Wagashi: Peruse a Digitized, Centuries-Old Catalogue of Traditional Japanese Candies

If you’ve been to Japan, or even to any of the Japan­ese neigh­bor­hoods in cities around the world, you’ve seen wagashi (和菓子). You’ve prob­a­bly, at least for a moment, mar­veled at their appear­ance as well: though essen­tial­ly noth­ing more than sweet treats, they’re made with such strik­ing vari­ety and refine­ment that you might hes­i­tate to bite into them.

First cre­at­ed in the 16th cen­tu­ry, when trade with Chi­na made sug­ar into a sta­ple in Japan, wagashi have devel­oped into one of the coun­try’s sig­na­ture del­i­ca­cies, appre­ci­at­ed for their taste but beloved for their form. You can browse and down­load a three-vol­ume cat­a­log of wagashi designs, itself cen­turies old, at the web site of Japan’s Nation­al Diet Library: vol­ume one, vol­ume two, vol­ume three.

The site also has a spe­cial sec­tion about wagashi, though in Japan­ese only. The cat­a­log itself, of course, also con­tains text in no oth­er lan­guage, but wagashi isn’t about words.

Even with­out know­ing Japan­ese, you can flip through each vol­ume’s pages (vol­ume one — vol­ume two - vol­ume three) and rec­og­nize the look of dozens of sweets you’ve seen or maybe even sam­pled in real life, where their col­ors may well look even more vivid than on the page.

Like most realms of tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese cul­ture, wagashi demands painstak­ing crafts­man­ship. Often brought out at fes­ti­vals and giv­en as gifts, it also cel­e­brates dif­fer­ent aspects of Japan: its sea­sons, its land­scapes, chap­ters of its his­to­ry, and even its works of lit­er­a­ture. Some wagashi designs do this abstract­ly, while oth­ers lean toward the rep­re­sen­ta­tive, repli­cat­ing real sights and sym­bols in a form both rec­og­niz­able and edi­ble.

Many wagashi, as Boing Boing’s Andrea James writes, “still look the same as they did hun­dreds of years ago when the art form flour­ished in the Edo peri­od” of the 17th and 18th cen­tu­ry. Insta­gram, as she points out, has proven a nat­ur­al online home for not just the kind of tra­di­tion­al wagashi seen in these cat­a­logs but designs that pay trib­ute to fig­ures of more recent vin­tage, such as Rilakku­ma and the aliens from Toy Sto­ry.

And though Hal­loween may not be an orig­i­nal­ly Japan­ese hol­i­day, it has­n’t stopped mod­ern wagashi-mak­ers from bring­ing out the ghosts, skulls, and jack-o-lanterns in force.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000+ His­toric Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Dig­i­tized & Put Online by the Smith­son­ian: From the Edo & Meji Eras (1600–1912)

Down­load Clas­sic Japan­ese Wave and Rip­ple Designs: A Go-to Guide for Japan­ese Artists from 1903

How Japan­ese Things Are Made in 309 Videos: Bam­boo Tea Whisks, Hina Dolls, Steel Balls & More

20 Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos of Japan­ese Arti­sans Cre­at­ing Tra­di­tion­al Hand­i­crafts

Enter a Dig­i­tal Archive of 213,000+ Beau­ti­ful Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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