Wagashi (和菓子) are traditional Japanese sweets that are typically enjoyed in combination with a cup of green tea. They are made in a wide variety of shapes and consistencies and with diverse ingredients and preparation methods. Some are popular across the country and around the year while others are only available regionally or seasonally.
Sweet azuki bean paste (anko) is a central ingredient in a large number of Japanese sweets. Boiled azuki beans are sweetened with sugar and mashed to create either smooth anko (koshian) or chunky anko (tsubuan). Other common ingredients for wagashi include rice cakes (mochi), rice flour, Japanese agar (kanten), sesame paste and chestnuts.
Below are some of the most common wagashi types that tourists are likely to encounter:
Namagashi (lit. raw sweets) are traditional Japanese sweets that are most often associated with wagashi. They are made of rice flour and a sweet bean paste filling, and are delicately shaped by hand to reflect the season. Namagashi are served at the tea ceremony.
Daifuku are made of soft rice cake (mochi) wrapped around a small round of smooth, sweet bean paste or other fillings. They are covered with a light dusting of potato starch to keep them from sticking together. Popular daifuku variations include strawberry (ichigo), beans (mame) and ice cream. Daifuku should be eaten quickly as they become hard if left exposed.
Dango are chewy, small, steamed dumplings made of rice flour. They are typically served skewered three or four to a stick and topped with a sweet sauce or bean paste. The dumplings are also added into other desserts like anmitsu and oshiruko. Like daifuku, dango are best eaten fresh.
Dorayaki consist of sweet bean paste sandwiched between two pancake-like patties. It is also known as the favorite snack of Doraemon, a popular anime character. Modern dorayaki variations may be filled with other fillings, such as whipped cream, custard cream and green tea flavored cream.
Taiyaki are fish-shaped snacks made of batter similar to pancake batter and filled with sweet bean paste, although alternative, modern fillings include custard cream, chocolate or cheese. Taiyaki are best eaten hot off the grill when the batter is still crispy.
Manju are small buns that are steamed or baked and filled with sweet bean paste or some other sweet filling. They are traditionally round with a smooth outer layer, but baked versions in various shapes are also popular. Examples of the baked versions include momiji-manju from Hiroshima.
Anmitsu is a dessert that consist of sweet bean paste, rice flour dumplings, fruits and cubed kanten agar, and is dressed with brown sugar syrup (kuromitsu). It may also include a scoop of ice cream, in which case it is called "cream anmitsu".
Oshiruko is a type of dessert soup that consists of hot, sweet bean soup with grilled rice cakes (mochi) or rice flour dumplings. The red bean soup may be either smooth or chunky. A similar dish is zenzai which comes with a more viscous soup.
Yokan is a sweet, firm, jelly-like snack made of sugar and kanten agar. It comes in many different flavors like azuki bean, green tea or black sugar. Single serving bars of yokan are usually the size of a small pack of chewing gum, while larger bars should be sliced before they are served. Yokan does not require refrigeration and has a relatively long shelf life.
Monaka consists of a wafer shell filled with sweet bean paste. The wafer shells come in different shapes and sizes from simple, round shells to more intricately designed ones. A popular modern variation of monaka is filled with ice cream. The wafer shells tend to go stale once exposed to air and should be eaten as soon as possible.