I attended a wagashi workshop the other day, and made three pieces of wagashi: two nerikiri and one kinton. Now we are in the midst of rainy season where hydrangeas bloom beautifully and delight the eye. Here in Japan, Ajisai, or hydrangea, is considered to be a symbolic flower of June and the rainy season, so the three wagashi were hydrangea-themed.
Of all the year’s 12 full moons, the harvest moon in autumn is considered to be the most beautiful here in Japan. There is a moon viewing custom to admire the beauty at the night on 15th August in the lunar calendar, which falls on 15th of September this year. The night is called Jugoya, the night of 15th, and it is said that the moon at Jugoya is the brightest, most beautiful and most sublime of the year although the moon is not always full.
The moon rabbit in folklore is a rabbit that lives on the moon. … The story exists in many cultures, prominently in East Asian folklore and Aztec mythology. In East Asia, it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle, but the contents of the mortar differ among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore. In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the Moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions, it is pounding the ingredients for rice cake. (source: wikipedia)
On the surface of the moon, Japanese people see not ‘a man in the moon’ but a rabbit pounding Mochi, rice cake.
Towards the end of August… but the very hot weather will continue one more moth. We are still in the midst of summer and seeking for coolness through five senses. The green colour and the fresh smell of bamboo and the leaf evoke a sense of coolness.
Now we are in the midst of rainy season (that’s why the photos need more light!) – hydrangeas bloom beautifully and delight the eye. Ajisai, or hydrangea, is considered to be a symbolic flower of June and the rainy season here in Japan, so I chose Ajisai shaped confections for this month.
Rokugatsu, June in Japanese and literally means ’the sixth month’, has another name in archaic word: Minazuki. There is a confection called Minazuki and sold during this time of year.
Minazuki is a layer of white Uirou, steamed rice jelly made from rice flour, with Azuki red beans on top. The white triangle shaped Uirou represents a piece of ice, and the beans, crushed ice.
Minazuki is originally from Kyoto. In ancient times, only the nobles in the Imperial Court could afford ice in summer: on the 1st of June by the old calendar, they enjoyed pieces of triangle shaped ice brought down from icehouses, where ice was stored from winter to summer, in the mountains of Kitayama, Kyoto. The commoners in Kyoto, on the other hand, ate Minazuki as substitute for the cold solid.
In Kyoto, there is a custom to eat Minazuki on the 30th of June, which shall be mentioned later this month.
In Japan, Children’s Day, or Kodomo-no-hi, falls on 5th of May. To be precise, however, it is actually celebrated as the Boys’ Festival. To drive away bad spirits and celebrate the future of their sons, families display Gogatsu-ningyo, samurai dolls and their armaments, indoors like Hina Matsuri Dolls, and hoist Koi-nobori, cloth carp streamers.
Iris flowers called Hana Shobu, which bloom in early May, are placed in homes to ward off evil. It is customary to have a bath known as Syobu-yu, filled with floating iris leaves and roots not only to drive off evil but also to prevent disease.
Kashiwa-mochi, rice cake stuffed with sweetened bean paste and wrapped in an oak leaf, is eaten on the day. Since oak tree doesn’t shed old leaves until new leaves grow, it is considered a symbol of the prosperity of one’s descendants.
Oops, May is almost there…. I was going to post this while cherry blossoms were in bloom but missed the right timing, so this is a bit out of season….
Sakuramochi is a wagashi confectionery consisting of sweet pink-coloured rice cake with a red bean paste (anko) centre, and wrapped in a salted cherry blossom (sakura) leaf. Different regions of Japan have different styles of sakuramochi. Kanto-style uses shiratama-ko ( rice flour) to make the rice cake while Kansai-style uses domyoji-ko (glutinous rice flour). The former is called Chomyoji-mochi, and the latter is Domyoji-mochi. (Wikipedia)
On the 3rd of March, Japan celebrates Hina Matsuri, the Girls’/Doll Festival (not a national holiday), while some places in April according to the lunar calendar.
The festival has a long and curious history, but today, it is held in order to pray for a happy and healthy life for one’s daughter.
The first sekku (seasonal festival) after the birth of a baby girl — it is a day when charming dolls are set out for display to symbolize the family’s wish that their daughter will be healthy, free from calamity and able to obtain a happy life with a good husband. Also called the Peach Festival or Momo no Sekku, as March is the season when peach flowers are in bloom.
The “hina dolls” ( hina ningyo) are only displayed when a family has a daughter. Usually a set is handed down from generation to generation or the grandparents or parents will buy one for a girl’s first Hina Matsuri (hatsuzekku)! A complete set with traditional dolls can be extremely expensive! There is a superstition that the daughter of the house will have a hard time finding a marriage partner if the dolls aren’t put away in the evening of March 3rd!
Beautiful costumes of the HeianPeriod are worn by the hina dolls, representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians. They are displayed on a stand (hinadan) that is often covered with a red carpet. The platform can have several levels (up to 7). The most common ones are one-, five- and seven-tiered stands.
Depending on the region, the order of the dolls from left to right is different, but the order per level is the same. One example where you’ll find this difference in placement is with the Kanto and Kansai regions.
On the top-tier you’ll find the imperial dolls (dairi bina). They represent the Emperor who is holding a ritual baton and the Empress with a fan in her hands. The Empress is not wearing a mere kimono, but a costume called “juuni-hitoe” (twelve-layered ceremonial robe). The Royal family in Japan wears it during wedding ceremonies even nowadays. Traditionally the emperor was set up on the right from the viewer’s perspective, but in a modern display he’s sitting on the left.
The hina dolls are usually put in front of a folding screen (byoubu). These folding screens are very common in Japan for any type of decoration. They’re often also used to display the zodiac of the current year. Most of the time there are also lamp stands (bonbori) decorated with plum blossoms (ume) or cherry blossoms (sakura) representing the spring season.
This is the spot for the three court ladies (sannin kanjo) who’re all holding sake equipment. Placed between them are stands with round table-tops with seasonal sweets on top.
A total number of five male musicians (gonin bayashi) is displayed on the third tier. Apart from the singer who has a fan in his hand, all of them hold a musical instrument.
So I prepared Odairi-sama and Ohina-sama shaped wagashi, and (real) peach blossoms for today. The couple, made of nerikiri, are wrapped with a slice of kimono-shaped yohkan, a thick, jellied Japanese confection made from bean paste and sugar.
This month’s Wagashi confectionery is flower and bird shaped. Tsubaki, camellia flower and Uguisu, Japanese bush warbler both symbolise the coming of spring.
These are Namagashi, wet/fresh confectionery, and the Namagashi made from Nerikiri dough, or smooth sweetened white bean paste is called Nerikiri. The paste is usually coloured to be formed into motifs of the season.
Marriage of Namagashi and green tea, especially Maccha green tea is fantastic! That’s why I used to take tea ceremony classes 😀