16th of June is Wagashi Day! Eat more Japanese sweets.

June 16, 2015 Juju Kurihara Cooking, Culture, Entertainment, History Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

Today 16th of June is Wagashi Day (和菓子の日/ wagashi no hi) in Japan. This dates back to the year 848 when the Emperor Ninmyo (仁明天皇) prayed for the health and prosperity. He offered to the God 16 different sweets and mochi  (餅/ rice paste) after the date he made this ceremony. Then he changed the name of the era to Kasho (嘉祥), means the sign of auspicious.
In the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代, 1185-1333), when the later Emperor Gosaga (後嵯峨天皇) became the prince, he asked for sweets with 16 coins. This was considered as a good custom and was continued afterwards and called Kasho no gi (嘉祥の儀). That´s why there are wagashi in the shape of coins.  
The custom was kept inside the Imperial Court and in Murimachi period (室町時代, 1336-1573), “it was a good custom to give kazuu (かづう) to the Emperor on the day of Kasho”. This is recorded in the Oyudono no ueno nikki  (御湯殿上日記), the diary which was written by court ladies by turns. Kazuu was how they called the sweets for the Kasho celebration in this era.
In Edo period (江戸時代, 1603-1867), the meaning of Kasho changed slightly when the Tokugawa Shogunate introduced this custom among samurai. This day was called Kashochodai (嘉祥頂戴) and it was the day the shogun gave daimyo (大名/ feudal lords) wagashi. And especially maids who worked for shogun were very happy by getting sweets. I have no doubt.   
According to a document written in 1818, about 20,000 different wagashi was prepared. It must have been a spectacular to see a massive tatami room of Edojo (江戸城/ Edo castle) full of sweets and people who came to receive a piece from the shogun. Until the second shogun, those 20,000 wagashi were given by the shogun himself. You probably could guess the weight of it and the time they would be distributing. Shogun worked very hard back then.
The shogun gives daimyo a sweet was the symbol of homage. Because the word kashi can be written 菓子 as in sweets but also written 下賜 as in a higher status person give something to someone who is lower than him. It was a fun day but at the same time it was the day for samurai to make hierarchy clear. In any case it´s comical to think these hardcore daimyo were waiting for their sweets in the queue.  
Wagashi Day became also popular among commoners during these eras. They believed if they bought 16 kinds of sweets for 16 mon (文/ the currency of the era) and ate them in silence, they would have a very good luck. 
This way, the day of Wagashi has been carried on among Japanese people as a tradition. People eat wagashi wishing for a good health and a good luck. 
Many say that wagashi is much healthier than cakes. I´m not a sweet tooth but I love seeing beautiful wagashi. They are just art pieces. Why don´t you just take advantage of wagashi day to eat more sweets? 
Our friends Osakaya are now ready for the summer. The sweets are all made to give you a coolness to cope with the heat in Japan. 
Starting with mizuyokan (水ようかん/ anko paste jelly) comes in a boat that floats in the chilly river.
Warabikumo (わらび雲). Two goldfish are swimming in warabi mochi. 
Kuzuzakura (くず桜). Kuzu is a popular ingredient for summer wagashi.
Ajisai (紫陽花/ hydrangea). 
Wagashi isn´t just sweets. It´s the harmony with the nature. The Wagashi masters need to be sensitive with a small change in the air to be able to sense the change of the nature each day. And of course it´s an art, which the patissiers convert the nature into the sweets. 
Now, are you ready to get some Wagashi to celebrate the day of wagashi? Enjoy!
reference :
Japan wagashi association : http://www.wagashi.or.jp/wagashinohi/
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