Why Tokyo is every sweet-toothed traveler’s dream destination

Wagashi is enshrined in history and can be traced as far back as the Edo period. Source: Shutterstock

KITKAT has a big presence in Tokyo, and its popularity continues to grow. Dedicated stores like the flagship KitKat Chocolatory” in Ginza, lure fans and the curious alike with premier varieties such as wasabi, Kobe pudding, and purple sweet potato.

Unlike the more common offerings, these bars are made with higher quality ingredients and have a price tag to match.

But as novel as these luxury KitKats are, the city has more to tempt confectionery connoisseurs than quirky chocolate bar flavors. For the sweet-toothed, the traditional Japanese confectionery, wagashi, is the real treat to be had here – and one no traveler should miss.

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Wagashi is enshrined in history and can be traced as far back as the Edo period. Often these confections accompanied tea ceremonies, and a number of them are still enjoyed alongside a cup of matcha or other green tea blend today.

Given the timeline and the richness of Japanese culture, it will come as little surprise that wagashi spans a vast spectrum of delicacies.

Higashi, for instance, are dry, pressed sweets made from rice flour and wasanbon – a fine-grained Japanese sugar. They come in an array of colorful shapes and designs from flowers and shells to animals and characters. As the seasons change, so too do the designs which undergo subtle transformations adding to their charm.

Other wagashi have a very different style and texture. Yokan, for example – made from agar, red bean paste and sugar – is one of the more gelatinous confections. To enhance its hue and flavor, things like nuts or fruit are often added. But some chefs go further, embedding an internal design to heighten the dish’s appeal.

There are also baked and semi-baked varieties of wagashi. So rather than resembling candy, this type has more in common with a conventional pudding.

Manjū is one such kind. These simple pastry cakes are made by baking or steaming dough balls filled with anko, a sweet bean paste. Although it’s typical for them to take the form of a basic round, it is not unusual to find neat variations such as flowers or animals.

But modifications like these are far from rare as confectionery makers are not afraid to experiment.

This is especially true of Tokyo-based wagashi chef, Shiho Sakamoto who, according to an article on TimeOut.com, “would like to rejuvenate the art of wagashi, with the aim of raising interest in it around the world.”

Her creations are modern and often extremely intricate. A scroll through her Instagram account (which acts as a portfolio) reveals a mix of geometric shapes, soft colors, and delicate textures, all of which are unique to her brand of wagashi.

Such is the beauty of her work, that if you are lucky enough to attend one of her workshops or sample her custom-made pieces at an event, you will likely be torn between eating or preserving the tiny masterpieces.