When I was in Takamatsu, Kagawa, I had the opportunity to go for a hands-on workshop in making wasanbon sweets. This is a type of higashi (Japanese dry confectionery) that is made of high quality fine sugar and shaped in wooden molds, usually depicting traditional seasonal themes.
Wasanbon is produced only in the two Shikoku prefectures of Kagawa and Tokushima, harvested from a variety of sugarcane plant native to this region.
I found out about Mamehana, the place conducting the workshop, through various travel sites on Shikoku. Being a wagashi (Japanese confectionary) lover, I decided to sign up prior to my trip.
It was fairly easy to access. Getting off the unmanned Hanazono Station on the Kotoden Nagao Line, I walked about 10 minutes through a residential area. Mamehana is tucked in a corner street, away from the main traffic.
Upon arrival at the doorstep, I was greeted by the proprietress Uehara-san. The cheerful lady welcomed me into the house. She was still entertaining a group of ladies in a slot before mine, so she ushered me into the waiting room.
I noticed that there are many wooden molds, which are actually made by her father, a renowned craftsman and the only artisan who makes the molds in Shikoku. There were molds of every design and size imaginable.
Soon it was my turn for the hands-on workshop. I was quite surprised to be the only client at that hour. Uehara-san said that it could be because it was a weekday.
Firstly, she let me choose the colour of liquid (made of food colouring) to spray onto the wasanbon powder. I chose blue, which turned out to look green after mixing with the powder. After that it was sifted into a bowl to get the finest sugar texture.
Uehara-san said I could choose four sets of mold design, which would make three pieces of wasanbon sweet each. I chose designs of a flower (I think it was kiku/crysanthemum), cat and paws, chestnut and traditional house.
It was then time to press the dough-like wasanbon sugar into the respective molds. Once ascertained that the sugar had set and formed, the molds are gently knocked with a wooden spatula to loosen the wasanbon sweets.
With a gentle flip, they were out of the molds, and voila~ pretty little wasanbon sweets that looked too good to be eaten!
As I had some leftover wasanbon powder, Uehara-san allowed me to make another set of three. I chose a mold with a kinoko mushroom design. They turned out looking unfortunately phallic. Haha.
The hands-on workshop, which cost 1000Y and took about an hour, included enjoying one’s creations with matcha, which Uehara-san prepared after the session. I chose to eat the mushroom-shaped wasanbon sweets with the tea, while letting Uehara-san packed the rest into a cute little box for me to bring home.
All the while, we chatted about life in Japan, where I’m from, what have I done and planned to do during the trip and so on. Uehara-san came across as a very friendly and warm hostess.
It was an unforgettable experience allowing me to delve deeper into one of Japan’s many traditional arts and crafts. Highly recommended for anyone who is planning a visit to Takamatsu, especially if they are heading to Ritsurin Garden, a famous garden which is within walking distance from the Hanazono neighbourhood.
To learn more, visit Mamehana website at http://www.mamehana-kasikigata.com/.