April 13, 2010
by Masafumi Kubo; Fumino Nakajima
Suzumushi-dera, which means “Cricket Temple,” was built in 1723 by Hotan, a saint and scholar who hoped to revive the Kegon doctrine of Buddhism. This temple is environed in mountains that are rich in natural beauty which you can enjoy as the scenery changes with the seasons. Climbing the forested stone stairs, you will meet Kofuku-Jizo. Legend says that this stone figure wears straw sandals because he walks for everyone to make everyone’s dreams come true. Many people visit the temple to meet Kofuku-jizo. He has a very sweet spirit.
The temple staff in Suzumushi-dera cherish their temple. They tell visitors about how they can live vividly every day. Then they treat us to green tea and confectionary.
You’ll hear the chirps of crickets when you enter the temple during summer and autumn. But the sound of suzumushi (bell-crickets) chirping can be heard inside this temple whenever you come here. Please listen carefully to this fantastic sound. It will make you comfortable. Although there are no English speakers at this temple, you can enjoy it anyway, and the neighborhood around Suzumushi-dera is full of excellent sweets shops. We will introduce you to some of them.
Sanmai-an is traditional Japanese sweets shop which is located in front of Suzumushi-dera. Look for the red umbrella, red table and noren (shop curtain) which reads “Sanmai-an.” It is unforgettable. Although Sanmai-an is basically a confectionery shop, there are a lot of other menu items, for example soba noodles, so you can eat lunch here if you like.
The staff recommend the warabimochi and the custard pudding flavored with powdered green tea. The raw materials for all of the sweets are chosen well and made by the shop staff, including mochi and anko(a sweet red azuki bean paste ). The warabimochi is cut to be eaten easily. It isn’t too hard or too soft, so you want to eat one after another. When you eat it, the taste and aroma are mild. The custard pudding flavored with powdered green tea is accompanied with anko and cream. This pudding seems to crate a very Japanese atmosphere. In the storefront, clerks greet everyone cheerfully with charming smiles. When you go to Suzumushi-dera, how about tasting a Kyoto sweet?
There is also Shoraku, another store of Japanese-style Sasaya Harunobuconfectionery,with its tasteful atmosphere near Matsuo Station. It was founded 42 years ago.Shoraku’s products are loved by many people.
Yomogi (mugwort) rice cake is a featured item here, under the trade name “Okusaga”. This is rice cake mixed with richly flavored yomogi and then wrapped with small beans inside. Okusaga, which was created by the late proprietor of this shop,expresses elegance.
The second shop owner is as careful as he can be not to change the process and raw materials. Shoraku’s supplier looks for domestic raw materials of good quality. Raw materials, temperature and humidity all change with the seasons.
So the owner changes the quantity of water and so on throughout the year. It’s a workman’s skill! When you eat an Okusaga, it is smooth and the yomogi matches well with the rich bean paste. We can enjoy an exquisite taste.
And “Kyo Ohagi” (a rice cake covered with bean jam) is also very popular with many people. It includes 12 kinds of ohagi (sweet rice balls) of various colors with different tastes.
And all kinds of ohagi are wrapped with yomogi and chestnuts. It is ohagi’s distinction to be beautiful and we can enjoy various tastes. For example, the taste of sesame, leaf of cherry blossom or pumpkin. Ohagi makes the most of each flavor ingredient. Would you like enjoy this superb taste?
About ten minutes walk from Kamikatsura Station is Sasaya Harunobu, a third Japanese-style confectionery store. Its products are all homemade. A featured menu item of this store is “Moon of Katsura.” It was made of an image of the reflection of the moon in the Katsura River, a very popular river in Kyoto. The Moon of Katsura mixes a squeeze of ginger into its bean paste, and this delicate fragrance matches the anko well. We are hooked by the taste. The white surface is sugar. It also can enjoyed with your eyes!Ayagasa,” another featured sweet, was created as an image of the Gion Festival, which is famous for both Japanese people and foreigners alike, and loved by many people. Ayagasa has a soft texture and the nice acidity of blueberry. We can enjoy its plain taste. When we eat this confection, it is certain that we can get a wonderful feeling. Please taste it once by all means.
This shop’s yomogi rice cake is also very popular with many people. It is sold for a limited time each year from January to May. It is said that yomogi extends a person’s life. The storekeeper at Sasaya Harunobu goes to the mountains to pick yomogi himself in the spring of every year, so it is fresh, and we get a rich flavor. The azuki bean paste is also delicious. And the rice cakes are steamed a long time; therefore, we can taste a moderate texture.
We hope that you will explore the charming neighborhood around Suzumushi-dera and stop into the wonderful shops we’ve introduced!