Japanese Cakes/Wagashi 1: Introduction


There is a traditional way of making cakes in Japan that ought to please no end vegans and people allergic to wheat flour and dairy products, namely Wagashi!

Wagashi (和菓子) is a traditional Japanese confectionery which is often served with tea, especially the types made of mochi, azuki bean paste, and fruits.

Wagashi is typically made from natural based (mainly plant) ingredients. The names used for wagashi commonly fit a formula—a natural beauty and a word from ancient literature; they are thus often written with hyōgaiji (kanji that are not commonly used or known), and are glossed with furigana.

Generally, confectioneries that were introduced from the West after the Meiji Restoration (1868) are not considered wagashi. Most sorts of Okinawan confectionery and those originating in Europe or China that use ingredients alien to traditional Japanese cuisine, e.g., kasutera, are only rarely referred to as wagashi.

Assortment of wagashi for a tea ceremony

During the Edo period, the production of sugarcane in Okinawa became highly productive, and low quality brown sugar as well as heavily processed white sugar became widely available. A type of sugar, wasanbon, was perfected in this period and is still used exclusively to make wagashi. Wagashi was a popular gift between samurai, in significance much like a good wine. Wagashi is served as part of a Japanese tea ceremony, and serving a good seasonal wagashi shows one’s educational background.

Wagashi in the shape of rape flowers/Na no Hana

There are many, many kinds of Wagashi.
I will introduce them in the next posting, followed by another posting on the basic preparation.

Shizuoka’s Abekawa Mochi

Just know that about every region in Japan has its own traditional Wagashi!

Wagashi is widely available in Japan, but quite rare outside it.
Minamoto Kitchoan (源 吉兆庵)
Has a varied selection, and stores in New York City (shipping throughout the US), London (shipping throughout Europe), and Singapore, in addition to Japan.
Toraya (とらや)
Has a full Paris store, stores in Japan, and sells a limited selection (yōkan only) at New York stores.
Family owned and operated in the USA, since 1903, Fugetsu-do now ships anywhere in the USA.

Please check the new postings at:
sake, shochu and sushi


16 thoughts on “Japanese Cakes/Wagashi 1: Introduction”

  1. Bonjour Robert,

    Love the article, they are so pretty. I can’t wait for the recipes all dough I’m afraid they will never look that good coming out of my hands.


  2. This actually sounds like something I could eat. But sometimes I hate when the presentation is so beautiful because I hate to destroy it… but I’m sure that once I tasted that goodness I would get over it! 🙂


  3. Interesting stuff. My wife, also a foodie, has recently determined she is allergic to wheat, dairy and probably other things, so these might be of interest to/for her. I so, that will be an eye-opener for her as she thinks of Japanese food only in terms of sushi. I look forward to recipes.


    1. Dear Lorenzo!
      I will eventually run an article on an easy recipe.
      The Missus will be able to discover an interesting food.
      Incidentally, I have also run an article on vegan sushi. It’s on Pages on the right!


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