Wagashi is one of the Japanese cultures which we want to get a good valuation from other countries. Wagashi literally means 和 (Wa), Japanese, 菓子 (kashi), confectionaries. Therefore, Wagashi is a general term and, of course, there are many kinds. Wagashi was developed definitely through Sado, Japanese tea ceremonyW.
In order to explain the history of Wagashi, we think we have to start with the history of sugar in Japan.
History of Sugar in Japan
The first country in history where sugar was made from sugarcane was India and it was about 4,000 years ago. This Indian technique was spread to Persia, Egypt and China by Arabians. It was in Nara periodW (710–794) when sugar was brought into Japan by JianzhenW of China, who was later naturalized as Japanese and was called ‘Ganjin’. However, in Japan, where there was scarce sugarcane, sugar was mainly imported product which was too precious to be consumed normally but used as medicine.
In Sengoku periodW, missionaries brought various kinds of confectioneries made with sugar, which fascinated many Sengoku DaimyoW. In Edo periodW, sugar became one of the major imported commodities and, surprisingly, Japan was buying sugar with gold or silver which were produced in Japan…. If the people at that time had not been addicted to sugar that much, Japan could have maintained the reputation of Zipangu, the country of gold, which was nominated by Marco Polo in his book. In fact, in the late 17th century, gold and silver were exhausted in Japan…
The eighth ShogunW, Tokugawa YoshimuneW (1716 -1745 in office) ordered the production of sugarcane. He was so eager for the domestic production of sugar that, amazingly, sugarcane was cultivated inside the Edo castle! Especially in Takamatsu DomainW, now where Kagawa prefectureW is, the cultivation of sugarcane was very thriving in the mid 19th century, whose production of sugar was taking up 60% in Japan. Their high skills on sugar making invented very refined WasanbonW sugar, which cannot be missed in making high quality Wagashi.
Even though many Sengoku Daimyo, such as Oda NobunagaW placed importance on Japanese tea ceremony and ate imported confectioneries stealthily, samurais were too busy with battles and the normal citizens were too poor to be indulged in sweets. The culture of Wagashi was developed later, in Edo period, when the era of battles ended and the culture of normal citizens flourished. In fact, most of Wagashi that we eat today were invented in Edo period.
And where Wagashi was mainly produced?
Of course in Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo), but also in Castle towns called ‘Joka-machi’ in Japanese.
A confectionary shop in Odawara, Matsuzakaya
Odawara was a Castle town of Hojo clanW and it has been one of the most important places in East Japan. So you can find several good Wagashi shops in Jokamachi and Odawara is not the exception.
Matsuzakaya is a Wagashi shop established in 1916. It is selected as one of the “Street corner Museums”, which is a part of the Odawara City Policies for encouraging the local tourism.
First of all, you will be astonished by various types of Nerikiri, a type of Wagashi, displayed at the shop window. The design of each Wagashi describes the season.
So, normally, Nerikiris you see in spring differ from those you find in other seasons. Therefore, it must be a great opportunity to see Nerikiris of all season at one time at a shop window of Matsuzakaya.
Inside the shop, you will find an exhibition of wooden molds for nerikiri and Rakugan, one kind of Wagashi made with rice starch and sugar.
A very experienced craftsman of Wagashi is working for Matsuzakaya. You will find also the exhibition of Wagashi works!
As well as Nerikiri, there are Dorayaki, Manju, and other Japanese confectioneries available. Moreover, we would like to also inform you of their original confectionery, called Kokekko.
Kokekko can be translated as ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’, the sound that a rooster makes. The reason of this funny name could be found out by the looks of this confectionery.
It looks like an egg, inside, of course, with a yolk. It is like a marshmallow with a sugared paste-made yolk.
To those who are not happy with Anko, the sweet bean pasteW, this could be a recommendable Wagashi to give a try!
From the East Ext. of Odawara Station, take the main road for 430m. You will find the shop on your left at the cross of Sakaecho 1-chome.
Address : 1-16-46 Sakaemachi, Odawara-shi, KANAGAWA Pref. Tel : 0465-22-3020 Website : http://www.city.odawara.kanagawa.jp/municipality/industry/commerce/machihaku-area1.html Opening Hours : 08:30 ~ 18:00 Closed : Wednesday