How well do you know your wagashi (Japanese sweets)? If you’re struggling to put a name to any of the traditional delectables pictured above, there’s a store in Kyoto that can help.

By creating decorative embroidered versions of some of Japan’s most popular confections, Kyoto-based Kyototo is giving us an education in the names and background of the hand-crafted treats that are often seasonal but always delicious. Come with us as we take a look at twelve of the most beautiful wagashi you can find in Japan.

▼ From left to right: waka-ayu (young ayu), hanabira mochi (flower petal rice cake), sakura mochi (cherry blossom rice cake), hanami dango (flower-viewing dumplings)

Waka-ayu (also known as ayu-gashi) is a waffle-like confection filled with sweet mochi (sticky rice cake) and shaped like the river fish called ayu. This is a very popular confection in early summer.

Hanabira mochi is a rice cake which is folded over sweet bean paste and candied burdock root. The auspicious colour combination of red and white means this is usually eaten at the beginning of the year.

Sakura mochi is a rice cake filled with sweet beans and wrapped in salted cherry leaves. While varieties differ between the Kanto and Kansai regions, sakura mochi is commonly eaten in spring and is a particularly popular treat for Hina Matsuri/Girls’ Day, celebrated on March 3 (sakura mochi has also been the inspiration for a unique craft beer).

Hanami dango is another springtime sweet, with each colour representing different seasons: red for spring flowers, white for the thawing winter snow, and green for the leaves of the coming summer. Some people say the colours represent spring scenes: cherry blossoms, spring haze, and grasses.

▼ From left to right: kogarashi (cold, wintry wind), kinshu (red and yellow autumn leaves), kuri shibori (pressed chestnut), oribe manju (Oribe steamed bun)

Kogarashi is a traditional winter sweet. Usually served with powdered green matcha tea, this is a sweet paste wrapped up in kneaded dough which is shaped into a withered, brown leaf.

Kinshuu is commonly served in autumn, with its red, yellow and orange coating resembling the brilliant colours of falling leaves.

Kuri shibori is a chestnut paste which has been squeezed in a cloth to give it its distinctive chestnut shape. It perfectly captures the taste of autumn.

Oribe manju is actually named after a man called Oribe, who worked for the famous tea ceremony master Senrikyu. This sweet bun is decorated with a sweep of green colour to reflect his love of a similar-looking glaze pattern on pottery.

▼ From left to right: ajisai (hydrangea), usagi manju (rabbit steamed bun), kuri kanoko (pressed chestnut), koyo (autumn leaves)

Ajisai, or hydrangeas, have been blooming across Japan for centuries. Blue, purple and light-green bean pastes are shaped into a ball and served during the June rainy season.

Usagi manju are adorable little red-eyed bunnies filled with a smooth bean paste and often served at moon-viewing events.

Kuri kanoko takes its name from its outer pattern, which resembles the back of a fawn. Sweet, glossy chestnuts from Kyoto cover a bean paste ball.

Koyo refers to the brilliantly coloured autumn leaves, but the most spectacular example can be seen with momiji, or maple leaves. Kneaded dough is shaped into a maple leaf, using molds which differ from shop to shop.


Now you can take your favourite wagashi home to keep forever in the form of an adorable embroidery badge. Priced from 324 to 410 yen (US$2.71-$3.43) each, and available to order from Kyototo’s website here, these make for an ideal souvenir. The best thing about them? We can collect them all without having to worry about counting calories!

Source: Japaaan
Images: Kyototo