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Japanese Sweets: Sampling something different

Japanese sweets, or wagashi, are traditional Japanese confections that are often served with tea, especially the types of mochi, anko and fruits. Japanese sweets are typically made using plant-based ingredients such as bean paste. In Japan, the original word for Japanese sweets was kashi, which referred to fruits and nuts. With the increasing sugar trade between China and Japan, sugar became a common household ingredient by the end of the Muromachi Period. Influenced by the introduction of tea, China’s confectionary and dim sum, the creation of wagashi took off during the Edo Period of Japan. Let’s take a closer look at a select range of Japanese sweets and what makes wagashi so popular.

Characteristics of confectionary

Typically, Japanese sweets, more specifically wagashi, take a lot of work to make. Known for its delicateness and variety in appearance, these Japanese sweets are usually named after poetry, historical events and or natural scenery that reflects the delicate culture of Japan. Wagashi can be used as a great gift during festivals and can also be a daily treat for visiting guests in the household. Different places in Japan have different wagashi that are unique in flavour as their local speciality. Because of this, Japanese people tend to take these Japanese sweets home after personal or business trips. 
Most Japanese people believe that the artistic characteristics of wagashi represent both a sense of the season the wagashi was made and a humble piece of Japanese culture with some wagashi only being available to buy regionally or seasonally. Japanese sweets are made in a wide variety of shapes and consistencies with a diverse range of ingredients and preparation methods, so let’s explore some of Japan’s most popular sweet treat choices.

Popular choices

There are many different types of wagashi to choose from, the list is endless. Some of the most popular Japanese sweets, however, include; manju, yokan, ohagi, chimaki, dorayaki, daifuku, kushi-dango, taiyaki, kashiwa-mochi, zenzai and oshiruko (wagashi ‘soups’) and the dried form known as hi-gashi, such as senbei, kompeito and okoshi.
Momiji Manju
Momiji Manju are traditional Japanese sweets that originate from Hiroshima. The Japanese word momiji means ‘autumn leaf’ and as Hiroshima is famous for maple trees, manju are shaped like these iconic leaves. These treats are made using castella cake that is filled with a sweet red bean paste, one of the most popular fillings for wagashi.
Ichigo Daifuku
Ichigo Daifuku are very famous Japanese sweets and are originally from Osaka, a prefecture also famous for savoury snacks like takoyaki and okonomiyaki. Ichigo Daifuku are made of mochi, sweet red bean paste and a strawberry. This fruity Japanese snack is perfect for spring and summer and you can find it throughout all prefectures in Japan.
Namagashi are traditional Japanese sweets that are most often associated with wagashi. They are made of rice flour and a sweet bean paste filling and are delicately shaped by hand to reflect the season. Namagashi are served at tea ceremonies to compliment the bitter taste of tea.
Oshiruko and Zenzai take a slightly different form to most Japanese sweets. Oshiruko and Zenzai are forms of sweet porridge made using azuki beans that have been boiled, crushed and served in a bowl with mochi. There are many different styles of Oshiruko and Zenzai where the beans are served with other Japanese sweets, such as rice flour dumplings. The difference in these desserts is that Zenzai is made from a condensed paste and is less watery than Oshiruko, with a consistency more like jam or marmalade.
Dango are chewy, small, steamed dumplings made from rice flour. These Japanese sweets are typically served skewered with around three or four dumplings to a stick. The dango are then topped with a sweet sauce or bean paste. The dumplings are also added into other desserts like anmitsu and oshiruko. The many different varieties of dango are usually named after the various seasonings that are served on or with the dumplings.
At Atelier Japan, we understand the importance of having good quality authentic Japanese tea. Which is why we stock a bespoke collection of matcha, tea and tableware to make your tea drinking experience as unique as possible. Browse our collections and take your tea drinking to new heights.
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Bento Boxes: A culinary art form

When you think about Japanese food, you’ll probably think of sushi, or perhaps a steaming bowl of ramen. But if you want to know what most Japanese people actually eat for lunch most days, then you have to consider bento boxes. Let’s take a look at what bento boxes are used for, how they’re made and how they came to be.

What are bento boxes?

Bento boxes are single-portioned boxed meals that are usually composed of staple carbs such as rice or noodles, meat or fish and an assortment of pickled or cooked vegetables. Bento boxes come in a range of styles ranging from mass-produced disposables to hand-crafted lacquerware. Bento boxes are readily available in many places throughout Japan, including convenience stores, bento shops, railway stations, and department stores. However, it’s not unusual for people to spend time and energy carefully crafting a lunch box for their spouse, child, or themselves. 
Bento boxes are often arranged and styled to reference characters, people, animals, buildings, monuments, flowers and plants, each having their own unique style and aesthetic. Contests are often held where bento arrangers compete for the most aesthetically pleasing arrangements. You can find many depictions of bento boxes all across the world, with somewhat comparable forms of boxed lunches in Asian countries including the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan and India. Hawaiian culture has also adopted localized versions of bento boxes, featuring local tastes after over a century of Japanese influence in the islands.

History of the bento

The word bento was not readily used during the early days of the lunchbox’s conception. During the Kamakura Period around 1185, the term used was actually hoshi-ii or dried metal. It would consist of only dried rice, without any packaging that could be eaten right away or boiled in water. It wasn’t until 1568, during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, that wooden lacquered bento boxes were produced to create the true bento that we know today. During the Edo Period from 1603-1867, bento boxes became an everyday meal for the people of Japan, with the contents and serving style depending drastically on social class and occupation. 
Travellers and sightseers would often carry koshibento, a type of waist bento which often included rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. For special events such as hanami, flower viewing parties, large, layered bento boxes were prepared to celebrate the occasion. By the twentieth century, aluminium began to be used in the preparation of bento boxes, which paved the way for the microwaveable konbini bento, convenience store bento, ekiben, train station bento, and hokaben, take-out bento.

Making of the box

Before the introduction of modern materials, bento boxes were hand-carved from wood. They were lacquered and designed by master craftsmen and the more lavish the box, the more expensive it was to purchase. Nowadays, most of the world’s boxes are manufactured in the Ishikawa Prefecture of Japan. Special moulds are used to produce high-quantities of these popular lunch containers, and original designs are fitted to each one. Presses are used to create and fix dividers and lids and then the raw plastic is coloured using a specialised paint gun. Screen-printing is used for more intricate patterns and illustration as stencils allow for flat or round boxes and sharp edges to be beautifully embossed. These bento boxes are then hand-packed and shipped all across the world, making lunch convenient and fun for all.
When it comes to making the food for bento boxes, there are very specific characteristics that need to be adhered to. The creation of bento boxes, whether it be mass-produced or homemade, is relatively the same thanks to the healthy and wholesome ingredients used. With a sectioned container as the base, there are four types of foods that should be included; carbs, protein, vegetables and fruits, with carbs being the greatest proportion, and fruits and vegetables being the least. A variety of textures and flavours are key to the production of bento boxes, with each bite being its own unique experience. 
At Atelier Japan, our makers only use the finest traditional craft techniques. Our makers have stood the test of time and have prevailed among huge global disturbances, remaining unwilling to go backwards. Explore the many Atelier Japan collections to explore the products that our makers have taken care and time to craft for you to enjoy.

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Authentic Japanese Tableware: A unique serving style

When it comes to Japanese tableware, there is more to take in than you might first think. Japanese food is very closely linked to Japanese culture, with specific rules and practices of how things should be done firmly in place. The way in which Japanese food is eaten and the tableware that it used to do so has some very distinct differences to traditional Western tableware. There are many different aspects of Japanese tableware, with each one having its own purpose and history. Let’s take a look at what makes traditional Japanese tableware so unique.

A Western Comparison

Compared to Western table settings, Japanese tableware holds many similarities as well as differences. Both forms largely rely on a number of pieces tableware, each serving a different purpose, though the two styles differ in the focus of these purposes. Where Japanese tableware focuses more on the dishes the food is served, the tableware used in Western cultures is more focused on the variety of cutlery at a place setting. A traditional Japanese place setting can include over 10 different components. A variety of bowls, dishes, plates, strainers and cups, as well as chopsticks are traditionally used when dining in Japan. Although each vessel has a specific purpose, cutlery, however, does not – a contradiction to Western culture where cutlery is an important aspect of a meal. Japanese tableware also varies from Western culture in the form of how the food is eaten. Traditionally in Japan, food is served individually in small dishes to each person and is not often shared from one large central dish, whereas Western cultures frequently dine in this way with many people taking their food from the same dish at the table. Japan believes in individual dining experiences and enjoying food solely for oneself.

The history of Japanese tableware

The history of Japanese tableware dates back to the Jomon era (10,000 B.C. – 300 B.C.) and the Yayoi period (300 B.C. – A.D. 300). During this time, Japanese tableware was crafted from clay that had been fired on the ground without cover – instead of using a traditional kiln – at temperatures of around 700-900℃. At first, many earthen vessels in Japanese tableware had rounded bottoms and pointed tips so that they could be used for cooking on a fireplace, however, with time these pieces of Japanese tableware evolved and flat bottoms became more common as the vessels grew richer in variety. As this type of Japanese tableware became more popular, so did their decorative nature; the dishes soon became more refined through elaborate and artistic design. As time passed, new materials and techniques were introduced to the Japanese tableware making experience. Characteristics of both earthenware and porcelain were introduced with influences from Korean and Chinese pottery. During the 1600s, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony was in fashion, leading to the production of earthenware and stoneware in quintessentially Japanese designs. As traditional Japanese pottery grew and changed, so did the increase in exports to the wide-scale European market. 


Traditional Japanese tableware tended to be earthenware made from clay, whereas modern Western tableware is made from porcelain, a mix of powdered stone and clay. The reason for the difference in materials is down to the use and purpose of Japanese tableware dishes. When eating, Japanese dishes are held during the meal and are carried to the mouth, so it is important that the materials are pleasant, warm and light to suit and enhance the dining experience.
Shape and size
Japanese tableware is traditionally smaller, lighter and easier to hold compared to Western pieces. Bowls and other common pieces are crafted to suit the dish being consumed and the cutlery used. For example, taller and deeper dishes are designed to better suit the use of chopsticks.
Traditionally, most Japanese tableware and food vessels had no need to be uniform in shape or size. With so many different plates and dishes featuring in homes and restaurants, and each with a different purpose, it was not unusual for the pieces to vary in design, shape or size. In most families, each member has their own personal collection of Japanese tableware and will use a specific rice bowl and chopsticks.
There are many practices to look at when it comes to eating food in Japan, each with their own purpose and history. In the majority of dining experiences, each dish is served on an ‘ozen’, a four-legged tray which is used not only for carrying food but also as a dining table for a single person. This Japanese tableware custom is seen as an example of ‘omotenashi’, the act of making each individual feel special.
At Atelier Japan, our collection of Japanese tableware, drinking vessels and traditional earthenware is designed to give your dining experience a truly authentic feel. Browse the collection to experience our exquisite range of handcrafted tableware in your own home.

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A Taste Of Japan: What sets Japanese food apart from the rest of the culture plate?

Japanese food is something that has burst into modern-day dining, but to what extent do we know of its origin, traditions and culture? Japanese food has seen an array of changes over hundreds of years, with adaptations and takes on traditional cuisine storming our Western culture. Japanese food as we know it today encompasses the regionality and traditionality of the Japanese food that has been developed through centuries of social and economic changes. Let’s take a look at what sets Japan and its unique cuisine apart from the rest of the culture plate.

Traditional Foods of Japan

When it comes to Japanese food, there are more than likely plenty of ingredients and dishes that you are already familiar with. Rice is one of the most popular ingredients of Japanese food and is a traditional staple of the Japanese diet that is most commonly seen in dishes such as sushi. Sushi and sashimi are both highly popular dishes in Japan, with seafood often featuring as an ingredient in their cuisine. Aside from rice, other staple Japanese ingredients include noodles, such as soba and udon. Traditional Japanese side dishes consist of fish, pickled and fried vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Japanese food is based on combining the staple food, that is rice, with one or several main or side dishes. Often, this is then accompanied by a clear or miso soup and pickles.

Modern Depictions of Japanese Food

There have been a vast array of traditional Japanese foods that made their way into our western culture. As Japanese food becomes more and more popular in the modern world, and more readily available, we are beginning to see new adaptations of traditional dishes. Dishes inspired by other cultures, such as Chinese cuisine, have led to the popular Japanese foods that we all know and love today, such as ramen, fried dumplings and gyoza. Today, you can find a vast number of Japanese supermarkets and restaurants throughout UK cities, where there is a whole world of Japanese food both new and traditional to be discovered.

The Seasonality of Japanese Food

There is a lot of emphasis placed on the seasonality of Japanese food, with the seasons in Japan being incredibly poetic due to their distinct nature. Japanese dishes are designed to herald the arrival of the four seasons or calendar months. The seasonality of Japanese food means to take advantage of the ‘fruit of the mountains’ – for example, bamboo shoots in Spring and chestnuts in Autumn – as well as the ‘fruit of the sea’ as each comes into season. Seasonal foods are motifs of the depicting season and are meant to be enjoyed by all of the senses both aesthetically and through taste to truly emphasise the importance of the seasons in Japanese cooking.

Cooking Techniques

There are a vast array of Japanese cooking techniques, with some of the most traditional being grilling, steaming, deep-frying and, of course, sushi rolling. The cooking technique that is used highly depends on the type of Japanese food that is being cooked or prepared. For each side dish that accompanies rice, a different cooking technique is used. Aside from the main techniques, there is an extensive list of Japanese cooking techniques that are used to make the beautiful cuisine appreciated and enjoyed today. Whether it’s stir-frying or steaming, pickling or pan-frying, each technique is used to make the most of the flavours of each unique ingredient.

Serving of Food

Japanese food is served in very precise ways. Rice is served in its own bowl with each accompanying course or side dish placed on its own small plate or bowl for each individual portion. This serving style is quite contradictive of Western culture where individuals often take helpings from large serving dishes. Japanese food doesn’t allow for different flavoured dishes to touch each other on a single plate, which is why each dish is given its own plate or, alternatively, is partitioned using leaves. To place main dishes on top of rice is frowned upon in traditional etiquette as it is seen as soiling the rice.
Other traditional ways of serving Japanese food include the use of Bento Boxes; a single portion take-out or home-packed meal that is very common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional Bento holds a combination of rice or noodles, fish or meat and pickled and cooked vegetables, all intricately packed into a box. Bento boxes are highly common within Japanese culture and are carefully prepared, usually for one’s self, spouse or child.
Japanese food encapsulates the country’s true heritage, culture and the adaptations it has made through the generations. At Atelier Japan, we have a range of plates, bowls and cutlery rests designed to heighten your Japanese dining experience, view our exquisite collection to explore handcrafted pottery that is perfect for serving traditional Japanese food in your own home.