Japanese Confectionery Gratifies
Five types of jo namagashi for early summer that convey a sense of coolness.
(Photos by Tomohiro Muda)
If you want to get a feel for the Japanese love of the changing seasons,
all you have to do is look at the world of Japanese confectionery.
Among the many Japanese sweets that are available, unbaked jo namagashi are the creme de la creme. The rhythms of nature--flowers, fruits, green trees, and the shining moon, are condensed into these small, artistically designed cakes. Confections tell people that a new season has come around.
The recipe for Japanese confectionery is quite simple. It generally consists of jam made from red adzuki beans wrapped in colored paste, starch paste, arrowroot, or the like. Variation is created by changing the color or shape or adding original decorations. One shop provides a meticulously planned service, always having five types of jo namagashi on its shelves and changing the menu every couple of weeks. This means the shop sells 100 varieties a year; obviously, there are more than merely four seasons a year in the world of Japanese confectionery.
Although it almost seems a pity to spoil these beautiful shapes, it is best to eat the unbaked cakes right away before they spoil. The delicate glutinosity and understated sweetness go well with the astringent taste of green tea. Originally Japanese confections were served during formal tea ceremonies, but these days many people also enjoy them at home. These choice confections are perfect for important guests. This is a good example of tradition living on in the present.
Jo namagashi developed in tandem with the tea ceremony. And it is places where traditional culture still thrives, like Kyoto, that are centers of jo namagashi production. There are many well-known confectioners in Aichi Prefecture also.
Since olden times Aichi has been a focal point for the tea ceremony and performing arts. Many culturally sophisticated people who gathered here sought high-quality confectionery, thus raising the quality of the region's sweets. As the owner of one venerable shop founded more than 140 years ago said, "Aichi has the most discriminating customers in Japan, and confectioners here have vied with one another for their patronage, knowing that uninspired efforts will not be good enough." The 20 or so confectioners working at this store still make everything by hand, not relying on machinery at all.
Although its methods of expression owe a great deal to innovations developed in Kyoto, Aichi's jo namagashi tend to be more subdued. But this fact is also a source of pride and confidence for Aichi's confectioners, who like to say that while the cakes of Kyoto are for the showing, the confections of Aichi are for the eating.