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Food & Beverage

Blending caramel and jam, new Japanese sweets are art for five senses

Time-honored wagashi shops seek to revitalize ancient art

The Antonio and Lara wagashi confection takes its name from a Hans Christian Andersen novel. The black one is covered with burned caramel. The yellow one uses mango and passion fruit jam. (Photo by Akira Takemura)

TOKYO -- Call it the nouvelle vague of wagashi: A handful of time-honored makers of traditional Japanese sweets -- small, craftmanship-obsessed confectioneries that typically work with simple ingredients such as bean paste and rice cake -- is seeking to open a new frontier for the art.

One shop on the leading edge of this wave is Kashiya Nona, a small wagashi outlet in Kyoto. Since it opened in 2020, the shop has attracted a steady stream of customers, both young and old. The most popular of its offerings, sold year-round, is Antonio and Lara, a dish featuring two pieces of anko dama, round, red bean-paste wagashi. The pieces, one shiny yellow and the other black, are surrounded by flower petals and herbs, including mint and chervil. The dish takes its name from two characters in "The Improviser," a novel by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen.

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