January 24, 2014
by Chihiro Kitagawa and Maya Inoue
Ajari-mochi (阿闍梨餅) is a unique Kyoto wagashi (traditional Japanese confection) in which the sweet flavor of roasted tsubuan paste made form Tanba dainagon azuki beans, is harmonized with the taste of a dough wrapping that is made from a mixture of glutinous rice, powdered sugar and eggs. After kneading the dough, it is cut into flat round pieces and filled with sweet bean paste. The dumplings are baked, packaged and sold in one of the most famous confectionary shop in Kyoto — Mangetsu. Its name means “Full Moon.”
Ajari-mochi has a fascinating history. Mangetsu has been in business ever since 1856. Although the first family who owned it was from neighboring Shiga Prefecture, they opened their shop near Demachi-cho in Kyoto. And then to avoid the conflict at the end of the Edo period, in which their was a struggle for political power, the family moved the shop and reopened near Demachi-yanagi in the first year of the Meiji era in 1868. Its present location was established during the Second World War, and this shop continues to display its original noren, or a traditional protective shop curtain. Ajari-mochi was created by the head of the 2nd generation of the family in the Taisho era— it soon became famous and representative product of Kyoto.
The mochi of the name Ajari-mochi means ‘pounded rice paste’, but the term Ajari is much more interesting. Ajari means ‘Great teacher’ in the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Dai-Ajari is the term conferred on any monk who completes the 100 circumnambulations of Mt. Hiei in northeastern Kyoto over a period of seven years. The very few monks who have completed this arduous training, called sennichi kaihogyo, are considered purified and virtuous, and thus are sanctioned to bless people who come to them for advice. Mangetsu, wishing to produce a pure product, adheres to a policy of “making only one kind of confection with only one kind of bean paste.”
All the craftspeople at Mangetsu pour all of their knowledge and skill into making this single product. Since only one kind of bean paste, or an, is used, much care and thought are given to its flavoring and the process of making it. At times, Mangetsu had to struggle to produce Ajari-mochi because there weren’t enough skilled artisans available. Also since its business model is based on the principle of prioritizing the craft, manufacturing expenses were often considerable, especially in the early years of the shop.
But by continuous effort, and all the while maintaining high standards and high quality, efficiency improved and many more people came to know about Ajari-mochi. Kyotoites as well as tourists came to the chop to sample this confection that was growing in popularity. Mangetsu believes that by ensuring quality and by being a long-established store in Kyoto, people will be convinced in the value of its product.
Because of its long history international visitors can experience real traditional Japanese culture here. Even if you don’t have a taste for Japanese sweets, Ajari-mochi is worth trying at least once.
OPEN 9:00 A.M.~ 6:00 P.M.