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Special Valentine's Sweets Blend Japanese Tradition and Chic

By infusing modern elements into traditional sweets, wagashi has taken the spotlight this Valentine's Day, reshaping its image from old-fashioned to trendy.



Valentine's day wagashi with chocolate elements. (Provided by Minamoto Kitchoan)

Department stores are in full swing for Valentine's Day. Until recently, Japanese people have typically favored Western-style confectionery when it comes to Valentine's Day gifts. However, this has been changing lately, with Japanese sweets, or "wagashi" in Japanese, now enjoying increasing popularity. 

Recent years have seen a boom in neo-wagashi, an evolution of traditional wagashi. Now, traditional confectionary shops are marketing products targeting younger generations and foreigners to prevent wagashi from slipping into the background. 

Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store in Chuo-ku, Tokyo, is Japan's oldest department store. In 2021, in addition to its annual Sweets Collection Valentine seasonal event, the department store began holding an expo dedicated to red bean paste (anko). Now in its third year, the exhibition will run until February 14. 

Even during the Valentine's Day season, demand for anko confectionary is increasing. Sales of anko-based sweets have increased by 93% compared to 2023. 

"Instagrammable" Valentine's wagashi blending Japanese and Western elements. (Provided by Tsuruya Yoshinobu)

Valentine's Strategy

Facing a decline in popularity, wagashi confectioners began developing neo-wagashi. Combining traditional Japanese sweets with chocolate and a more glamorous presentation, photos of these sweets have been trending across social media. By infusing traditional Japanese confectionery with Western elements, wagashi artisans have created sweets with a more colorful appearance and different textures.

Minamoto Kitchoan, a wagashi maker based in Tokyo's Chuo-ku, noticed how well wagashi and chocolate go together and developed chocolate wagashi. 

The company has produced an innovative line of neo-wagashi that blends Western ingredients with classic wagashi. Such sweets include chocolate-covered dried persimmon and chocolate-filled dorayaki. Instead of chocolate-coated oranges, Kitchoan created chocolate-coated yuzu, a citrus fruit with a distinctly Japanese flavor. 

By incorporating Western influences into wagashi, Kitchoan has made sweets that appeal to the tastes of younger generations. With 35 stores overseas, Kitchoan also aims to acquaint foreigners with wagashi. To this end, it is focusing on developing sweets that transcend the increasingly common combination of Western ingredients and Japanese design.  


Tsuruya Yoshinobu, another storied confectioner, is also trying its hand at Japanese-Western fusion. Based in Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, the 220-year-old wagashi shop is now selling limited-edition "Instagrammable" Valentine's Day sweets. 

One of their Valentine-themed sweets is the "Tokimeki" pink yokan (sweet bean jelly) decorated with two hearts. Others are yokan "tablets" that look like chocolate squares and monaka (bean-jam-filled wafers) that resemble colorful macaroons. Innovative in design and concept, this range of sweets still preserves Japanese confectionary traditions. 

Modern Japanese Style

According to wagashi and neo-wagashi expert Reika Yasuhara, "People are moving away from wagashi." She explains, "Many young people don't like the idea of wagashi. However, with the emergence of fashionable neo-wagashi, there has been a change in its perception. They have gone from being old-fashioned to cool." 

Furthermore, Japanese culture itself is attracting global attention. Japanese culture and modern Japanese chic, including tea ceremony and flower arrangement, are becoming increasingly popular at home and abroad. 

Yasuhara believes that the efforts of Japanese confectioners and the change in perception of Japanese culture are having a synergistic effect. This, she argues, has led to the reevaluation of wagashi. She also notes that as wagashi diversifies in Japan, interest will also expand overseas. 


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Sachiko Murata


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