The Story Behind Ajari-mochi

January 24, 2014

by Chihiro Kitagawa and Maya Inoue

Ajari Mochi

Ajari Mochi

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.
TEL 075-791-4121

Sweet mochi

Sweet Mochi

Photo of Store


Dango Shops Near Temples & Shrines

by Miho Hattori

Have you ever eaten dango? Dango is a Japanese traditional dessert which consists of sticky-sweet dumplings made from rice cake powder (mochiko). The dumplings are usually served on wooden skewers holding between three and five dango apiece. Dango have been eaten for a long time and there are many different varieties. I will introduce you to dango shops which are near temples and shrines of the northern, southern, eastern and western areas of Kyoto. Why don’t you try dango after looking around temples and shrines?

North: Kamo Mitarashi Chaya

There are many famous temples and shrines in the northern area, for example the Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrines. The sweets shop called Kamo Mitarashi Chaya, which is located near Shimogamo Shrine, has been open since 1922. This shop is very famous for being the birthplace of mitarashi dango, so many people come here from all over the country. The shop’s dango are strangely shaped. That is, one of the five pieces is a little separate, symbolizing the head, because according to legend, mitarashi dango express the shape of the human body.

The shop’s owner is a very friendly woman. She is very particular about the water and rice powder she uses, as well as the sauce, which is mildly sweetened with brown sugar. When you come to Kyoto, she says, please try her mitarashi dango. “Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, we can serve you mitarashi dango using soy sauce.” You can buy and eat a one-person serving of 3 skewers of dango for 400 yen, and you can also get take-out from 525 yen for 5 skewers of dango.

Access: About 5 minutes walk from Shimogamo Jinja-mae bus stop (Kyoto municipal bus number 205, on the route that goes to Kitaoji Bus Terminal via Shijo-Kawaramachi〉.
Address: 53 Matsunoki-cho, Shimogamo, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto.
Telephone: 075-791-1652
Open: Thursday through Tuesday from 9:30 to 20:00 〈Last order 19:30〉
Closed: Wednesdays
Capacity: 40 seats for individuals, 30 seats for group(s)

South: Momoyama Mochi

Kyoto’s southern temples and shrines are great spots to go sightseeing in an uncrowded environment. Momoyama Mochi, which is located in front of Gokougu Shrine, has been open since about 100 years ago. An old couple in their eighties runs this shop and a third owner makes the dango. This shop’s specialty is mitarashi dango which is completely handmade and has an original sweet sauce. The owner grills dango over charcoal at the shop front, so you will smell a good aroma as you approach along the street. One of the five dumplings is a little separate just like Kamo Mitarashi Chaya’s.

This shop isn’t so big but the atmosphere is cozy and traditional in many ways and it is popular with the locals. Most people drop in here on their way back from Gokougu shine. The owners laughed and asked you to “Please visit our shop and try our mitarashi. But we can’t understand English, so please take an interpreter.” Don’t worry, you can manage on your own with a few gestures! You can buy and eat skewers of dango for 80 yen each; you can also get take-out.

Access: About 5 minutes walk from Momoyamagoryomae Station (Kintetsu train line)
Address: 191 Gokougumon-mae-cho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto
Telephone:             075-601-3395
Open: Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 to 17:00
Closed: Mondays and Tuesdays
Capacity: about 4 people

West: Daimonjiya

Daimonjiya is located inside of Seiryo-ji Temple. The shop is famous for aburimochi with a sweet sauce made from white miso. If you haven’t had white miso, you should try this treat. Also very popular at Daimonjiya is warabimochi flavored with green tea (these unskewered dumplings are not made from rice flour but from bracken starch).
The atmosphere of this shop is very calm. And you can enjoy a Japanese-style tatami room or eat aburimochi on seating outside of the shop. In spring, you can also enjoy cherry blossoms while having aburimochi. You can buy and eat 12 aburimochi for 630 yen for one person, and you can also get take-out from 1260 yen for 2 persons. Seiryo-ji (which is a Zen Buddhist temple) is near Arashiyama, so why don’t you go to there after eating?



Access: About 5 minutes walk from Sagashakadou-mae bus stop (Kyoto municipal bus number 28, on the route to Daikaku-ji Temple)
Address: 46 Fujinoki-cho, Sagashakadou, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Open: From 10:00 to 16:00
Closed: Irregular
Capacity: 7 tables, and counters

East: Umezono

Umezono opened in Kyoto’s Kawaramachi area in 1927, and afterwards the Kiyomizu branch opened near the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The Kawaramachi shop is small, so it is a little hard to find. The shop’s specialty is mitarashi dango which isn’t round but a little square-shaped. The owner said that the reason why this shape is useful is to dip dango into sauce. Also shaved ice is popular in summer, and awazenzai in winter, too. If you can’t read Japanese, you don’t need to worry about it because there is an English menu. And foreigners usually like a “mitarashi set,” for example, mitarashi with warabimochi or shaved ice with green tea.

The owner is a young elegant woman. She said, ”Please taste some everyday Japanese desserts in Umezono.” You can buy and eat a one-person serving of 5 skewers of dango for 410 yen, and also get take-out from 750 yen for 10 skewers of dango.

Access: About 5 minutes walk from Sanjo station (Keihan train line)
Address: 4-234 Yamazaki-cho, Sanjo-kudaru, Kawaramachi, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Telephone: 075-221-5017
Open: 365 days a year, from 10:30 to 19:30
Capacity: 30 people

Branch Shop Near Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Access: About 7 minutes walk from Kiyomizu-michi bus stop (Kyoto municipal bus number 206, on the route that goes to Kitaoji Bus Terminal via Higashiyama Street)
Address: 1-339 Sanneisaka, Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Telephone: 075-531-8538
Open: 365 days a year, from 10:30 to 17:30
Capacity: 24 tables and 16 seats in Japanese-style room

When you visit Kyoto’s temples and shrines, how about trying some dango? Probably, dango will make you happy, so your trip will become more wonderful!