"You have big hands, so make it a little larger," Kataoka-san said, referring to the piece of sweet mochi (glutinous rice cake) I'd been shaping as dexterously as I could manage.

After stretching it out a little more, I again showed it to her. She nodded with approval. "Now place the red-bean paste in the middle and stretch the mochi around it," she coaxed patiently. I was in a wooden town house in the old capital of Kyoto trying my hand at making wagashi (traditional Japanese confections).

Kyoto's history and culture go back more than 1,000 years, and many regard it as the spiritual center of Japan. I was no stranger there, having visited many of its temples and shrines, strolled in many of its wonderful landscape gardens, partaken of its traditional food and more. However, this time I wanted to do something different; I wanted a more hands-on experience. In this city of artisans, I was sure I would find something.