The world of wagashi, traditional Japanese confectionery, can be a little difficult to decipher. Not a few people are rather underwhelmed by their first taste of a typical wagashi such as daifuku, a sticky rice dumpling filled with an, sweet adzuki bean paste. Even if you can get over the strangeness (to Western palates) of beans cooked with a lot of sugar, the sugariness alone may be a bit off-putting. But that sweetness starts to make sense when wagashi is served with matcha Japanese green tea: The bitterness inherent in most green teas is tempered by the soft sweetness of the dessert created to complement it, so yielding a perfect harmony.
Nowhere is the marriage of tea and wagashi as prevalent as in Kyoto, birthplace of sadō, the Japanese tea ceremony. Kyoto, the former Imperial capital, is seeped in the traditions of both tea and wagashi, and several traditional wagashi makers still thrive there.
"You simply cannot talk about the history of wagashi without (talking about) tea, and Buddhism," says Tomoo Imanishi, the now-retired head of Kagizen Yoshifusa, a venerable Kyoto confectionary institution.