Japanese Confectioner Has a Unique Way of Designing Nerikiri Wagashi; Winter Designs Include Sweaters, Beef Stew and Woolen Hats

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nerikiri pieces with winter motifs, such as a sweater and stew, evokes warmth and happiness.

Nerikiri is a delicate, moist type of wagashi Japanese confectionery. Each piece is hand-sculpted by hand into beautiful designs that use not only traditional motifs, such as flowers and plants, but also elements commonly found in contemporary life, such as home-cooked food, events and animals. It’s a treat that encapsulates a warm, joy-filled world.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Noriko Kawashima

Noriko Kawashima is a wagashi maker at the Meika Soan Shingetsu Japanese confectionery store in Tsu who expresses the winter season through nerikiri pieces based on her own original designs, including beef stew, sweaters and woolen hats.

The beef stew has a thick, shiny texture created using yokan red bean jelly which looks just like the real thing, while a basket containing yarn has a wicker-like texture created by fine handiwork.

“I use everyday objects as motifs, but there are many things that I can’t easily give a good shape to, so there’s a lot of trial and error,” Kawashima said.

Kawashima was born in Tokyo in 1974. After graduating from a confectionery school, she initially worked in sales in the confectionery industry. After getting married, she started her career as a confectioner at Shingetsu, which is run by her husband’s family.

When it comes to nerikiri, camellia and plum blossoms are the standard motifs in winter.

Kawashima explained the motivation behind her creations: “I thought that if I used a different design approach than the traditional style, I might be able to attract more people to wagashi.”

When she started posting photos of her wagashi on Instagram (@norinriko), they began to attract attention.

The nerikiri she makes to coincide with seasonal events are among the more popular items.

Her multi-colored oni ogres for Setsubun, the day before the beginning of spring according to the lunisolar calendar, look like cute characters from a picture book. Not restricted to Japanese seasonal events, she has also made nerikiri pieces for Christmas and Halloween.

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Cute oni ogres created for Setsubun

Her animal-shaped nerikiri are particularly popular among children.

The dogs and rabbits have fluffy fur, which is formed with fine pieces of nerikiri dough crumbled by pressing the dough through a sieve, and the elephants and pandas have cute, round eyes.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Animal-shaped nerikiri pieces are popular among children.

“These days, young people and children may not have many opportunities to eat wagashi. But the distinct sweetness of nerikiri goes with coffee and tea so well that I’d like to see people casually make it a part of their daily lives,” Kawashima said.

Easy to make at home

The nerikiri pieces that Kawashima posted on her Instagram have been such a hit that she has been able to publish a book titled “Hajimete tsukuru kawaii nerikiri wagashi” (How to make your first cute nerikiri wagashi) with Sangyo Henshu Center Co. She also puts on workshops in various places, and these too have been well received.

There are different tools for making nerikiri.

Kinton chopsticks have a very thin tip, which are useful for finishing fine details, and a sankaku bera (triangular spatula) is a wooden stick mainly used to make petal patterns. People can make these tools themselves by shaving bamboo chopsticks or sanding wood bought from a DIY store.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tools for making nerikiri confectionery

“If you want to make nerikiri at home, you can use straws, spoons, and other kitchen utensils in place of these tools,” Kawashima said. “Start casually and make nerikiri dough by mixing white bean paste with gyuhi (soft mochi).”