A Culinary Guide to Taura, no. 4

The Ryūgetsudō wagashi-ya (Willow Moon Hall Confectioner) is a tiny little place in Funakoshi that often seduces me with the delicious aromas of steaming mochi and bean paste. I can’t say I eat traditional Japanese sweets very often (I’m not much of a Western-style sweets person, either), but I have sampled a good selection of this shop’s goods over the past two years. When one peeks past the inside noren into the back area, one may see (and smell) large stacks of square, wooden steamers billowing with sweet vapors. I don’t know Wagashiya-san‘s (Mr. Japanese Sweets Shop’s) name yet (photo below); he’s so painfully terse, in a shy, yet friendly way, that I can’t quite get conversation going. But he always gives me a big smile AFTER I buy something.

He does make one sweet that I wait for with baited breath: sakuramochi (mochi—sticky rice cake—dyed pink and stuffed with red bean paste, then wrapped with a salted cherry leaf). Sweet and salty together at once, it’s my favorite: I used to make a salt-sweet combo at the movies by pouring a box of Junior Mints over my popcorn. Wagashiya-san will start making these sweets around March, when the cherry trees start to bloom, and I plan on eating quite a few.

If you’ve ever tried Japanese sweets and decided you hated them, please make sure you try several different kinds, and eat them with some high-quality green tea (not that Lipton stuff you buy at the supermarket, fine green tea). Much like a chocolate chip cookie is enhanced by some milk, many, if not most, traditional Japanese sweets are meant to contrast with the bitter leaf taste of green tea.