Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yatsuhashi Halloween

Where did the month go? Suddenly it's almost Halloween, which seems to be getting more popular  in Japan, every year.

I've been thinking about a Kyoto post for a while - but Kyoto is overwhelming. I mean, there are so many fabulous specialties and there's a photo op around every corner. I will get to it soon! But in the meantime, I thought this Kyoto specialty was perfect for Halloween.

Soft and powdery deliciousness.

Inside is black sesame paste

Kurogoma Yatsuhashi, or black sesame yatsuhashi is a kind of fashionable twist on the traditional Kyoto sweet. Like a lot of Japanese sweets, yatsuhashi is made with mochi rice flour. This type is "nama" or raw/ fresh yatsuhashi. You can also get a crunchy, cookie type versions.

The name means eight bridges and from what I can work out, it's based on the traditional eight plank bridges that lead viewers slowly through an iris garden. Baked yatsuhashi look just like little planks and perhaps herringbone pattern of the bridges also inspired the distinctive triangular sweets.

Irises at Yatsuhashi by Kourin Ogata which you can find at the Met Museum, NY.

The mochi is usually flavoured with cinnamon ("nikki" in Japanese) and the filling is bean paste. But recently, a whole raft of other flavours have hit the market, to entice a younger customer. You can also get chocolate, matcha tea, sakura in spring and even choco banana for the many school kids who flock to Kyoto. But my favourite is black sesame, which is sweet but nutty (and I heard it achieves its strong colour from the addition of bamboo charcoal).

The very simple, elegant packaging

When you remove the outer paper, you find the store name embossed on the box.

You can buy yatsuhashi all over Kyoto, but my favourite shop (which you'll also find all over Kyoto and at Kyoto station), is Otabe. They've been making these little treats for over 200 years. At the branch near Nishiki koji market (another must-visit in Kyoto), you can also make your own sweets in a little workshop above the shop. At Y600, it's about the same price as a box of yatsuhashi, but you have the satisfaction of making it yourself.

Make your own.

Here's the link to Otabe:


  1. I like otabe, too!
    But I have never tried making one. Isn't it difficult?
    Black sesame is also my favorite. But black sesame otabe and Halloween? (^o^)  That's so unique!

  2. I've always had a huge soft spot for yatsuhashi, simply because it's the first wagashi I ever ate. It was the start of a long, passionate love affair.

    I can make my own? Great! Next time I go to Kyoto (and it's been far, far too long since the last trip), I'll pop in to Otabe. Thanks for that tip!

    PS: Black sesame is one of my favourite Japanese flavours, so I really enjoyed this post. ^^

  3. I love black sesame too! I remember having a really alarming looking parfait when I first came to Japan, with I think kurogoma icecream (grey and speckled), coffee jelly (almost black) and kuromitsu (also almost black). It looked like it had been photographed in black and white. Delicious though!

    I don't think yatsuhashi is so hard to make - similar to warabi mochi, etc with mochi rice flour and water, plus cinnamon. Actually, I just found a recipe to make them at home, over on the excellent "Just Hungry" blog! Here's the link:

    I might get brave and try making them without supervision; but at Otabe, everything is set out and made easy for you, so you can just enjoy making little shapes and filling them with anko and other yummy things!

  4. I've never tried it. I want black sesame :)

  5. Black sesame anything is a-ok by me :)