Today's topic is Japanese confectionery, wagashi, specially made for spring.
Recently, traditional Japanese sweets are available more easily at supermarkets and convenience stores throughout the year and are more familiar than ever though most of them used to be sold at specialty shops.
Now, I'd like to share some trivia about wagashi even Japanese people do not know well with you so that you can enjoy the ones that are perfect for the coming spring.
1. 桜餅 (SAKURA MOCHI)
Sakura mochi is one of the most popular Japanese spring confectioneries.
Do you know that there are two types of this sweet?
One of them is called 長命寺 (choumei-ji), and the other is道明寺 (doumyou-ji). Generally, the former is considered as sakura mochi in the Kanto area, and the latter is in the Kansai area. Both are called by the same name, but their appearances and ingredients are different.
・長命寺 (choumei-ji) that represents the Kanto area:
Choumei-ji is a crepe-like mochi sweet with sweetened bean paste inside. The outside is a little chewy pancake made of flour and other ingredients, which also gives you a bit of fluffy texture like Japanese steamed buns, 饅頭 (manju).
Since I am from the Kanto area, I have called this crepe-like mochi sweet "sakura mochi" without knowing the name, choumei-ji.
・道明寺 (doumyou-ji) that represents the Kansai area:
Doumyou-ji is an oval-shaped mochi sweet with sweetened bean paste inside. The outside is made of what is called doumyou-ji ko, glutinous rice steamed and dried and coarsely crushed. Its best characteristic is its grainy and chewy texture.
Doumyou-ji has been familiar to me but not as sakura mochi, and I kind of prefer doumyou-ji to choumeiji (which is sakura mochi to me).
It would be fun to look for your favorite 桜餅 (sakura mochi)!
2. うぐいす餅 (UGUISU MOCHI)
In spring when the warm air touches your face, a bird-shaped confectionery, "うぐいす餅 (uguisu mochi)" is enjoyed by people in Japan. Uguisu is a bird whose other name is "Harutsuge-dori: a spring reminder" and its English name is a Japanese bush warbler.
They inhabit a wide area from Hokkaido to Kyushu, and the sound of their warbling starts to be heard usually in February in the Okinawa and Kyushu regions, in March in east and west Japan, and in April to May in northern Japan. These birds make noises, "chirp chirp," in fall and winter, and start to warble, "hooo-hokekyo," in spring. They are not good at warbling at first, but the sound is very adorable. So please hear it carefully if you have a chance.
うぐいす餅 (uguisu mochi) is also a kind of mochi sweet that has sweetened bean paste inside with gyuhi, steamed dough made of glutinous rice flour, on the outside, and coated with green soybean powder. Its bird-like shape is made by pinching both ends. Normally soybean powder is yellow but for this confectionery, green soybean powder made from green soybean is used to resemble the color of the bird.
Uguisu mochi is one of my favorites and I knew the difference between the soybean colors. However, I have been eating this sweet without knowing that it was shaped like a bird, uguisu, and many Japanese people would probably be like me. So when you try this mochi sweet, please pay attention to the bird-like shape.
3. 草餅 (KUSA MOCHI)
草餅 (Kusa mochi) is a kind of mochi confectionery made of glutinous rice flour mixed with mashed yomogi (wormwood) leaves and is also called yomogi mochi. Instead of yomogi, one of the seven herbs of spring, gogyou (also called hahako-gusa: jersey cudweed) used to be the main ingredient though today yomogi is usually used.
In Japan, kusa mochi is often eaten on March 3rd (the Peach Festival) as well as sakura mochi. This event derives from ancient China's custom of eating kusa mochi to drive out evils because of the belief that the scent of herbs such as yomogi can ward off bad spirits. So, the sacred herb, yomogi, which can get rid of evil spirits is perfect for the festival to celebrate using a seasonal ingredient.
The reason why gogyou (hahako-gusa), the herb originally used for kusa mochi was abandoned to be used in Japan is said to be because people thought that mashing hahako-gusa, which literally means a mother and a child herb, was not a good thing to eat for wishing good health of mothers and children.
By the way, on the Peach Festival (Dolls Festival), people offer 菱餅 (hishi mochi: diamond-shaped mochi) with three tiers of different colors: pink, white, and green. Each color has a meaning as follows:
Pink: Warding off evil spirits and Honoring ancestors;
White: Prosperity of descendants, Good health, and Warding off misfortune;
Green: Warding off evil spirits and Good health
How did you like this article, Trivia of Japanese Confectionery, Wagashi, Japanese people do not know well?
I hope you guys will enjoy Japanese traditional sweets feeling the warmth of spring sunshine.