Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hyogo Confectionery Event

, or "Lonely Tranquility"
Kobe Fugetsudo

On September 15th, the Ellis Pavilion at the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field played host to a very unusual meeting: "A Special Presentation of Wagashi/Senbei Japanese Confectionery and Japanese Culture".

One of the things that I get from Japanese confectionery surprisingly often is a sense of being in the right place at the right time; this is a prime example. I happen to live in a state, Washington, that has partnered with the Japanese prefecture of Hyogo as "Sister States" since 1963. Seattle is "Sister City" to Kobe, Hyogo's largest city and an active port. Kobe is renowned in Japan for producing Japanese sweets with a European twist, a reflection of its earlier role as a designated center for international trade.

For several years, a trade group known as the Hyogo Confectionery Association has been working to promote Hyogo-made wagashi to new audiences. Their foray into Seattle was timed to coincide with a visit from Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan's Ambassador to the U.S.

So how did I find out about their "Special Presentation", much less manage to get on the guest list? I happen to be having a show of wagashi photos of here in Seattle, and, more or less on a whim, I thought to send an announcement to the Japanese consulate, not really expecting to hear anything. The consulate responded with an invitation to the event. Like I said: right place, right time. And then they gave me a gift bag along with my nametag, and I was over the moon.

The long, dim space was fitted with a row of tables covered in posters, brochures, souvenirs, and displays of sweets and rice crackers (below: white peach jellies in a presentation tray, and a beetle sculpted from sugar paste). Representatives of various Hyogo confectioners hovered behind the tables, answering questions and giving out samples.

The featured sweet, called "Lonely Tranquility" (top), was offered by confectioner Kobe Fugestu-do. One of Fugestsu-do's leading wagashi designers is also an expert on the thousand-year-old Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji; she spent several years creating a extensive collection of wagashi such as Yūgiri that reflect passages from Genji in both mood and detail:

"In the remote mountain retreat at Ono, the Princess Ichijō-no-miyasu-dokoro quietly passes away. Her daughter, the Princess Ochiba-no-miya, is overcome with grief and loneliness at being left behind all alone in this world.

"Russet and white nerikiri-kinton is used here to express the distraught princess's loneliness. Tsubu-an is enclosed within. The single autumn leaf symbolizes the Princess Ochiba-no-miya, whose name literally means 'the Princess of the Fallen Leaf.'"

Each Yūgiri sweet was sculpted to order by confectioners from Kobe Fugetsu-do (below). They make the rough outer layer by pushing paste through a woven bamboo screen; the scraps are then pressed to the bean paste core with firm but gentle pressure.

The formal part of the presentation included remarks from Association officials ("Snacks and sweets, when shared, bring people together."), a slide show on wagashi, and a quick but rousing greeting from Ambassador Fujisaki, who lived in Seattle as a teenager and clearly still has a lot of affection for the place. There were also demonstrations of tea ceremony (below) Nihon Buyo dance, koto, and marimba.


Ancient Mysteries said...

Japanese confectionery is a sense of being in the right place at the right time; this is a prime example to show this peoples are so much punctual in life.I like to read Japanese culture to get more knowledge.Keep updated post!

Rais Nur Arief said...

I'm still hoping that I could visit Japan someday