Tasting seasonal wagashi with the five senses
“If you continue for 10 years, you will be able to make skill your own”
Wagashi / Kashou Tateyama
Wagashi is a food culture born from the history and traditions of Japan. We interviewed Mr. Manabu Tateyama of “Kashou Tateyama” who runs a Japanese confectionery store in Kawashiri, Kumamoto City, which has flourished as a town of craftsmen since the old days.
Manabu Tateyama Born in 1951, he is the owner of "Kashou Tateyama". After graduating from high school and working in Tokyo, he took over the family business. He is a member of the "Kawaseri Rokkasho", a group of six Japanese confectionary stores in Kawashiri.
Express the seasons through the shapes and colors.
The origin of wagashi is said to go back to ancient times when people used nuts and fruits as snacks. With the influence of foreign imports and the tea ceremony, the prototype of today’s wagashi was created about 400 to 500 years ago.
―What is the appeal of wagashi?
The characteristic of wagashi is its simple flavoring and the way it makes the most of the ingredients. Both Japanese and Western confectioneries have their own merits, but they differ in fundamental ways. For example, Mont Blanc(chestnut cake) uses chestnuts as the base, sugar, butter, liquor, and fresh cream to make it comprehensively delicious. Kuri kinton (chestnut paste, one of Japanese confectionery) is made with only chestnuts and sugar so as not to destroy the taste of the ingredients.
―The beauty of the appearance is also attractive.
One of the confections called “Jounamagashi”（High quality and expensive fresh confectioneries）, “neri-kiri” is made by coloring a white bean paste based dough with food coloring. The colors and shapes express the four seasons of Japan. For example, cherry blossoms in spring and maple leaves in autumn. I have been making mandarin oranges for decades now, and they are the most popular. Foreign students and other people from overseas love them.
The name of the confectionery is called Kamei (meaning “name of the confectionery”), and we enjoy listening to the name of the confectionery with our ears. It is a comprehensive art of the five senses: seeing with the eyes, smelling with the nose, tasting with the tongue, hearing with the ears, and touching with the hands.
Starting from nothing in Tokyo
Mr. Tateyama went to Tokyo at the age of 18 and studied for about 10 years. He also worked on crafted confectionery, which is an ornamental confectionery with realistic representations of flowers and birds.
―Did you decide to take over your father’s business when you were a child?
My grandfather and my father were Japanese confectioners, and my father set up his own store. I was always doing judo and didn’t think about the future. Before I graduated from high school, I saw my father making sweets while singing a song, and I thought to myself, “It’s nice and relaxing, and if I can do this as a job, it might be good. But since I was going to do it, I wanted to study in an area famous for wagashi.
―How was your training in Tokyo?
I studied from nothing in Tokyo, and the third place I trained at was highly skilled and strict, so I took my training very seriously. Confectioners gain techniques learned by watching and practicing on their own to acquire skills. Even when I attended workshops, they didn’t teach me how to make the sweets, so I had to listen to them, think for myself, try to make them, and make mistakes.
―How did you get started in making crafted confectionery?
During my training in Tokyo, I was asked to enter a confectionery competition. But I am so clumsy. I stayed up all night to make apples, bananas, peaches, and persimmons. My seniors were surprised when they woke up and asked me, “Did you really make these? They said, “You have good skills,” and that’s when I decided to continue with crafted confectionery.
Confectionery that takes a lifetime to create
Mr. Tateyama returned to Kumamoto from Tokyo to take over the family business.
―How did you feel after returning to Kumamoto?
Since this store does not face the main street, I decided to make crafted confections to advertise the store.When I first made the Higo camellia, the principal of the junior high school came to shop. The teacher grew Higo camellias as a hobby, and when he showed me them, I realized that the real ones were totally different.
When my father’s friend asked me if I was going to stop making them, I replied, “I don’t have any talent, so I think I’ll stop. ” Then he said If you do it for 10 years and it still doesn’t work out, you can judge then. If you don’t just do it, you’ll never know what kind of talent you have.Since then, I have continued to make crafted confections with the importance of observation.
―Please tell us about the sweets that represent your store.
In the world of Japanese confectionery, there is a saying, “A lifetime is one product,” and it takes a lifetime to complete a piece of confectionery. This is because confectioners improve their sweets little by little over the years. My father made a confectionery called “Shoro” and I made “Hanaogura”. The Hanaogura is made of Dainagon azuki beans hardened with agar, and it takes eight days to complete.
Aiming for the good leads to growth
Mr. Tateyama is a member of “Kawaseri Rokkasho,” a group of six Japanese confectionary stores in Kawashiri, and is active in events. “Kawaseri” is the old name for Kawashiri. He also provides technical guidance to young confectioners and students.
―How did the Kawaseri Rokkasho start?
We used to be the Kawashiri branch of the confectionary union, and about 30 years ago, when the generations of the store began to change, we started talking about doing something together. There are good people here, it’s fun, and I’m glad to be here.
―Please tell us what you think about tradition.
It has been about 400 to 500 years since the original Japanese confectionery was created, and it has been made using only ingredients found in Japan. The basic ingredients, beans and sugar, are both plant-based. Today, however, we also use butter and fresh cream. In order to do something new, it is necessary to do so. It is not good to stick too much to tradition. However, I will continue to follow the traditional way of making wagashi, which is to use plant-based ingredients and simple flavoring.
―What do you think about the future of wagashi?
We all need to study together and keep thinking about how to make a new confectionary more delicious and beautiful. That’s how we can gradually improve our skills and make our sweets more attractive.
―Please tell us about your thoughts on the next generation.
My son was a Japanese confectioner for about 10 years, but now he is away from wagashi. Recently, my grandson is interested in making them. If he wants to do so, it requires study and effort.
The growth of craftsmen depends on them. If you want to make something better and more beautiful, you will definitely grow. But if they just imitated what their master made, that would be enough, their growth would stop there. I believe that wagashi must continue to evolve.
※The above information is current as of November 2021.
Flowers, birds, and fruits created by Mr. Tateyama with wagashi. Peeling off the skin of the mandarin orange made by wagashi, you can see the inside. I was amazed at the amazing skills of the confectioner.
■ Kashou Tateyama A Japanese-style confectionary store that has been operating for three generations in Kawashiri, Kumamoto City. Seasonal wagashi and other various wagashi are available. Mr. Tateyama's crafted confectioneries are displayed in the store. Location：4-1-43 Kawashiri, Minami-ku, Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture,Japan