11:05 - 26th February 2013, by NEO Staff

Wagashi: Delectable Works of Art

Traditional Japanese confections known as wagashi are exquisitely hand-crafted to appeal to all the five senses. They represent the visions and skills of the craftsmen, who delicately mould the natural ingredients into edible works of art by using sophisticated techniques, often depicting symbols and patterns of the changing seasons and nature, such as a cherry blossom petal. Others are fashioned for special occasions and festivals.

Compared to other sweet delights from around the world, wagashi are very healthy and contain only natural ingredients such as azuki beans, sweet potato, sesame, rice and fruit, therefore, making them low in fat. They are exquisitely wrapped and presented in beautiful packaging, and make wonderful gifts for any occasion.

The origin of wagashi dates back to the Yayoi period. At that time, wagashi were no more complicated than natural ingredients like fruit, berries and nuts. Then, from China, came knowledge of processing skills that led to the development of more complex wagashi. However, it was only through trade with the Portuguese that sugar was introduced to the production of these now super sweet treats - a rare commodity for Japan at the time.

Wagashi are constantly evolving, and adapting to the changes in society. But the skill and devotion of the artisans, which are passed on from one generation to the next, will forever be consistent. And no matter where the influences come from, quintessentially, wagashi will indefinitely remain Japanese.

Whilst there's a huge surge in interest for all things Japanese, wagashi is still very much a specialist product given the huge skill needed to create the product, so finding wagashi in the UK can be difficult. There are websites you can order from, but the best place to experience wagashi is Minamoto at 44 Piccadilly, London. Not only can you drink in the visual splendour of the traditional sweets, which are displayed in lavish style, but you can enjoy free Japanese tea whilst you relax and enjoy the sweet taste of Japan.

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