Sweets in Yamaguchi
The citizens of Yamaguchi Prefecture are avid consumers of sweets. According to the Statistical Analysis Division of the Yamaguchi Prefectural Government, in a 2007 survey conducted by the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts, and Telecommunications, Yamaguchi City was ranked fifth in a survey of expenditures on wagashi (Japanese-style sweets) in the capital cities of Japan’s 47 prefectures. On average, the people of Yamaguchi City spent 16,701 yen per person on wagashi. Yamaguchi City has placed in the top ten capital cities in this annual survey since 1996. The same division reported that in 2007, Yamaguchi City was ranked also second in expenditures on chocolate. The average expenditure per person was 6,146 yen. What kind of sweets do people in Yamaguchi buy? Let’s take a look at some well-known types of wagashi in Yamaguchi.
Hagi is famous for natsu mikan (literally “summer orange”), so perhaps it is no surprise that there are a plethora of natsu mikan flavored sweets available in the city. Natsu mikan marutsuke (“natsu mikan ball”) are made by hollowing out a natsu mikan, simmering it in a sugar broth, and then filling it with yokan (sweet bean jelly). It was created during the Taishō Period (1912-1926). The peel of a natsu mikan is also used as a sweet. The peel is simmered for a long period of time in a sugar broth. It is then sprinkled with sugar and dried.
A type of dorayaki known as ganryūyaki is perhaps Shimonoseki’s most famous wagashi. Dorayaki is made of bean paste that is sandwiched between two pancakes or round castella. Dorayaki typically have red bean paste, but ganryūyaki uses white bean paste. The name ganryūyaki is associated with Ganryūjima, an island located in the Kanmon Straits. Swordsman Sasaki Kojirō fought long-time rival Miyamoto Musashi on the island. The island is officially known as Funashima, but it is called Ganryūjima as a result of the battle between Sasaki and Miyamoto. Sasaki founded a school of swordsmanship known as ganryū. There are few existing materials pertaining to the specifics of ganryū, so its details are largely unknown. Ganryū is also Sasaki’s pseudonym.
There are many different types of monaka in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Monaka is a type of wagashi in which red bean paste is spread between two crisp wafers or surrounded by a wafer shell. In Sanyō Onoda City, there is a type of monaka known as semendaru, or “cement barrel.” As the name implies, the monaka are shaped like barrels. The cement industry has a lengthy history Sanyō Onoda, so this was likely the inspiration for the semendaru. There are also some types of monaka with unique flavors. For example, in Nagato, there is a type of monaka that uses yuzu (a type of citron) instead of red bean paste. There is also a type of monaka in Hōfu that uses peanuts. The filling of the monaka is red bean paste, but there are whole peanuts mixed into the wafer surrounding the bean paste.
The wagashi known as manjū (buns filled with bean paste) is available throughout Japan, but the types of manjū that are available in every prefecture are different. Two of Yamaguchi’s most famous types of manjū are perhaps sanzaru manjū and Rikyū manjū. Nagato City is famous for a type of manjū called sanzaru manjū. The manjū are in the shape of the three wise monkeys. One monkey represents “See no evil,” a second represents “Hear no evil,” and the third represents “Speak no evil.” In Ube, there is a type of manjū known as Rikyū manjū. The manjū are named after Sen no Rikyū, a tea ceremony master. The first time that the manjū were served at his tea ceremony, Rikyū took an immediate liking to them. As a result, the manjū were always served at his tea ceremonies. Rikyū manjū use red bean paste as well as white bean paste. The manjū also come in different sizes.
Perhaps the most well known of Yamaguchi Prefecture’s sweets is uirō. Uirō dates back to the Muromachi Era (1336-1573). It is said to have been derived from a tonic that came to Japan from China. Uirō in Yamaguchi is made from the starch of warabi and kuzuko plants. The flavor of Yamaguchi’s uirō is typically red bean (either with chunks of red bean or without) or green tea. Types of uirō that use citrus, such as yuzu, daidai (bitter orange), or natsumikan, can also be found at certain shops in the prefecture. You may even find uirō with less common flavors, such as coffee or banana, as well! Uirō is available for purchase at wagashiya (Japanese-style sweets shop), supermarkets, and other locations throughout the prefecture.
If you have a craving for something sweet, be sure to visit your local wagashiya. You may discover something tasty!