Wagashi: Traditional Japanese Sweets

The Japanese word for sweets is kashi (菓子), which initially referred to fruit and nuts. By the end of the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573), sugar became a common household ingredient with the increase in the sugar trade between Japan and China. The introduction of dim sum, tea, and China’s confectionery became the roots of traditional Japanese confections, wagashi.

Wagashi (和菓子) are usually served with green tea and are made in a diverse variety of shapes, ingredients, and preparation techniques. Some types of wagashi are seasonal and available only in some regions, while others are popular all around the country. Sweet bean paste is one of the main ingredients in most of the wagashi.

Boiled azuki beans are mashed until smooth then sugar is mixed in to make it sweet. Smooth anko bean paste is called koshian while chunky anko is called tsubuan. Other common ingredients for wagashi are rice flour, Japanese agar (kanten), rice cakes (mochi), chestnuts, and sesame paste.

Wagashi, traditional Japanese confections. | kana hata

Wagashi is available in many places where green tea is served in Japan such as in restaurants, cafes, gardens and temples. The delectable sweet treats are also readily available in specialty sweets shops, convenience stores, food stalls, and supermarkets.

Check out some of the more popular wagashi:

Daifuku (大福) – made of pounded sweet rice or mochi, wrapped around a smooth sweet bean paste or some other type of filling.

Daifuku, Japanese sweet treats. | Marc Buehler

They are then dusted lightly with potato starch to keep them from sticking together. Variations of daifuku include beans (mame), ice cream and strawberry (ichigo).

Manju (饅頭) – small buns that are baked or steamed and filled with bean paste or some other type of filling. They are typically round with a smooth exterior.


Taiyaki (たい焼き) – fish-shaped batter filled with sweet bean paste. Other alternative fillings include custard cream, cheese, or chocolate.

Imagawa-yaki (今川焼き) – made from batter filled with sweet azuki bean paste and cooked in a waffle iron. Variations of fillings are also being used including savory fillings.

Taiyaki. | Alexa Clark

Mochi (餠, もち) –  Japanese rice cakes made of mochigome, a short-grain japonica glutinous rice and cornstarch, water, and sugar.