The month of May in Japan starts with the week containing three public holidays
: Constitution Memorial Day celebrated on 3rd, Greenery Day on 4th and Children’s Day on 5th.
Originally, May 5th was a festive day for only boys but it is now for both boys and girls..
People celebrate Children’s Day by displaying special dolls, putting up carp-shaped streamers and taking a sweet flag bath.
It is also a traditional custom to eat Chimaki (Japanese rice cake wrapped in bamboo leaves)
and Kashiwa-mochi (rice cake stuffed with sweetened red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves).
to pray for a child’s growth and happiness.
While the former is mainly served in the west of Japan, the latter is mostly enjoyed in the eastern Japan.
The oak leaves are not edible, but they give a nice fragrance to the mochi wrapped in them.
Since oak trees called Kashiwa in Japanese don’t shed old leaves until new leaves grow,
they symbolize prosperity of one’s descendants.
Generally used for Kashiwa-mochi, are two kinds of red bean paste,
i.e. mashed sweet bean paste and smooth sweet bean paste.
Red bean paste known as Anko in Japan is made from red beans mixed with a lot of sugar to create very sweet paste.
It has been the staple of Japanese sweets for a long time and is still enjoyed on happy occasions like Children’s Day,
as red was traditionally believed as a color that chases away evil,
which gave red beans the same power, and considered festive.
Below are Japanese annual events and Anko sweets:
*March 3rd : Hina-Matsuri (a festival for girls) :
Sakura-Mochi (sweet pink-colored glutinous rice filled with Anko and wrapped in a salt-pickled cherry leaf)
*May 5th : Children’s Day
*Around the week surrounding Vernal Equinox Day in March and Autumnal Equinox Day in September:
Ohagi ( a sticky rice ball covered with sweet red bean paste).
*Toji or “winter solstice” in December
Eating boiled pumpkin with Anko and taking yuzu-yu (a yuzu citron bath) on the day is believed to prevent catching cold.
Besides theses, there are many varieties of Japanese sweets with Anko filling.
Many Japanese, young and old, love them. Foreigners, especially Westerners might find them
too sweet. It’s not a matter of preference. It depends on what you are used to or not. Anyway, it deserves to have a bite!
Do you prefer having lessons at your own place at your own convenience?
NIC can dispatch Japanese teachers.