Shaping Traditions by Hand_Kyo-Wagashi


In a classic tea ceremony, the softening influence of wagashi, or Japanese traditional sweets, accompanies every beautiful bowl of rich green tea. The gentle sweetness of traditional wagashi deliciously contrasts the bitterness of the tea, and their shapes and colors suggest the season, bringing tea guests into the joy of the present moment.

Kyo-wagashi are Kyoto-style wagashi, arguably the subtlest and most alluring of all wagashi. The head at the renowned Oimatsu school of confectionary in Kyoto, and internationally recognized master, Toru Ota, offers private classes in the basics of Kyo-wagashi, on the grounds of the elegant Yuuhisai Koudoukan.

The Yuuhisai Koudoukan, a lovingly protected 1806 wooden estate built on lands that were formerly part of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, is the perfect setting for Ota’s lesson. Tatami floors, moss gardens, and tea rooms provide a gorgeously fitting backdrop for this dive into a traditional hands-on experience.

Ota teaches by example, and has his students in thrall with the deceptively simple maneuvers of his hands. Taking a perfect ball of sweet bean paste, he swiftly coats it in a tinted rice-based dough. That’s complicated enough, but it is just the start. From there, employing little more than a simple wooden stick, he coaxes out myriad petals of a chrysanthemum, the large loose shape of an iris, or the fat round pillow of a camellia blossom.

Ota’s examples look easy, and like all true traditional artisans, he teaches by example, not by doing it all for you. Paying attention, and remembering your childhood modeling clay days, will help you produce amazing flowers that resemble Ota’s. What makes Ota stand out from many instructors, though, is his embracing attitude toward the off-beat, the creative, and the new. If your flowers look different, that’s just fine. This hands-on experience is a tactile pleasure, and completed sweets can either be consumed immediately, or staff will package them up to be carried back to the hotel.

For more information, please contact us.