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Wonders of Wagashi: Japanese Sweet-Making Experience in Tokyo

By Dianna Radpour
November 5, 2019
Updated: October 29, 2020
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If you’ve spent some time in Japan, you’ve probably noticed that presentation is of utmost importance to many parts of life here, with cuisine being at the forefront. The notion of wabi-sabi embodies the ideals of simple and imperfect beauty and is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it even presents itself in the desserts.

If you’re in Tokyo and want to get a taste of this culture of delicacy, a mochi and wagashi class in Tokyo would be the perfect way to do so (and to have some fun while you’re at it!) I was lucky to learn from a true master of the art, the lovely Miyuki-san, who teaches the Wagashi and Mochi Class right from her beautiful home.

A Japanese woman shows two foreign women how to make delicious Japanese wagashi as they sit around a table together in a Japanese home

One of the first things Miyuki-san taught us was ichigo daifuku, a.k.a. strawberry daifuku. Think a juicy strawberry wrapped in delicious layers of bean paste and mochi. This is a combination I would never have imagined being so good, but somehow the balance of textures and flavors work together to make a really incredible treat. We also learned how to make tofu mochi from tofu, roasted soybean powder, and then topped with brown sugar syrup. Both these desserts were quite simple in essence, made with only a couple of ingredients and steps, but showing how far a few quality ingredients and the knowledge of how to combine them can make for an exquisite dessert.

A tray of ingredients for wagashi and mochi sits on a wooden table, next to a cup of green teaMiyuki-san, the teacher of the mochi and wagashi making class, shows how to make mochi. She is wearing an apron and stirs a sticky ball of mochiMiyuki-san stirs a bowl, while a girl wearing a pink apron cuts up ingredients

The last, and admittedly, the most involved part was the nerikiri wagashi, for which both the dough and the filling were made from bean paste. One of the distinctive qualities of wagashi is its reliance on plant-based ingredients and using them in dynamic ways. This part of the class was definitely my favorite. It’s fun because it’s completely up to you to decide how you want the wagashi to turn out. You can choose to color the dough with either natural colors, like powders made from the vibrant purple Okinawan sweet potatoes and pumpkins, or food coloring. After you choose the colors, it’s time for making the motifs that top the wagashi. These are generally made to be consistent with the season, with the flowers reflecting those that are in nature at the time (so you wouldn’t have something like a maple leaf in the middle of spring.) During sakura season, it’s common to make pink nerikiri wagashi that’s shaped to look just like an adorable little cherry blossom. Even though I had some trouble making the fine creases in the petals of my flower, Miyuki-san helped me fix it so it still turned out beautiful (too beautiful to eat!).

A close-up of a cute purple ball of Japanese wagashi, as a girl wearing a pink apron decorates it with tiny pink flowersA ball of purple wagashi, decorated with cute pink flowers and green leaves, is held in the palm of a woman's handThe cooking instructor holds a piece of wagashi in her hand, and uses a long wooden tool to make indents in it, creating the shape of flower petals

Once we finished, we got to enjoy some matcha green tea with the elegant sweets we had made. The "art of food" is often discussed, but I think through making and learning about different types of wagashi, your understanding of it will be taken to a whole new level. It does take a bit of work and attention to detail, but the final product is something you can truly appreciate. It’s delicate and beautiful, so much so that you may actually find it hard to eat in the end. I’m keeping the nerikiri wagashi I made in my freezer to show off to all my friends before I finally decide to enjoy them with my tea!

Two balls of mochi, two pices of wagashi are on a red tray with a small wooden spoon and fork.

Want to make stunning Japanese confections like these? Join Miyuki-san's Wagashi and Mochi Class, Wagashi Making Class in Tokyo, Mochi Making Class in Tokyo, or Intensive 6 Class Nerikiri Wagashi Course!

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Dianna Radpour
An avid enthusiast of all things related to kawaii, food, and technology, Dianna is finding Tokyo to be the perfect place for exploring anything you could have an interest in. Originally from Texas, she moved to Tokyo to do research in the field of natural-language processing and is constantly marveling at the awe-inspiring culture and dynamic landscape of Japan.
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