Do you want to be an artist for a while and create a fruit of harmony? Yes? Then let yourself be invited to the world of Japanese wagashi. A small piece of sweet will be your work, your piece of art.
It is hard to define what art is. According to Otto’s dictionary, art is “intentional creation or action, the result of which excels over other creations and performances in a certain value by mere perception, means aesthetic value.” According to Encyclopedia Britannica, art is: „when someone uses skills and imagination for creating aesthetic products, environment or experience, which can be shared with other people.” So, can wagashi be an art? I advocate that yes. Perhaps also because wagashi had and still has for me its home in the world of hospitality elevated to art – in the world of the Japanese Tea ceremony. I like the idea that art always arises when a creative person considers what he or she creates to be art. He or she believes that art is indeed created at that moment or working on it. He or she commits self to art work. In joy or even in painfulness. In the process of creation, the stage when the artist thinks that he or she would more than anything else like to hit and dismiss the piece is also important. What is without suffering is somehow not of enough value.
The most elegant type of wagashi often used in the Tea ceremony is the so-called gyuuhi, means wagashi made of pure white bean material brought to perfection and shaped into beautiful objects. It is difficult to turn a bean into a beautiful work. Nevertheless, or maybe why I urge you, brave creators, from the bottom of my heart, to embark on joyful creativity work with this material from beans which is very malleable and easily affordable, but only if you make it yourself according to the recipe you will find at the end of the article. The advantage is that you can always eat your creation. Definitely you will enjoy it. And if you also have green whipped matcha tea to it, then your work will receive the highest award.
It is said that the right sweet for the Tea ceremony is sacrificed for matcha tea. Japanese confectioners and artists who create their works for tea masters even compare the destiny of their bean pieces wagashi with the sacrifice of a samurai to his master. You are to eat sweets before you drink tea, and at that moment it’s lively and impressive. Strongly impressive. However, wagashi is beautiful only for a short time, then it voluntarily releases its value to tea. That is why it is said that sweet is sacrificed to matcha. When a tea lover drinks his cup of tea, he or she should forget about the sweets and enjoy the tea only. Perhaps that is why wagashi is created from the essence of beans, food that shines but quickly disappears from our taste buds. Imagine, especially you who are used to drink matcha tea, to eat a cake full of whipped cream and butter and then drink matcha tea. The tastes of both would obviously be mixed, because butter would not give up. Would not let go. Butter does not like to be sacrificed. Butter endures.
What does the word wagashi mean? “Wa” is the character和 (nogi hen, no plus ki as a tree), which denotes a constellation where diverse things are in harmony. Wa is the desire for harmony. The character contains a square, which separately means mouth. Perhaps it can be understood that harmony is beneficial. You like it. It satisfies him or her. It enriches him or her. “Wa” is also used to represent everything that is Japanese. Wagashi is therefore the Japanese sweet. Yougashi 洋菓子, or more precisely seiyougashi 西洋菓子 is a Western style sweet. The name no longer says anything about harmony or beauty, just about the direction where the other goodies come from. “Kashi” with the pronunciation change into gashi, denotes the very thing, the sweets, confectionery, cakes, candy, just something deliciously sweet that someone has prepared with great care and skill. Kashi, as you can see, consists of two characters. The first “ka” means fruit. You can also understand it as the fruit of creativity, and the second character “shi” means child. Sweetheart isn’t it? When you create your wagashi, play with material and pipette it like a baby, with love and admiration. A wa-gašátko will be created under your care. The fruit of harmony.
Wa as a harmony is the first of the four basic building blocks of the Japanese Sado tea ceremony. Another name is Chanoyu. Wa, Kei, Sei, Jaku. Harmony, respect, purity and peace. Who would not long for peace; for the peace of his soul and for peace with men and all creation. Wa, kei, sei, jaku is what the host and guests create and do ideally when they share the best of each other. They merge with what surrounds them and give self to time while experiencing the beauty and mystery of life, a secret that invites them to serve their neighbors with honest desire to celebrate and enjoy beauty. I believe that such a desire co-creates love.
Just as the origin of drinking tea was a manifestation of the celebration of life and the search for its transcendence, so in wagashi we trace the beginning of its use in welcoming and worshiping deities. Wagashi served as one of the means of communication between the human imagination of the gods and the people themselves. Celebrations throughout the year have accompanied and often still accompany wagashi of specific shapes, flavors and aromas, often with a specific story and poetic name. Important stops in human life are associated with typical wagashi – for example, the girls’ holiday Ohinasama with red-white-green wagashi hishimochi in the shape of a diamond. Or the boys’ holiday Tangonosekku with chimaki mochi cupcakes wrapped in bamboo leaves.
It is no coincidence that many Japanese wagashi have the shape of flowers. The flowers are fragile, transient and yet have great mysterious power. People in Japan and I think not only there, they imagine that flowers connect our world with a world we cannot capture, where our ancestors and our future are. Flowers help us remember the words I wish for all of us: “May all beings be happy.”
To create peace, we must learn that. For example, when we make small wagashi from ordinary bean mass. Are you saying you don’t have the bean material No problem. We have prepared it for you in Miyabi. This weekend, Saturday and Sunday all day you will be able to come and create your little wagashi . If needed we will help you. Sure a piece of harmony fruit will be born out of your hands. Spatulas, shaping fabric and cutters will be there for you prepared. We look forward to seeing you. Children, adults, all welcome.
Yours, Miyabi Darja
Buy ordinary white beans and work to get the essence of beans from them. Getting the essence of anything is not easy – it’s the same with the essence of beans. First, heat the beans in water so that they can be stripped of their skins. You can peel one by one. For example watching television. Takes hours. And then let beans boil again until soft so that they can be strained. But be careful not to burn them while boiling! The beans will take in the taste and smell of everything they come in contact with. Even a small burn spreads like a malignant disease. Pour water over the sieved fine dust and let it settle and then repeat, for example ten times, until the water above the bean dust is clear. When you squeeze the bean dust using fine fabric, you have won by half. Put dust in a spacious pot, preferably with a Teflon surface and add sugar, a lot of sugar. About the same as beans. Stir and stir and stir. Do not relax even for a moment. When the right hand hurts, stir with the left. When your hands weaken after thirty to forty minutes, the matter will hopefully be ready. It acquires such a consistency that it is no longer flowing hot lava, but nice malleable bean clay that does not peel or solidify as stone. Be careful not to burn a single piece of material while mixing. Don’t pick up the phones, don’t switch for something else even for a second, just stir. It pays off, you get a very edible material that does not smell and does not taste of vegetables or any chemicals. You get the best that beans are. The essence of beans. And then you can let your imagination run wild. Prepare food colors and use spatulas or simply wrap the mass in a cloth and shape. What was a bean mass a while ago turns into a bunny, a tulip, a camellia or a sea wave.