DSCN4705Mei: Tsukisamu Anpan (月寒あんぱん)
Sei: Honma of Sapporo
Type: Han-nama-gashi

When I think of “anpan”, I usually imagine the sort of sickeningly sticky anpan found in convenience stores. But this sweet rather is more similar to what is modernly called a manju. In fact, I am not precisely certain the difference between anpan and manju now. Anyway, this is a a round cake of koshi-an made from Hokkaido adzuki beans in a thin moist shell made from wheat. Other ingredients include mizuame and honey.

The reason I originally bought this sweet is because it was first manufactured in Meiji 39 (1906). It is so fascinating to think I can eat almost the same exact sweet as people were eating over 100 years ago.

The name, by the way, means “Cold Moon” and it read with a Japanese reading of “Tsukisamu”. More commonly though, the kanji are reversed and although the meaning does not change, it is read with the Chinese reading of “Kangetsu”.


Mei: Giant Shrimp Crackers (えび大判焼き)
Sei: Mama (ママ) of Chiba Prefecture
Type: Yakikashi

It’s really quite impossible not to love these giant shrimp senbei the size of my head. They are savoury, with a lovely scent of the sea (磯の香り)! Broken into fourths, I think they make a nice snack to serve to guests.


DSCN4287Mei: Pine Dew (松露)
Sei: Nakamori Seika of Shiga Prefecture (中森製菓)
Type: Wagashi

These beads of adzuki and ingen koshi-an mixed with kanbaiko–a sort of pre-steamed rice flour–are then coated in a white sugary coat. They are of course quite sweet, but have an interesting, almost sharp undertaste.

The package tells us that this sweet is modeled after the round white “pine dew” plants (Rhizopogon Rubescen) that grow in the seaside pine groves at the start of summer.

Gosei: Ryuugetsu (柳月)
Gomei: Willow Wafers (Yanagi Monaka)
Type: Kashi
Ingredients: Sugar, Adzuki Beans, Mizuame, Mochi Rice, Kanten Gelatin, Trehalose

Last weekend I went to Obihiro for a certain event and afterwards stopped by the factory of Ryuugetsu, a sweets shop of some renown in Hokkaido. I picked up several sweets to sample, since they are sold in both gift boxes and individually wrapped. The sweet I want to feature today is called Yanagi Monoka. Monoka is a type of wafter shell filled with a sweet adzuki bean paste. Yanagi means willow and is written with the same kanji as the “ryuu” in Ryuugetsu, which literally means “Willow Moon”.

The wafter of the monoka is crisp and slightly crumbly which provides a nice constrast to the smooth sticky koshian inside. This sweet is easy to hold in one’s hands since it isn’t sticky, although since the wafer slightly crumbles when breaking it, hold it over paper while doing so. While I bought the koshian version, there is also a chunky tsuboan version, designated by a one of the willow leaves on the package being dyed a deep red. The anko itself is made from adzuki beans from Tokachi, an area in Hokkaido most famous for adzuki beans. Over all, this is a delicous and uniquely Japanese sweet.


Itoin Senbei

Gosei: Harita-ya (播田屋)
Gomei: Thread Seal Cookies (Itoin Senbei)
Type: Yaki-kashi?
Ingredients: Wheat, Sugar, Egg, Salt, Emulsifier

These small, sweet senbei I bought in Ise, when I went to pay my respects. They have a very light and crispy texture that makes them easy to eat. They were first manufactured in Meiji 38 (1905), to offer to the Meiji Emperor on the ocasion of his visit to the famed Ise Jingu Shrine.
Each senbei has the impression of a different ito-in seal stamped on top. Ito-in seals are a type of button-sized copper seals that were attached to bundles of silk threads imported from China. They were adopted by Japan in the Muromachi period and were consequently used to mark all sorts of transactions. Each seal contains rather a rather mysterious design to which were attached fanciful names. I am afraid I’ve been unable to make any sense of their meaning. Can you?

The cookies still wrapped in their paper. The green and white paper beneath wrapped the original box they were all packed in and is decorated with Haritaya’s logo and seal impressions. It is currently serving a second life as a book cover for my copy of “Nationalism and Internationalism in Imperial Japan.”

Perhaps you can better see the seal impression better in this photograph

Gosei: YajiYA
Gomei: Seasonal Assortment (Shiki no Irodori)
Type: Kashi
Ingredients: Sugar, Mizuame, Gelatin (Kanten), Egg White, Flavouring

I bought these jellies at Shinya, but they are prepackaged sweets from the company located in Ohsaka. Consisting basically of sugar and kanten, these are fairly standard sweets: pretty, light, and sweet. They are slightly chewing, and the sugar coating gives them a nice texture on the outside. The shapes, but not the taste, changes with the season. Since I bought these in July, they are summer shapes: a plover, fish (trout?), flower, watermelon, and whirlpool. I really adore the fish, and it is hard not to be charmed by the plover. Brightly coloured rectangular sweets make up the rest.


Gosei: Shinya
Gomei: Furano Onion (Furano Tamanegi)
Type: Yaki-gashi
Ingredients: White Bean Paste, Sugar, Wheat, Mizuame, Condensed Milk, Egg Yolk, Butter, Cream, Emulsifier, Onion Powder

This sweet is, again, from Shinya located in the town of Furano. It has a thin moist shell covering a large ball of white an. It is very soft and moist, but not overly oily. One of the crops that is grown in Furano is onions. However, this sweet doesn’t have a strong taste of onions. I imagined it had the sort of sweetness that is possessed by a Maui Onion, but that is probably me making up things. I especially enjoy this sort of simple sweet.

The Furano Onion not yet eaten

Its charming wrapper has a pattern reminiscent of an onion’s skin.

I’ve noticed a lot of tea practitioners are very interested in tea sweets. I can see why, as, well, who doesn’t like eating sweets? When I was first introduced to chanoyu in my tropical homeland, we had the same sweet every time. It was a truly delightful sweet too, unlike anything I had eaten before. However, I then moved to Japan and we had three different sweets every okeiko! I had never even imagined there could be such bounty. Thus, I thought it might be nice to share some of the sweets with you my dear readers. I can’t say I am much of an aficionado. Nor do I travel much so most the sweets will be rather local. But I hope my small effort can still cause you pleasure and envy.

Heso no Omanju cut in half

Gosei: Shinya
Gomei: Navel Cakes (Heso no O-Manju)
Type: Wagashi
Ingredients: Azuki, Sugar, Egg, Wheat Flour, Mizuame, Shortening, Milk, Chlorella Extract, Salt, Trehalose, Emulsifier, Leavening, Flavouring

It is hard to tell from photographs, but this manju has the impression of Hokkaido with a dot in her very centre on top. Shinya is a local sweet shop located nearly exactly in the geographic centre–that is, the navel–of Hokkaido.
The outside of the manju is dark and spongy, somewhat similar to the dough of dorayaki. The inside is filled with red bean paste. Shinya also makes varieties that replaces the red bean paste with a custard or chocolate cream filling.
You might notice it is made with mostly “western” ingredients like eggs, wheat, milk, and shortening. Hokkaido only really became part of Japan comparatively recently in the Meiji Period. At that point in time, Western science and culture was all the rage and thus Hokkaido was largely settled with the help of foreign advisors on the Western model. This included many dairy farms, and thus many places in Hokkaido are famed for their dairy products, like milk and butter. And of course this influence is also seen in our local sweets.

Notice the outline of Hokkaido on top

The Heso no Omanju still in its package, which features a sumie drawing of a navel and four children showing their navel.