At the end of June a place called Japan House opened up in the West part of London. I only knew its name and I didn’t know anything about it. So, one week after the grand opening I visited the place without any expectation. With their own introduction Japan House “is a project which aims to nurture a deeper understanding and appreciation of Japan in the international community, by creating a number of hubs from which to showcase and communicate Japan as a country of countless charms, able to enrich the rest of the world”.
From the entrance the ground floor level is spaced for the display of many different types of items such as a Bonsai plant, books, arty figures, unusual looking teapots and rubbish bin and then one particular thing on the window sill attracted my attention. It is a wooden object that comes with two parts as a set. One side has some carving on it and the other side has a hole. I wonder if anybody knows what this is.
Do you know today, the 16th of June, is “the Wagashi Day”? ‘Wagashi’ means Japanese Sweet in general but how is this day connected with Japanese Sweet and what do people do this day?
The Wagashi Day and Sixteen Sweets
It started in the year of 848 in the Heian period when plague was spreading throughout Japan. With the hope that this disease would stop and everybody would live healthily and happily, the Emperor Ninmyō changed the era to Kashō and prayed to the God with an offering of sixteen Japanese sweets. It was on the 16th of June and the number of the sweet offering was associated with the date. Since then this day became the Wagashi Day and people ate Japanese sweets and wished a happy life. This custom carried on until the Edo period.
Sadly the custom diminished sometime later, but in 1979 Japan Wagashi Association reintroduced the Wagashi Day back into society by wishing that people would continue appreciating the magnificent Japanese sweet and carry on the beautiful food culture for future generations.
Although I have liked eating Japanese Sweet Wagashi since my childhood, it is not that long ago that I started making it myself. Since then I realised that Wagashi is such a versatile sweet which is made from very limited ingredients of just beans, rice powder and sugar basically. By wishing this world becomes a safe and wonderful place to everybody I re-introduce 16 sweets of mine that I made last year 2016.
Enjoy your Wagashi Day! 😀
It is the Girl’s Day ‘Hina-Matsuri’ today the 3rd of March. For a few weeks until this day in Japan we place a set of dolls called ‘Hina-Ningyo’ in a room and celebrate the healthy growth and happiness of girls.
from Wikipedia (Hinamatsuri)
There are many different scales in Hina-Ningyo and some gorgeous one is composed of several shelves with a red cloth on top and each shelf is decorated with either some figures or ornaments. The most important part of this is the very top shelf where a male and a female figures are placed. They are the Emperor and the Empress.
There are several sweets that are traditionally only for this occasion. One of them is a diamond shaped sweet in tri-colours of pink, white and green called ‘Hishi-mochi’. Last year I created Hishi-moch with a type of Japanese sweet called ‘Ukishima’ but this year I made the Hina-dolls too.
Hina-Ningyo/Hina-Dolls the Sweet
I have roughly explained about ‘Chushu‘ (the Middle of Autumn Day) and the Full Moon viewing custom in Japan in the previous post. However, there is another key character in this Story. It is a Rabbit.
In Japan we say there is a Rabbit living on the moon and makes (pounds) ‘Mochi’ Rice Cake on ‘Jugoya‘ the Full Moon. I think the story started because people in the old days saw a Rabbit shape in the pattern on the Moon.
However, there are several stories to back up the thought behind it.
- This is a story from India. ‘There were Fox, Monkey and Rabbit in a forest and they wondered why they were not human. They thought maybe it was because they did something bad before so they decided to do something good. One day an old man who was very tired and hungry appeared in the forest. Fox, Monkey and Rabbit wanted to help this guy. Fox hunted some animals and gave him some meat. Monkey climbed up a tree and gathered some nuts and fruits for this man. However, although Rabbit searched around he could not find anything for the old man then he asked the man to make a fire. The Rabbit said “I’m sorry I could not find anything for you so please eat me to survive” and jumped into the fire and died. This old guy was actually a god who came to test the three animals’ good deed. He was so moved by Rabbit’s selfless mind and felt pitty on him. He decided to leave the silhouette of the rabbit on the moon forever’.
2. In China it was said that rabbits were making medicine for immortality by pounding on the moon. When this story came to Japan the story changed that rabbits were making ‘Mochi (Rice cake)’ instead of medicine.
Anyway, it’s time to introduce my Moon Rabbits.
It is Japanese sweet which made of ‘Nerikiri‘ (White Bean Paste with Mochi) and Free from Gluten and Dairy & Oil.
Jugoya, Full Moon
It is becoming the middle of Autumn ‘Chushu (中秋)’. Actually it is this Thursday, the 15th of September this year and that is the day we can see the Full Moon. The night of the day is called ‘Jugoya / 十五夜’ (‘Jugo‘ means fifteen and ‘Ya (Yoru)’ means night). Basically it is the Fifteenth Moon from the New Moon, hence the Full Moon.
In Japan we have a custom of ‘Tsukimi (月見)’ (viewing the Full Moon) on this day. It came from China during Nara / Heian period (8-11 C) into the life of upper class people. They had a party viewing the Full Moon and read poems about it. Later on in Edo period (17-19C) it was taken to common people as well and the day was combined with the festival for farmers to hope for a good harvest.
Nowadays, it is still the same. We enjoy viewing the Full Moon. We look forward to the clear sky with the beautiful Moon. On the day we prepare for the night by placing ‘Susuki (Japanese Silver Grass)’ and of course some sweets. What kind of sweet the family have depends on which region where they live but mostly they are ‘Mochi‘ type.
Chocolate Full Moon Yokan and Rabbits
So I made these Japanese sweets for Jugoya Night, one is the Full Moon Yokan in Chocolate flavour and the other one is Moon Rabbit.
‘Koinobori‘ on my previous post is the traditional decoration on the ‘Kodomo-no-Hi‘ (Children’s Day/Boy’s Day) on the 5th of May in Japan. Another tradition on the day is that we decorate out house with ‘Shobu (Iris)’. So what is the reason behind this custom?
‘Shobu (菖蒲)’ on ‘Kodomo-no-Hi’
First of all there are two types of ‘Shobu‘. One of them is ‘Hana-Shobu‘. It is Iris which we enjoy the magnificent flower with a striking colour and shape. The other one is medicinal ‘Shobu’ with very scented leaves but with insignificant flowers. They are totally different plants.
It seems like that people started using Shobu for this ceremonial occasion because …
Time passes fast. Very fast indeed! It’s already May. This week people in Japan are having the longest National Holiday break in a year called the Golden Week. One of the Bank Holidays during the Golden Week is the 5th of May, ‘Kodomo-no-Hi‘. It is a day to celebrate the growth & health of children, but it is more like the Boy’s Day. We have the Girl’s Day on the 3rd of March as I posted before.
There are several things people do on the Kodomo-no-Hi. The most famous thing is that we place fish shaped flags outside called ‘Koinobori‘ (‘Koi’ means carp and ‘Nobori’ is a kind of Flag). We have a song about it for children.
🎶 Yane yori takai Koinobori 🎶
It means “Koinobori swimming higher than the roof …”
Koinobori swimming high in the blue sky
Yes, it is placed traditionally higher than a roof, and some of them are bigger than a house. However, because many people live in a small apartment these days the size of Koinobori became much smaller in the last 50 years. From a week or two earlier towards the 5th of May you can see Koinobori swimming in the blue sky. It is a magnificent sight with a bit of wind, as they look like swimming in the sky. (However, I just saw somebody’s comment on social media that there is no Koinobori seen around where he lives…)
My little Rabbit Hina-ningyou
The 3rd of March is Girls’ Day in Japan. It is called ‘Hina Matsuri‘ or ‘Momo no Sekku‘ and we celebrate girls’ health and growth (Don’t worry we have Boys’ Day as well). This day we decorate ‘Hina Ningyou‘, the dolls of a princess and a prince or even with lots of their servants and music players on red carpeted shelved space, with Plum blossoms in a room.
My Hina Ningyou are Rabbits. I brought them when I came to England. They are very small and cute.
There is certain food we eat on the day that is all pretty and beautiful for girls of course. Main meal is definitely ‘Chirashi-zushi‘ which is Sushi rice served with colourful fish, vegetable and egg on top. We also have a clear soup with ‘Hamaguri‘ Big Clam.
One of the typical sweets for this day is ‘Hishi-mochi‘ which is Rice cake in a diamond shape in tricolours of pink, white and green). ‘Hina arare‘ (pastel coloured Rice crackers) and lots of sweets in flower shape & colours are often had as well. The girls have a drink called ‘Amazake‘ which is sweet Sake. Yes, it is a kind of Sake. Although there is alcoholic Amazake but normally we have sweet sake without alcohol, so young girls can have it on this Hinamatsuri.
I have been thinking what I should make for this day and wanted to try something new for me. And then one idea stuck in my mind so … here it is.
Red ‘Oni’ with two horns
In Japan we have several special days in a year. The 3rd of February is one of them, It is a day called ‘Setsubun‘.
What is ‘Setsubun’?
Setsubun is written as ‘節分‘ in Japanese which means ‘divide (分)’ ‘season (節)’. The day actually is one day before the changing of season. It seems like we used to have four Setsubun before each season in the past but since Edo era (a few hundred years ago) we particularly cerebrate only the beginning of Spring. So the 3rd of February became our ‘Setsubun’ and we celebrate the coming of Spring on this day.