April 14, 2009
by Maya Nogami
In Kyoto, there are many famous places to see cherry blossoms, or sakura, in spring. One of the most famous places is Arashiyama, so you can find some cafés where you can sample Sakura-mochi all year round.
Sakura-mochi is a kind of wagashi, or traditional Japanese sweet. Wagashi is sometimes created to depict an image of a season, such as maple leaves in autumn, so people feel delight in not only the taste but also in the appearance.
Sakura-mochi is made to depict sakura. Sakura means “cherry blossom” in English, and mochi is “rice cake” in English. However, in this case, mochi is a little different from the usual rice cake.
Sakura-mochi represents sakura, so the color of mochi is pink. Most Sakura-mochi contain an, a sweet bean paste, and it’s covered with the salty leaf of sakura. In some places, Sakura-mochi are sold year round, but especially you can find them easily in spring, which is the season for cherry blossoms, and we can buy the sweet not only in special wagashi stores but also in supermarkets. Some people eat both the leaf and the mochi to take pleasure in the flavor of sakura and the salty taste of the leaf and the sweetness of the an. However, some people do not eat the leaf. Therefore, they taste only the mochi and enjoy the flavor and taste of the sweet. Whether you eat both the leaf and the mochi or not, it is up to you.
In general, there are two types of Sakura-mochi in Japan.
One is called Domyoji-mochi, and it is made from Domyoji-ko, a kind of rice cake powder. We can purchase this type of Sakura-mochi in most areas in Japan, but the origin is in the Kansai area. The first person who created the powder is said to be Michizane Sugawara’s aunt. Michizane Sugawara is a famous historical person, a scholar of the Heian Era, and nowadays he is worshiped as a deity of scholarship at Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto. Michizane’s aunt was a nun at Domyoji Temple in Osaka, and she offered rice to pray for the safety of Michizane. After she dedicated the rice, people ate it. Then the story arose that the rice worked in curing illnesses, and the rice became famous. It is the origin of Domyoji powder.
The other type of sakura-mochi is called Chomeiji-mochi (Chomeiji Temple is in Tokyo). It is not similar to Sakura-mochi in Kansai because the an is covered with something similar to a crepe. The origin of it is from Tokyo, so in the Kanto area we can buy both types of Sakura-mochi, Domyoji-mochi and Chomeiji-mochi. However, in Kansai we can only occasionally find Chomeiji-mochi.
Anyway, in Kyoto, there are many wagashi stores, but most of them sell Sakura-mochi only in spring because it is a symbol of sakura. However, some shops sell it in all seasons, and one of them is Tsuruya-Kotobuki in Arashiyama. The store is famous because it started to sell Sakura-mochi first in Arashiyama.
Moreover, if you are interested in unique sweets using Sakura-mochi, you can find Sakura-mochi gelato at Shinpachi-jaya near Togetsukyo (Togetsu Bridge) in Arashiyama. In that gelato, you can find bits of sakura’s salty leaves and Domyoji powder. As you eat it, you experience the flavor of Sakura-mochi. All the gelatos are made in the kitchen of the shop. In addition, there are some interesting gelato flavors such as Saga Tofu (bean curd), black sesame, and sweet potato in autumn.
If you are interested in Sakura-mochi, why don’t you taste these sweets in Kyoto?