Japanese Sweets at Oimatsu
Different to traditional sweets in other regions of Japan, those made in Kyoto are known as kyogashi and have a special status. Back when sweets were rare and expensive, they were used in ritual ceremonies at the Imperial court, as well as at shrines and temples. From the end of the 12th century, tea was imported from China and tea ceremonies became popular, leading to the invention of Japanese sweets to accompany the bitter green tea. Although interrupted by a period of succeeding wars, peace returned in the 17th century, when the culture of Japanese sweets developed further. Although the political capital was moved to Edo (now Tokyo), Japanese sweets masters in the still prospering city of Kyoto competed with each other, producing many unique designs and flavors.
Today, there are many high quality Japanese sweet shops in Kyoto. The one we particularly recommend is Oimatsu, located on the east side of Kitano Shrine. The owner’s ancestors made sweets for the Imperial court and this establishment continues to follow traditional recipes, while also creating new delicacies.
The first sweets to catch your attention at Oimatsu will be the tea ceremony sweets, which change every month. Behind these works of art are the delicate use of color and careful craftsmanship. Seasonal images of Japan such as flowers and landscapes are featured on the sweets. More than mere sketches of nature, each image may represent a poem, ritual or another aspect of traditional Japanese culture.
Although less flamboyant than the tea ceremony sweets, there are also sweets with images based on Kyoto’s history. Gosho-guruma (ox-drawn carriage), Oimatsu’s most representative confection, features a crest that represents the wheels of an ox-drawn cart, reminiscent of a time when ox-drawn carriages were part of the elegant aristocratic culture.
There are also sweets using ingredients that have become forgotten, like Daitoju, a kumquat-based sweet. Immersed in molasses to give it a light brown color, then sprinkled with fine sugar to make it look like snow, this confection looks like a jewel.
Kamishichiken Street, where Oimatsu is located, is known both as a geisha quarter and the birthplace of some of Japan’s most well loved sweets and dumplings. Patterns on the red lanterns hanging in storefronts are designed to look like dumplings. Oimatsu’s dumplings can be enjoyed at Kitano Shrine’s teahouse in the spring and autumn when the plum and maple bloom. They’re sold for a limited time only, so be sure to try one if you see them.
May 15, 2016
Oimatsu, Kitano shop
Kitano, Kamishichiken, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
http://oimatu.co.jp/ (Japanese only)