Wagashi: Ryuen Rakuseki and Maccha Rakuseki

Wagashi Series: Ryuen Rakuseki and Maccha Rakuseki (柳苑: 楽石・抹茶楽石)

Wagashi: Ryuen Rakuseki and Maccha Rakuseki

Ryuen specializes in a simple and elegant wagashi that combines a center of candied kuri (chestnut) embedded in koshian (sweet azuki bean paste) with a coating of sugar and kuzu (arrow root starch), some with the addition of sugary green tea powder (maccha).

Ryuen‘s wagashi is decidedly classical in look and feel, expressing the aesthetic of wabi-sabi and is popular with many of the Kyoto temples that are closely associated with the tea ceremony.

Ryuen is a shinise (an old and long-loved store) in Kyoto that is just down the street from the Imperial Palace (Gosho) and creates a series of wagashi that one could easily imagine as a purveyor to the imperial court for a millennium. (Actually, Ryuen’s history only spans some 60 odd years.)

Ryuen’s wagashi is considered by many to be to well express the ancient Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, a beautiful and natural expression of imperfection. Wabi-sabi is of course deeply associated with the tea ceremony, as is wagashi. Ryuen’s wagashi is used by such temples as Ryoan-ji and Myoshin-ji.

Ryuen’s Meibutsu: Rakuseki
All of Ryuen’s wagashi are pressed into shape in wooden forms. This one of the classic wagashi. The basic shape and ingredients remain the same but various design motifs are available. Many are related to the seasons, flower blossoms and so on. Others are symbols adopted from ancient Chinese culture and also Kyoto’s architectural heritage.

The confections, especially the white one, with the azuki brown of interior showing through in a most irregular way, have a pronounced rough-hewn quality. This is wabi-sabi — in food. Looking at these confections in the showcase, one immediately realizes that no two are alike.

Raku (楽) Seki (石), literally means ‘happy stone’. The chinese character, raku ‘楽’ (‘樂’ is the classical way to write the character and the form that appears on rakuseki) can be seen on the top of the confection. And seki (stone) comes from the shape of the confection.

There are two varieties, sugar and maccha.

Meibutsu: Rakuseki
Wagashi: Ryuen Rakuseki and Maccha Rakuseki

Meibutsu: Rakuseki
Wagashi: Ryuen Rakuseki and Maccha Rakuseki
Here the interior is exposed. The candied chestnut is the yellowish center. Notice the thickness and granular quality of the green maccha rakuseki as compared to the white.

Ryuen Storefront
Wagashi: Ryuen Rakuseki and Maccha Rakuseki
The white noren, or shop curtain has the shop name whiten in brush and ink. The art of the noren is another subject that an entire blog could easily be devoted to. Originality and beauty, right down to the quality and beauty of the fabric is fascinating.

Notice the flower arrangement (ikebana) in the window on the right.
Wagashi: Ryuen Rakuseki and Maccha Rakuseki
Ikebana flower arrangements are ubiquitous to the ‘nice’ shops and restaurants of Kyoto. The wooden plaque on the right states the name of the ‘school’ of ikebana and the master’s name.

These flower arrangements change every few days and invariably express the season. Here are plum blossoms and the green leaves are nanohana (rape blossoms), a popular, attractive and tasty late winter and early spring green in Kyoto.

The Neighborhood: Sighting Spot
Ryuen Shimo Goryo Shrine
This is Shimo Goryo Shrine, right across the street from Ryuen. It is quite a delightful shrine and is no doubt the perfect place to sit down and enjoy some Ryuen rakuseki!

The Neighborhood: Shimo Goryo Shrine
Ryuen Shimo Goryo Shrine
Notice the pink plum tree.

The Neighborhood: Shimo Goryo Shrine
Ryuen Shimo Goryo Shrine
A plaque explaining the history of the shine. These are everywhere in this historic city, written in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean.

The Neighborhood: Shimo Goryo Shrine
Ryuen Shimo Goryo Shrine
Plum blossoms.

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English menu: none
English website: none | Japanese language website (nice photos)
Service/Staff: so-so
Price: 600 – 1,200 yen. (no sit down area, take-out only)
Location and Access: Ryuen is located on Teramachi Street just south of Marutamachi-dori (street), on the south-east corner of the Imperial Palace (Gosho) grounds.
Address: Kyoto-shi Nakagyo-ku Shimo Goryomae-cho 644-1
Telephone: 075-222-0500
Near Sightseeing Spot: Kyoto Gosho (Imperial Palace). Shimo-goryo Shrine, a small but delightful, and historically significant shrine across the street from Ryuen.

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10 Responses to “Wagashi: Ryuen Rakuseki and Maccha Rakuseki”

  1. diva says:

    i loved kyoto the last time i visited! am planning a trip to tokyo with my best friend next year which i can’t wait for it to happen. i like what i see on this blog very much, thanks for sharing. will definitely keep coming back for more. cheers!

  2. PekoPeko says:

    Hi Diva, Well, thank you for the praise and letting us know what you like. i hope that you have a great trip to Japan!

  3. Lori says:

    Ooh, I think I would like the chestnut one. They look so beautiful, not to mention the plum blossoms as well! It’s nice to know they’re blooming now.

  4. PekoPeko says:

    Hi Lori, I hope that my explanation wasn’t unclear. They both contain chestnuts. Yum! Yum! The plum blossoms are now finishing up as it is getting quite warm in Kyoto. (They bloomed so late this year because the winter was SOOOOO cold.)

  5. Lori says:

    I’m glad you’re warming up now, friends in Tokyo are also telling me it’s getting quite warm there as well! 🙂

  6. Momo says:

    Peko Peko!!!
    amazing pictures! wow… I thought i’ve been to every temple in the Kyoto area but this doesnt seem to ring a bell for me! I definitely feel the calm aura through your pictures!

  7. PekoPeko says:

    Hi Lori,
    It is now warm in Tokyo. The cherry blossoms are almost finished, in fact.

    Hi Momo,
    Thanks. Actually, it is a shrine, but it is a nice one. I had actually never been in this one before, but I had passed by it many times. Which temples and shrines did you like best in Kyoto?

  8. […] The Manga CookBook also features wagashi for kids. If you plan to visit Kyoto, remember to visit Kyotofoodie to find out more about wagashi shops. Kyoto prefecture has a wagashi page. Japan government […]

  9. 啓希 says:

    俺わ和菓子好きです!!!! ^^

  10. […] a traditional wagashi maker that makes chagashi, which is wagashi for the tea ceremony. See our Ryuen article on KyotoFoodie. Twitter Find out what’s going on in Kyoto right now, follow me on […]

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