tea during tea ceremony.
At the Kyogashi Confectionery Museum (Kyogashi Shiryokan) in Kyoto, you can discover the history of Japanese traditional sweets and buy a wide range of confectioneries from its adjacent sweets shop, Tawaraya Yoshitomi. Tawaraya Yoshitomi confectionery is known by its famous masterpiece confection "Unryu" brand that uses Ogura bean paste, created by seventh generation confectioner, Tomejiro Ishihara. The store opened in 1978 at the same time as the Kyogashi Confectionery Museum, which since then has been collecting documents on Japanese sweets to expand its historical archive.
Entering the museum, which is located on the north side of Tawaraya Yoshitomi shop, one passes the simple Japanese pocket stone garden on the way out through the sweets shop. On the ground floor is a tea ceremony hall, Shounken, that is used for Japanese tea drinking demonstrations, and can seat about 33 guests. Sweets making workshops are conducted on the third floor.
The museum is also called Guild House Confectionery, which instantly greets you with enormous ikebana displays created totally from sugar and kanbai flour (similar to rice flour) called togei gashi. You can marvel at the intricate forms and contours of peony and plum flowers with a pine tree in the background.
The history of Japanese confectionery dates back to the Nihonshoki and Kofun eras. During the reign of the 11th Emperor Suinin, Tajimamori, the Japanese legendary god of sweets was said to have brought Tachibana oranges (variety of mandarin orange) to the country, which had been claimed as Japan’s first sweets.
Chinese sweets, known as karagashi or karakudamono, were also introduced to Japan around the Nara period. They largely consisted of deep fried or boiled dumplings made from different kinds of flour, and used as offerings in temple and shrine altars. During the Heian period, sweets were served in rituals and royal banquets.
In Kyoto, it was a tradition for noble families to have confectioneries made by craftsmen delivered to their homes, enhancing, therefore the relationship between the confectionery craftsmen and the royal court. The craft, thus, attained its prestige and further propagated the development of sophisticated baking tools, which are on display in the museum. The sharp skills of the craftsmen had also been elevated to a high degree of refinery, precision and artistic ornamentation.
The sweets industry coincided with the introduction of tea making. Many of the master ancestors lived in Kyoto where the quality of water was known to be highly suitable for both tea and sweets. You can smell the scent of Japanese sweets history by the display of ancient molds with intricate carvings from the Edo period. There are also beautifully decorated Edo-period wooden boxes for transporting confectionery, especially lacquer-painted surfaces with gold powder.
At the museum, from ancient to present-day flavors, wagashi Japanese sweets come in a wide variety of categories: Unryu Ogura bean paste, mochi, colorful sugar candies, yokan agar jelly, baked and raw sweets, jelly sweets, taiyaki fish-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste or custard, chocolate, cheese, and sweet potato, and more in mouth-watering fruit flavors and charming designs—plum blossom, cherry blossom, chrysanthemum, camellia, pine, peony, fern, azalea and patterns, such as crane, tortoise, rabbit, whale, moon, sun, rain, snow, mountain landscapes, rivers, and even objects in Japanese daily life, such as fans and bamboos.
It is not an exaggeration that wagashi is also referred to as edible art. The beauty of the shapes, forms, colors and designs always serves as perfect gifts for the palate and the soul.
Karasumadori, Tachiuri-Agaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto
Open 9:00-6:00 pm except Wednesdays
Access: 2-minute walk from Imadegawa station, Karasuma subway line