Wagashi of the Month: Minazuki

Here comes June again –  the month of Minazuki, June in the lunar calendar, and the month for Minazuki, a confection. One of my colleagues brought the latter Minazuki from Gionmanju in Kyoto for me, so once again I am posting this Wagashi.

 

Wagashi of the Month: June last year

 

Kyoto Trip in Minazuki Day 1  from my post last year:

 

Kyoto Trip in Minazuki Day 2 and Minazuki sweets from my post last year:

 

 

Wagashi of the Month: December

Wagashi of the Month for December – Christmas tree and boot

 

 

 

 

Wagashi of the Month: November

As autumn deepens and it gets cooler, leaves change colour into bright red and yellow.

Wagashi of the Month in November is fallen Momiji, or Japanese maple leaves on the bottom of river.

 

Autumn colour from my album:

Day Trip to Hakone – Nov. 2011
Lake Ashinoko, Hakone – Nov. 2011
Tokyo in late autumn, 2014

I’ll add some more photos from a local autumn festival last month.

There are countless local festivals (Matsuri) in Japan because almost every shrine celebrates one of its own. Most festivals are held annually and celebrate the shrine’s deity or a seasonal or historical event. Some festival are held over several days.

An important element of Japanese festivals are processions, in which the local shrine’s Kami (Shinto deity) is carried through the town in Mikoshi (palanquins). It is the only time of the year when the Kami leaves the shrine to be carried around town.

(source: japan-guide.com)

 

Mikoshi

 

Wagashi of the Month: October

Flavours of autumn:

Kaki, persimmon

 

and Kuri, chestnut

 

Things have been hectic lately, but I will come back soon (hopefully)!!

 

 

Wagashi of the Month: September

‘Moon Rabbit’ and ‘Chrysanthemum’ for September

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.

Tsuki Usagi, Moon Rabbit

Why rabbit?

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.

Mochitsuki – pounding rice cake

Click for more about Tsukimi, moon viewing.

sugar candies: full moon, mountains, Chinese bellflowers, rabbits
full moon and rabbits

 

Another one is Kiku, or chrysanthemum, which symbolises autumn.

Kiku, chrysanthemum

 

Kiku is a symbol of Japan itself as well as Sakura, cherry blossom. I should have put a sword next to the chrysanthemum?

 

Wagashi of the Month: August

 

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.

 

Kuzu-mochi, a clear jelly of Kuzu (starch from Kuzu or Kudzu Root) wrapped in a bamboo leaf. Kuzu-mochi is also considered a summer dessert.

 

Nadeshiko flower – Dianthus or Pink

 

Yokan, gelled sweet bean paste, in a bamboo tube

 

 

 

Kyoto Trip 2014 – Day 2

Itinerary – 2nd day (30th June 2014):

Central Kyoto – Shugakuin Imperial Villa – Kamigamo Shrine – Tenyu – Kamesuehiro – JR Kyoto Station – Tokyo

Unlike the rainy first day in Kyoto, the following day was bright and clear. Lucky enough to have such a lovely day as I was suppose to visit Shugakuin Imperial Villa with breathtaking beauty and great masterpieces of Japanese gardening.

The Shugakuin Imerial Villa (Shugakuin Rikyu), built in the mid 17th century for retired Emperor Gomizuno, is a set of gardens and outbuildings (mostly tea-houses) in the hills of the eastern suburbs of Kyoto. It consists of the Upper, Middle and Lower Villa areas, each featuring gardens and buildings of the traditional imperial style.

 

Fusuma sliding doors of Jugetsu-kan, the Lower Villa building where Gomizuno would rest before going on to the Upper Villa.
Cedar wood sliding doors depicting the Gion Festival, Kyoto’s most well known festival in July (Middle Villa)
Regarded as one of the ‘three most treasured shelves’ in Japan (Middle Villa)
on the way to the Upper Villa
Upper Villa

shugakuin 3

shugakuin 2

The Shugakuin Imperial Villa is only accessible through guided tours, which require advanced booking because it is one of the Imperial properties and under supervision of the Imperial Household Agency (Click for the application).

For more information:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3936.html
http://www.japanvisitor.com/japanese-culture/shugakuin-villa

Kamigamo Jinja (Shito shrine)

After Shugakuin Rikyu, caught a taxi and hurried to Kamigamo Shrine (Kamigamo Jinja), one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for Nagoshi no Harae, an ancient Japanese summer purification rite which many shrines conduct on the 30th of June. In this religious ceremony, of which origin goes back to the Nara period (AD 710 -794), people atone for their sins in the first half of the year and then pray for their health for the remainder of the year by walking through a tall chinowa wreath (a large sacred ring made of loosely twisted miscanthus reeds called chigaya).

Shinto priests

Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach the shrine in time for the rite – well, I knew I couldn’t make it after the Shugakuin Rikyu guided tour, but anyway, I followed the worshipers: walked through the chinowa wreath three times  in a 8 shaped like form (1. counterclockwise, 2. clockwise and then 3. counterclockwise) praying ‘Purification Prayer’ to purify myself from misdeeds (tsumi), impurities (kegare), and misfortune, and wished for good health for my family and for myself.

Chinowa

Below are Nagoshi no Harae – Summer Purification – rituals:

evening ritual

The 30th of June is the day of Oharae or Oharai (Grand Purification), purifying sins and bad lucks not only for an individual but also for the public and the country. This Shinto ritual is held twice a year: on the 30th of June and the 30th of December (Toshikoshi no Harae). On the day of Oharae in June, people in Kyoto eat Minazuki (as for Minazuki, read my Wagashi of the Month).

Minazuki

It is said that the triangular shape and Azuki bean, especially its red colour, guard people against evil spirits and protect against misfortune and illness. Minazuki is also believed to expel any negative actions of the first half of the year like the ritual. That is the reason why they eat Minazuki at the halfway mark in the year, praying for a good second half.

Nowadays, you can buy the confectionery anywhere in Japan, but I wanted to try authentic one, so I tried Kamesuehiro (est. 1804),  one of the most famous traditional confectioneries in Kyoto. Unlike others (very exclusive! – ‘Ichigen-san, okotowari’ which means ‘New customer/first-time customer/chance customer, no admittance’ is common among long established restaurants, tea-houses, confectioneries etc. in Kyoto), Kamesuehiro is exceptionally customer-friendly. I recommend, however, you should make an appointment and place an order in advance as people do with other long established confectioneries, esp. when you purchase a seasonal speciality like Minazuki.

Minazuki
Minazuki from Kamesuehiro

Also bought a small box of Kyo no Yosuga with higashi (dried sweets) and hannamagashi (half-raw sweets). Kyo no Yosuga is ideal for gifts (Click for more info).

Kyo no Yosuga: the sweets represent seasonal feature of Minazuki, or June: e.g. blue one with a green leaf — hydrangea; pink (dianthus) etc.

Hang on, what about lunch? The foodie is highly organised when it comes to food 😀
I had already ordered a bento lunch box to takeaway as well as Minazuki. I can’t afford to stay and dine at Tawaraya Ryokan, one of the best ryokan inns in Kyoto, but I can afford a box from the tempra restaurant Tawaraya runs! So I made a phone call to Tenyu (Reviews on Tripadvisor and photos of their dishes and obento boxes).  Tenyu offers a bento box of the month as the photo shows below: for June, Ayu Gohan bento box – fishing season of ayu, or sweetfish starts in June and the fish is one of the most popular ingredients of Kyo Ryori, or Kyoto Cuisine.

 

Fully enjoyed Minazuki, June in archaic word, in Kyoto, and the bento on a Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo :-9

 

 

 

 

Wagashi of the Month: June

 

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.

 

Ajisai Kinton made of mashed beans

 

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.

 

hydrangea petal shaped sugar candies

 

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
Minazuki

 

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.

 

 

 

Wagashi of the Month: May

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.

 

koinobori
Koi-nobori (pic from gaijinpot.com)

 

koinobori
Carp/Koi-nobori shaped Wagashi and iris leaves

 

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.

 

hanashobu
Iris flower shaped Namagashi

 

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.

 

kashiwamochi
Kashiwa mochi 

Wagashi of the Month: April

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….

 

sakura

 

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)

 

chomyoji mochi
Chomyoji Sakuramochi

 

domyoji mochi
Domyoji Sakuramochi

 

sakura

 

 

sakuramochi assortment