Let us begin by telling you about the sweets in the shop, Kikujyuto and Kuzukiri, the epitome Kagizen. And together with nature’s blessings from Japan’s ancient past, the savoriness has gracefully been brought forth.
Kikujyuto is a “Higashi”, a dried candy or confectionery shaped in the form of a charming Chrysanthemum. ”Wasanbon-to”, the celebrated product of Awa (Tokushima) with its elegant sweetness, melts mildly in the mouth with a distinctively refreshing aftertaste. For over 150 years, the confectionary mold utilized since 1864, is still used to this day and its popularity stands firm. Though starch had been used in the early periods, at the beginning of the Showa-era, a transition was made to using “Wasanbon” and thereafter it was to spread and be known widely. At the time, there had been no other place that made its “Higashi” solely from “Wasanbon”, and it has been said that it was enjoyed particularly among the tea connoisseurs and aficionados.
The “Kashimei” or its naming derive from folk tradition of a Noh chant, “Kikujido” that tells a story of a young man that drank the dew collected on the leaf of a Chrysanthemum and acquired a life span of 800 year. The confectionary is wrapped beautifully with the illustration of the master painter, Yukihiko Yasuda.
On the other side, “Kuzukiri” is extravagance of the simplest form — the slippery texture which goes down smoothly, and its exquisite firmness the essence. Ingredients are merely Kudzu (vine), dark molasses, and water. The process is simply melting Kudzu with water, warming the vessel, and once passed through ice water it is sliced finely into thin portions. Very simple, yet possessing sweetness that is deep and far reaching. At the start of the Showa-era, it began as a catering services to the neighborhood “Ochaya” (tea houses) and Minamiza (performance theater), and by the mid 1950’s, its popularity grew by word of mouth and was available in coffee shops. At that time, the containers were specially made of “Radenzaiku” (lacquer-ware embellished with finely polished sea shells). It was to enhance the elegant simplicity of Kudzu and dark molasses.
In making Kagizen’s confectionary, the material used is its soul essence. Thus everything is carefully selected, and examining its subtle flavor from moment to moment becomes vital. Consideration is made on the condition of the raw material, the temperature, humidity, with delicate and subtle handling. This is the key to its unchanging taste.
Used in making “Kikujyuto”, wasanbon are special regional product from Donari-cho of Awashi-city and cannot be mass produced. Much of the manufacturing process is done by hand. The manufacturing process is largely divided into three parts. First, sugar canes are pressed to extract the juice. Next, the bitter tasting lye is removed, boiled down and cooled to expose the “shiroshita-to”. Finally, extracted from the “shiroshita-to” is the golden syrup in finishing the process. This laborious work requires about three weeks completing, but such is the manufacturing process which has continued through the generations from the Edo period.
The kudzu used in “Kuzuriki” has always been Morinoyoshino Kuzu Honpo from Ohuda-cho of Nara Yoshino. With “Kuzuriki”, water and kudzu has always been of particular importance since its first making. The wonderfully smooth sensation when swallowing and just the right firmness are made possible only with the exceptional quality of the kudzu.
Again, the manufacturing process is done by hand as was done in the past. Yoshino Sarashi is the process in which during the coldest period of winter, the kudzu roots are finely crushed, and then, rinsed and refined numerous times with underground water, finally to be dried naturally. Though it takes much time, effort and trouble in obtaining the Kudzu powder, it amounts to just only 10% of the volume weight of the roots. Other than its use for food, it is also used as an ingredient for “Kanpo”(herbal medicine) and its virtues are numerous.
Brown sugar (sugar cane) is obtained from Amami Oshima. Since the taste greatly changes according to the place where the material is obtained, that place has always been kept the same. Its selection was made because of its rich and clear-cut flavor that goes well with Kudzu.
The store is lined with old tools that have been handed down. And at the entrance, placed along the upper wall are the wooden boxes used to mold the confectionaries. Being hard and resilient to warping, the molds are cut out from Cherry or Oak, some of them from the Edo period. Matching the design and size of each confectionary, there are countless shapes of wooden boards, some thick and heavily-built while others are stylishly slender and narrow, making them appear to be decorative ornaments themselves. Some designs from old wooden molds have even been re-carved for use in the present.
For each wooden mold, there is an upper component “Uwagata” that is used to press down on the confectionery to form some thickness. However, the “Uwagata” of Kikujuto had considerably been worn down. It conveys to us the countless volume that had been made until present. By looking at the condition of the wooden mold, it imparts to us how things were at that time.
Many of the kitchen utensils are the same as the ones used since those times. One of them being the hammered out copper pot used to make “Kuzukiri”. It is a sheet of copper hammered out in a flat circular form, with handles attached. Even the style has not changed in which production starts only after the customer makes their order.
”Kyogashi” confectioneries are available coinciding with the yearly events and seasons. The “Jyo-namagashi” is available slightly earlier than its characterized season, while there are others that are only available during a particular season when such raw material can be obtained, such as chestnuts. As it is all dependent on the blessings of nature, the period of its availability may vary slightly according to the climatic seasonal attribute of that particular year.
In contrast, there are some that are only set out and arranged in the storefront, always on a set date. As an example, “Chimaki” is available only during the 3 days that comprise the Boys’ Festival event, or the 3 days of “Minazuki”(June 30th). And, among them are those available only one day of the year. Such are the ”Tsukimidango” or “Ankoromochi” for the hottest day of summer. If these dates happen to fall on the day of the stores regular holiday, none are made for that year.
In hoping to mirror the various seasons, to bring joy in celebrations and events or in acknowledging appreciation, our commitment has long continued over the years, and we will continue to do so without change.