Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya’s Year of the Ox Namagashi

Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya’s Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝

Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya's Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝
There is a blend of sophistication, beauty, simplicity and cuteness in namagashi, especially Kyoto namagashi, that is just unlike anything else in the foodie universe. In food and non-food related design, the traditional Japanese sense is something from another, bygone world, but still seems so essential even in our time.

Year of the Ox Namagashi
Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya's Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝

Eto: Year of the Ox Motif in Food
I came across this New Year’s delightful and whimsical namagashi at Toraya the other day. 2009 is the Year of the Ox in the Chinese Zodiac system, or Eto 干支 in Japanese. Toraya is a very old and famous wagashi shinise in Kyoto that is probably best known for it’s sweet yokan ‘jelly’ made from azuki beans. Toraya also has a store in Paris.

Year of the Ox Plate
Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya's Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝
If you are a regular KyotoFoodie visitor, you may recall seeing these plates before. Each one in the set has one of the 12 Eto animals on it.

Year of the Ox Namagashi
Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya's Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝

Cinnamon Cow Spot
Sweetened bean paste is sculpted into this ox-like form that though extremely simple and cute, does not come off as childish or cheap. Red and white are colors associated with celebration in Japan.

The brown ‘spot’ on the ox head is a simple brushing of cinnamon. This is really great. Cinnamon came to Japan centuries ago and is still an exotic taste to many people, it used in the Kyoto’s Yatsuhashi wagashi souvenirs for sale where ever there are tourists in the city.

Year of the Ox Namagashi
Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya's Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝

Year of the Ox Namagashi
Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya's Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝

How Did it Taste?

I don’t recall ever having namagashi flavored with cinnamon before and I really enjoyed this. It had the conventional sweet bean namagashi taste, but made more complex with the addition of cinnamon. This, combined with the playful visual element made this namagashi a homerun for me.

Difference Between Kyoto and Tokyo (Edo) Wagashi
Kyoto: How much can be taken away and still say, ox (or whatever the theme is)?
Tokyo: How can we emphasize the ox theme?

Visually, Kyoto wagashi is different from that of Tokyo. Kyoto’s is simple, refined and subtle. Tokyo’s is more garish and pronounced. I think of it as the difference between art and communication; communication as in PR and visual design.

Year of the Ox Namagashi
Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya's Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝

Nodokana Ashita and Eternal Kyoto BS in the Year of the Ox
Toraya’s name for this namagashi is Nodokana Ashita のどかな朝, poetically meaning ‘peaceful and mild morning/tomorrow’. Toraya’s explanation of this namagashi says that “it suggests cows are eating grass in a pasture peacefully in soft, spring sunshine”. This is typical Kyoto shinise BS. There is nothing about this namagashi that suggests eating grass, a farm, spring or sunshine. Because Kyoto is Kyoto and shinise are shinise, they can often get away with just making up meaning that just isn’t there. Many people will literally eat it up. This is nothing more than sales talk, shinise style. The person who created this doesn’t believe these words. Not all shinise do this, but don’t be taken in by it.

The Japan Dento Spell
Because something is old and rare in the world today, many people are willing to believe something about it that just isn’t true. I remember seeing an article on Kyoto Journal a few years back. Someone photographed a concrete covered mountainside in Japan that had been completely raped by the construction of a new highway. The patterns created by the different planes of concrete stuck me as extremely ugly and completely un-designed. It was creation of a gear head with a calculator. However, the author of the article, under the spell of traditional Japanese aesthetics said that it was a typical example of how Japanese designed everything to be beautiful. Take a walk around Tokyo, Osaka, or even a lot of Kyoto, look at the modern city and tell yourself that Japanese design everything to be beautiful.

Don’t be cast under this spell, there is plenty in Kyoto and Japan that is authentic to be be inspired by.

It is too bad that Toraya makes up this kind of exaggerated sales talk because this wagashi, on it’s own, without any BS is, in fact, completely remarkable. Wouldn’t you agree?

Year of the Ox Namagashi – Cross Section
Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya's Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝
I cleanly cut this in half to illustrate how the namagashi is constructed. Japanese wouldn’t cut it apart like this.

Year of the Ox Namagashi – Package
Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya's Year of the Ox Namagashi 京都とらや のどかな朝
This is what it looks like when you get it home and open the box.

link: Eto 干支 (Chinese Zodiac) Wikipedia article

link: Yokan 羊羹 Wikipedia article

link: Toraya English Website

3 Responses to “Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya’s Year of the Ox Namagashi”

  1. kat says:

    cute plates and I like the interpretation of the wagashi to look like a cow.

  2. ila says:

    meccha kawaii~~!! it’s amazing how japanese people take food so seriously, and eat up all that BS. i translate and localize such BS for a living, and sometimes it’s a very hard conveying the message to the US folks.

  3. Ki sara says:

    This is amazing! Thank you!

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