Wagashi are Japanese traditional confectionaries. When, during the Meiji period, western style sweets (洋菓子, yougashi) were introduced into Japan, traditional sweets were re-named Wa-Kashi (和菓子, wagashi) in order to distinguish them from the western ones. The Wa refers here to the oldest name for Japan, already mentioned in a 2300 year old text from China.
Although an often cited 'cookie' is known from the Jomon period, the Jomon cookie had nothing in common with today's wagashi sweets. It consisted of chestnut and walnut flour, meat and blood of wild boar and deer, and wild bird eggs (Imamura 1996, 99). You can rather look at it as a savoury patty. Carbonized 'cookie' remains have for example been found at the middle Jomon site of the Okinohara site 沖ノ原遺跡(Niigata pref.) about 4000 to 5000 BCE.
|A roundhouse from the site of Okinohara 沖ノ原遺跡|
|Jomon carbonised 'cookies'|
Thus during the Jomon to Nara period Okashi consisted probably of fruits which is also suggested by the Kanji 菓 in the name of wagashi, which simply stands for fruit. Sugar was only introduced during the Tang dynasty, when a monk imported it from India via silk route to China and from there to Japan (Nara period). During the Qin Dynasty sugar cane rock (crystallised cane sugar sap) was traded extensively along the silk route, but still used as a precious luxury good. Only during the Edo period sugar became more available and the production of wagashi began to flourish. Although many recipes originated from Chinese sweets, together with the art of tea ceremony, wagashi became much more refined and new varieties were invented for this purpose.
But enough of history lessons :) let's have a look at a contemporary wagashi, bought at Minamoto Kitchoan in London:
This wagashi is called Yuka and is basically a citron jelly. Sounds simple but is a perfect balance of ingredients and tasted lovely in combination with our flowering tea. Main ingredients: Sugar, water, kidney bean, citrus fruit and agar. If you want to try your hand on it ... a similar lemon sweet can be found at Wagashimaniac's blog (Remon-kan).