Wagashi: Suetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Wagashi: Suetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Wagashi: Suetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi
The finest wagashi for the tea ceremony are sweets for the mind, the motifs come from classical poetry and painting.

Suetomi Jyogashiya
We had an opportunity to visit one of Kyoto’s exceptional wagashi stores; Suetomi and interview the owner, Mr Yamaguchi who created a selection of Suetomi’s seasonal wagashi for us to photograph for this article.

Suetomi, founded in 1893 makes namagashi (生菓子), literally ‘wet confection’, for the tea ceremony. In addition to selling namagashi retail, today Suetomi creates confections for important customers such as companies, tea ceremony schools and temples. Some namagashi are not offered to the general public and are reserved for a certain customer only.

Suetomi is a jyogashiya (上菓子屋), the highest of the three varieties of wagashi stores. Traditionally, only jyogashiya were legally permitted to use sugar and they served the imperial household, the nobility and major temples.

Namagashi for the tea ceremony is of course sweet, often very sweet as it compliments maccha which is quite bitter. However, namagashi are not just for the stomach. The forms and motifs are always seasonal and natural and often based upon poems and paintings from classical Japan. This is a sweet for the learned and educated, to be enjoyed by the mind as well.

Upon arrival for the interview and photoshoot we were given late spring theme ajisai (hydrangea) namagashi.

Ajisai Namagashi
Wagashi: Suetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Paku Eating Ajisai Namagashi in the Reception Room
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Inside Ajisai Namagashi
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi
Notice the azuki bean paste inside.

Kyoto Jyogashi Namagashi Throughout the Seasons
This is a selection of Suetomi’s namagashi throughout the season. The following text explanations are from a Suetomi exhibition catalog.

January: Etogashi
Etogashi, literally ‘Chinese Zodiac confection’.
The concept of the zodiac signs are very familiar to Japanese people and these originated with the Chinese calender. Suetomi makes a New Year’s confection based on the zodiac animal of the year. This is a rat. This year, 2008 is the Year of the Rat.

Eto Nezumi – Year of the Rat
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi
Eto nezumi literally means ‘zodiac rat’.

Eto NezumiYear of the Rat
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi
This is a pretty cute rat! And, all made of sweet bean paste.

March: Hikichigiri
The confection is called Hikichigiri and has been indispensable for Girl’s Day (March 3rd). It was once used for the celebration ritual in the Imperial Household. A theory tells that it was originally made of only rice cakes. Suetomi has made it more elaborate and suitable for spring with white and pink on the top of green.

Hikichigiri – Wagashi for Girl’s Day
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

April: Miyako no Haru
Miyako no Haru, literally ‘Spring in the Capital’.
Kyoto’s spring beauty is in the cherry blossoms, people gathering to enjoy them with a cheerful mood. Here in Kyoto, sweets with various colors representing the colors of new lives entertain people’s tongues and eyes. Here, pink represents cherry blossoms and green represents budding willows.

Miyako-no-haru – Spring in the Capital
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Miyako-no-haru – detail
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi
It is incredible what sweet bean paste can be made into!

May: Karakoromo
The confections produced in Kyoto often represent the changing of seasons and the accompanying natural beauty. Karakoromo is based on the classical Japanese story, ‘Ise Story’. This famous poem features purple irises verdant in the month of May.

Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

June: Sawabe no Hotaru
Sawabe no Hotaru, literally ‘fireflies near water stream’.
Fireflies live near cool, flowing water and these insects emit a greenish light. There are a number of short poems featuring the mystic beauty these insects create. The image here is of a firefly emitting its light while on green grass.

Sawabe-no-hotaru – Fireflies Near Water Stream
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Sawabe-no-hotaru – detail
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

September: Kisewata

Japanese people have celebrated the coming of new seasons on particular days in the year and September 9th is one of them. The chrysanthemum flower is the symbol of this special day. People pray for their long lives sometimes by wiping their bodies with its dew and by drinking Japanese sake with chrysanthemum petals floating in it. This confection is designed from a chrysanthemum flower of high grace.

Kisewata – Chrysanthemum
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Kisewata – Chrysanthemum
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Kisewata – detail
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

September: Koringiku
Korin Ogata was a painter active in the Edo period. We can see his paintings done with his excellent skills on kimono patterns and on Japanese paper slide doors, etc. The design of Korin Chrysanthemum, made of azuki bean paste and habutae mochi is based on one of his paintings.

Koringiku – Korin Chrysanthemum
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Koringiku – detail
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

October: Momijiga
In the Momijiga chapter of Japan’s most well known novel, the Tale of Genji is a scene where Prince Genji dances. The design of this confection is inspired by the image of Hikaru Genji dancing in gorgeous clothing. The paper fan that the Shining Prince held while dancing is the motif of this piece.

Momijiga – Maple Leaves
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Momijiga – detail
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

December: Carol
The deep green color, whether of the pine boughs or holly leaves of the season is the symbol of life. Christmas is, of course, a Christian celebration familiar to people all over the world. This Japanese version of Christmas cake is made with the wish to look back on the past year and celebrate the coming of the new year with a purified heart.

Carol – Christmas
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Suetomi now has two locations. The original mainstore is located in central Kyoto near the Gojo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line and the other in the food court of Takashimaya Department Store.

Honten – Main Store Front
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Suetomi Store Sign
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

Suetomi Takashimaya Branch
Wagashi: Sumetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi

English menu: none
English website: none
Service/Staff: so-so
Hours: 9:00am-5:00pm, closed Sundays and national holidays.
Price: 500-1,000 yen.
Location and Access: 5 to 7 minute walk from either Shijo and Gojo Stations (Karasuma Subway Line)
Address: Kyoto-shi Shimogyo-ku, Matsubara-dori, Muromachi Higashi-iru
Telephone: 075-351-0808

Takashimaya Branch: Takashimaya Department Store is located in central Kyoto at the Shijo-Kawaramachi intersection. Takashimaya is open from 10am to 8pm and is closed on January 1st only. English language guidance and maps are available at the information desk on the ground floor.


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10 Responses to “Wagashi: Suetomi Kyoto Tea Ceremony Namagashi”

  1. kat says:

    these are beautiful, I especially like the momiji version!

  2. Ellen says:

    Amazing wagashi and excellent photography!

    I am actually learning to paint right now, and am looking for subjects to practice on…wagashi would be a fun idea! Would you be willing to let me use your photographs as inspiration? I would give you credit for the original photos if I ever displayed the paintings or posted them online.

  3. noobcook says:

    Hey the mousey is so adorable 🙂

  4. Peko Peko says:

    hi kat, I like the momiji too, but I think that as momiji (maple) and sakura (cherry blossom) are SOOOOO prevalent in Japanese culture that they really have to be done in a more novel way — which is quite difficult.

    Hello Ellen and welcome to KyotoFoodie! That is wonderful. My undergraduate degree is in Fine Arts, so I have done some still life painting. However, I have never thought of doing wagashi. That is an excellent, excellent idea! I would be delighted to have you find some inspiration in our photographs. I will send you an email. Again, thanks very much!

    Hello noobcook, Yes, it is indeed cute. But don’t you think that there is something very unappetizing about eating a white rat!?!? That is one thing that is very interesting about Japan.

  5. […] namagashi should be on a seasonal and/or cultural theme, and this is very rich and varied. (Tea ceremony namagashi article) The taste is intended to balance the bitterness of maccha and is always the same. In a country […]

  6. Lore says:

    Hi Peko Peko!
    I’m planning to write a post on what I consider to be the most original August food photos. I will be posting the 10 photos on Culinarty (my blog) with a link back to the authors. This is actually the fourth edition of “10 Original Food Photos”. I really like the sixth photo of this post (that’s one cute little rat 🙂 ) and I would very much like to include it in my post. Would that be ok with you?
    Please let me know

  7. Kyoto Foodie says:

    Hello Lore,

    Thank you very much! Thank you for asking first and of course we would be very honored to be included in your list. We are looking forward to seeing your post!

    Note to all: I have found our photos and content on numerous splogs (spam blog) in recent months and it is very annoying. One person exploiting another’s content with the intent of selling advertising is out of bounds. KyotoFoodie has taken off in recent months because we make original and compelling content. Sploggers ought to focus their energy on creation not theft.


  8. Jessie says:

    Oh my goodness, thanks for sharing all this! The photos are just stunning. My favorite has to be the bean paste rat!

    Your blog is just lovely. Happy I found it!

    a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse

  9. […] Makes This Wagashi? This wagashi is made by Suetomi. We featured them in this article last year about namagashi for the tea ceremony and while their wagashi tastes just fine, their […]

  10. Oli says:


    A group of us are travelling to Japan in for New Year and will be in Kyoto for a few days. Could you recommend somewhere in Kyoto where we could attend a tea ceremony? (preferably one that also serves these Wagashi as they look delicious! =D)

    Many thanks

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