Neo-Wagashi Excites with Both Appearance, Taste; Fusion of Western and Traditional Japanese Sweets Impresses

The Yomiuri Shimbun
“Hoseki no cassata” by Harapeco Lab

“Neo-wagashi” confections are springing up more and more. These sweets take traditional Japanese wagashi and combine them with Western confections such as chocolate and whipped cream to create an innovative look and flavor.

A gift of neo-wagashi is sure to be a hit.

Kohakuto cassata

A fancy sweet studded with Kohakuto “amber sugar,” a translucent Japanese jelly candy with a beautiful, elegant appearance, is the main attraction at the confectioner Harapeco Lab’s main store in Fukuoka.

The store began selling sweets called “hoseki no cassata” at ¥4,780 per piece in 2022. It is an Italian ice cassata, which is made from ricotta cheese and whipped cream, containing kohakuto of seven different colors and flavors like raspberry and lemon.

The cassata ice cream has a beautiful cross section when cut.

“The sweetness of the kohakuto goes well with the cheese. I love the chewy texture too,” a 46-year-old regular said.

The confectioner has been selling sweets made with kohakuto under the name “kobutsu okashi”(mineral sweets) since 2018. It offers parfaits and monaka bean jam-filled wafers made from kohakuto, taking advantage of its mineral-like shape and brilliance.

We hope our customers will feel excitement and anticipation [while eating], as if they were digging up gems,” public relation officer Chiho Kanazawa said.

With tea or wine

“Neo-wagashi” appeared about three years ago and has become a popular gift mainly because of its appearance, said Reika Yasuhara, 34, the 13th-generation owner of the long-established Daisan Mannendo wagashi confectioner in Hyogo Prefecture.

Compared to Western sweets, traditional Japanese sweets have been seen as being simple and old-fashioned. However, the unique neo-wagashi has stirred up interest in traditional wagashi among young people, she said.

“Wagashi has unlimited possibilities. They’re fun to eat with tea or wine,” she said.

Just like art

The Yomiuri Shimbun
“Hana karukan” by atelier A

A confectioner called atelier A in Hioki, Kagoshima Prefecture, sells “hana karukan” at ¥4,000 for four pieces. Famous throughout the prefecture, karukan is a steamed sweet bun made of grated yam and rice flour.

Karukan is generally white, but atelier A uses ingredients like sweet potatoes, kinako soybean flour, kumquats and green tea to add colors to the white bean paste, which is piped through a nozzle to resemble flower petals.

With the hope of spreading the produce of local farmers throughout the country, all the confectioner’s ingredients were produced in the prefecture.

The flowers follow motifs of chrysanthemums and peonies. “We hope our customers will enjoy them as works of art,” store representative Aki Satonosono said.

Tokinose, a Japanese confectioner in Umi in the prefecture, sells sweets called “opera” for ¥2,376 each. They are shaped to resemble a traditional French cake known as opera. This wagashi has layers of ukishima steamed cake and chocolate-flavored yokan sweet jelly made from azuki beans.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
“Opera” by Tokinose

The confectioner developed opera about six years ago when it sought to make a sweet that melts in the mouth as smoothly as ganache, while carefully balancing the azuki paste and chocolate yokan.

“They didn’t sell very well at first, but they’ve been getting more and more fans every year,” a staff member said.

At the Hitotoki wagashi confectioner in Kitakyushu, the very popular “annin milk-kan” confection, which has a nice cross section of fruit, sells for ¥580.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Annin milk-kan by Hitotoki

This refreshingly flavored wagashi is made from apricot kernel-flavored agar and topped with such fruits as kiwis and oranges. It sometimes sells out within an hour of the store opening, according to the confectioner.

Morihito Kikko, 54, who ran a Japanese restaurant for 20 years, and his wife Tamaki, 54, opened the store in February last year hoping to make wagashi more casual, enjoyable and liberated.

“We want to offer a nostalgic but new kind of Japanese confection,” Kikko said.