Japanese Desserts

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Japanese desserts can be broken down into a number of categories. Most prominent is that of Wagashi or confectionaries that have been greatly influenced by both Chinese and Western influence, creating a seemingly endless number of dishes.



Wagashi can be traced back to the Yayoi Era between 300 BCE and 300 CE when they were made of no more than berries, fruits, and nuts. When grain processing was introduced y China with the Buddhist culture that arrived during the Nara Era around 710 CE, the first Mochi and Dango rice cakes were made. However, they were largely made for religious ceremonies and purposes and were not available to regular people.

During the Muromachi Era of 1336-1573 CE, a great deal of changes were made to what Japanese desserts included due to the heightened level of foreign trade. Portugese and Spanish trading brought in new recipes and when sugar was introduced to enhance sweetness, new ingredients were used.

By the time the Edo period arrived, the Wagashi trade had become a booming, highly competitive industry in Kyoto and Edo. It was available to nearly everyone and because of the free availability of ingredients in the prolonged time of peace, it was viable to be practiced and enhanced by monks and commoners alike. During the Meiji Era, the western cakes and desserts of America and Europe made a great impact though most recipes remained traditionally Japanese.


There are a number of ingredients used in Japanese desserts that don’t appear in other cultures including Azuki beans, kidney beans, soy beans, mochi rice, rice flour, potatoes, sesame seeds, Kanten, and vegetable proteins. These make for a much healthier form of dessert than the cream and sugar filled confections of the west.

Types of Japanese Desserts

There are a number of different types of Wagashi and Japanese Desserts. Namagashi are cakes with glutinous rice paste and soybean jam fillings. Mochi, Daifuku, and Manju are very popular among these. Other kinds of desserts include Yokan – a crystallized fruit, Dango – dumplings made of rice flour, Higashi cookies, rice cookie, Okoshi – toasted rice grain cakes, and satozuke – crystallized fruits and vegetables.

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