Kyoto geisha and maiko yatsuhashi sweets are the latest food craze to hit the ancient capital
These adorable sweets have been meticulously handcrafted by a centuries-old confectionery retailer in Kyoto.
In Japan, each prefecture has its own list of well-known specialty products, which make for perfect souvenirs when shopping for friends back home. In Nara, for instance, foodies in the know seek out the local Kaki no Ha Sushi (lit. persimmon leaf sushi), while in Aomori, it’s all about apples. If you pay a visit to Kyoto, however, you’re more than likely to come across a sweet called yatsuhashi, which is made from glutinous rice flour and sugar and filled with red bean paste.
▼ Yatsuhashi is known for its flat, triangular shape.
Image: Flickr/Jessica Spengler
Synonymous with Kyoto, yatsuhashi sweets have long been produced in the area, and one of the oldest businesses, Shogoin, has been making the local specialty since 1689. With over 300 years of experience, Shogoin knows how to keep up with the times, and it’s now created a new brand called nikiniki, which is exclusively dedicated to taking the yatsuhashi sweet out of its traditional mould and into the modern-day world of kawaii with amazing 3-D designs.
▼ Visiting the sleek, modern store, you’d never guess that there was centuries of tradition behind it.
Inside, some of the unusual 3-D yatsuhashi sweets on display include the easy-to-recognise shapes of a chidori or plover, the symbol of Kyoto’s Pontocho district, and a doll dressed in a twelve-layered ceremonial kimono.
When our Japanese-language reporter visited the store, there were two special sweet sets on offer: the Kamogawa Odori, inspired by the annual spring dance of the same name, which showcases the geisha and maiko from the Pontocho district of Kyoto, and the Aoi Matsuri, or “Hollyhock Festival“, which is one of Kyoto’s three main annual festivals.
The Kamogawa Odori set has a gorgeous red-and pink colour scheme, with the kimono-clad figure on the left and the plover on the right both impeccably crafted by hand.
Each sweet is made from the same glutinous rice casing used in more traditional, flat yatsuhashi.
▼ It would be hard to find a cuter pair of sweets than these in all of Kyoto!
The only thing capable of competing with the good looks of the Kamogawa Odori set is the Aoi Matsuri pair.
This one features a blue-and-green colour combination, with hollyhock leaves and another elegant lady wrapped up in a layered kimono.
▼ These sweets also come filled with a sweet bean paste.
Both the kimono-wearing ladies here look elegantly scrumptious, even from behind.
It was hard for our reporter to bite into these beautifully constructed sweets, but when she did, she found they had the same lovely, springy texture of a freshly made yatsuhashi. Inside the two dolls was a smooth white bean paste, while the plover and the hollyhock roll contained a paste made from red beans. Both fillings were incredibly well-made, with a beautiful flavour and aroma to them.
If you’re looking for a cute yet traditional sweet to accompany your journey through the alleyways, shrines and temples in the ancient capital, this is definitely something for you to try. While the fresh nature of the sweet makes it impossible to take out of the country, it’s just one more reason for us to plan another trip to Kyoto!
Address: Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Shijo, Nishikiya, Saikaku
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-7:00 p.m.
Photos © SoraNews24