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Wagashi Workshop: Making Tradition With Your Hands

Photo: crayonmonkey on Flickr

Wagashi Workshop: Making Tradition With Your Hands

Bjorn Koolen

The seemingly simplistic confectionary, known as wagashi, belongs to Japan’s most renowned art forms and in its essence represents Japanese culture and life. Like many art forms, wagashi making is an effort of practice and instructions, two things you can experience yourself in some of Japan’s most renowned wagashi shops. In Kyoto you have the chance to do make tradition with your own hands at Kanshundo Honten.

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Hiro - Kokoro☆Photo on Flickr

Wagashi is an art form that combines the five senses to collaborate together to produce a wide variety of eatable pieces of art to enjoy to the fullest. The first is quite obviously, taste, by using bean paste made of beans, in particular azuki beans, and sugar the wagashi is given its distinctive hearty flavor while its redness is commonly associated with helping one’s health by warding off diseases. The wagashi’s soft, moist or crispy texture again accentuate its freshness while its fragrant scent is very delicate and subtle. Its most striking sense is of course its appearance with its countless shapes, colors and designs inspired by other Japanese art forms, each piece of wagashi makes its own contribution to making this at first sight simplistic looking confectionary a feast for your eyes. The colors and designs are often related to the seasons or, when using multiple wagashi, tries to represent a certain scene in nature. Although it may seem strange but the last sense is in fact sound as the lyrical names with their various association help complete five layers of sensual stimulation.

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Angelina Earley on Flickr

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Bing on Flickr

Throughout Japan there are renowned wagashi shops and some, such as Kanshundo Honten in Kyoto, offer you the opportunity to participate in a wagashi-making workshop yourself. The specific type of wagashi you can make at Kanshundo is known as “kyogashi”, which is the wagashi traditionally made in Kyoto. During the workshop you will make four types of wagashi of which one you can eat after the workshop with some delicious green tea and save the other two for another time. The wagashi are themed by season, meaning that in autumn they tend to include a red leaf or a ripe persimmon while in summer they are bright green.

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Bing on Flickr

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Angelina Earley on Flickr

The most spectacular and difficult wagashi to make, at least in my opinion, is the so-called kinton type wagashi made from molding a small ball of bean paste and then carefully coating it with a different type of colored mashed bean paste which has been strained by pushing it through a screen in a swift motion. Although wagashi making is quite difficult at first it is truly a great experience for anyone to enjoy.

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Bing on Flickr

Reservation, workshop hours and access

To join the wagashi workshop, a reservation by telephone or fax is required to be made at least 3 days in advance to ensure Kanshundo has prepared all the required materials for the workshop. Although it is no problem to reserve from 2 to 45 people, single attendants should ask whether there is a spot open for them to fill. The workshop takes about 1 hour 15 minutes and is held three times a day, at 11:00; 13:00 and 15:00 for a fee of ¥2,160 per person. Kanshundo is located near Toyokuni Shrine and is just under a 10 min walk from Shichijo Station on the Keihan Main Line or at the bus stop Nanajo Keihan-mae from buses 206, 208 and 100. You can find out more on their official website.