The Difference Between Traditional Japanese and Western Sweets

In Japan, sweets are constantly being divided into two different sub-categories, wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) and yogashi (western sweets). This divide is really important because of the differences that exist between both of the different categories. Today we are going to show you exactly what makes Japanese sweets stand out.

The Importance of History

Before we can truly begin to talk about the real differences between Japanese and western sweets, you need to be aware of the reason why these differences exist. The borders of Japan were actually closed off to the rest of the world during the 17th century, and they were not reopened until the latter end of the 19th century.

This means that the trade routes that are established in Japan have not been established for as long as western trade routes have. This explains why sweets are categorized the way that they are in Japan because elements from the western world would have poured in as soon as the border was open.

Due to the trade routes that were present in the west, western sweets are known to have a lot of variety. Whereas, wagashi was originally created to be a small morsel of food for the imperial family and members of the nobility to enjoy while drinking matcha green tea. Since then, wagashi has evolved into something beautiful.

The Difference Between Wagashi and Yogashi

Generally speaking, one of the key differences between both of the different types of sweets can actually be seen in what they are made out of. Yogashi is generally based on an initial ingredient of wheat flour, while wagashi are generally based on an initial ingredient of rice. Wagashi also tend to use only plant ingredients, meaning that traditional Japanese sweets do not rely on products like animal oil, milk, and gelatine.

All of this also means that traditional wagashi are usually healthier than their western counterpart. The ingredients that they do consist of are all natural and native, including things like matcha and azuki. These ingredients are still incredibly popular today and can be found in everything from momiji manju to pound cakes.

The appearance of wagashi is also something that really makes it stand out. Given that they are supposed to be used to complement the tea that is given out during tea ceremonies, they have to look as delicate as possible. A lot of Japanese culture draws heavily on the aesthetic beauty of nature and the passing of the seasons, so wagashi are also usually made with these concepts in mind. For example, the HORI Hokkaido Fruit Jelly sweets are actually shaped like fruit.

Different Types of Wagashi

Numerous different types of wagashi can be found throughout Japan, but some of the most common wagashi include:

  • Doriyaki: A type of traditional sweet that is enjoyed by people of all ages in Japan. It usually consists of two small pancakes that have been filled with a delicious azuki bean paste.

  • Mochi: These are made from sticky rice and they can be served in one of two different ways, sweet or savory. The rice itself has to be pounded into a paste before other ingredients can be added to the mixture. It then has to be molded into the desired shape, one that is usually chosen to reflect the seasons. Sticky rice is also frequently used to make a number of different sweets, like rice cakes.

  • Dango: You can spy dango from a mile away. They look like small dumplings and they are generally served on skewers. They are much chewier than mochi and they are usually coated with a sweet soy sauce.

  • Monaka: Two crisp and airy wafers that have been made out of sticky rice have to be put together to make monaka. This is usually done by sandwiching them both together around a lump of red bean paste. They are usually molded into the shape of a flower, like a cherry blossom or a chrysanthemum. Wafers of all types are really popular in Japan.

  • Daifuku: A type of small cake that consists of a soft mochi wrapped around bean paste. These usually come in a variety of different colors and they are filled with either red bean paste or white bean paste. They may even include a piece of fruit, with some of the most popular daifuku containing strawberries.

All of these different types of wagashi are delicious, but they are very different in comparison to western sweets. They contain less sugar and next to no processed ingredients, but they are all created with care and modeled off of the world that exists around us. That is what really makes them special.