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Japanese Snacks 101: Dagashi & Wagashi
Japanese Snacks 101: Dagashi & Wagashi
2nd June 2021 • by Adam
2nd June 2021 • Let's learn the basics • by Adam
Let's learn the basics
Japanese Snacks 101
Hello everyone, and welcome to a new series here on the Tofu Cute blog, which is rather informatively titled ‘Japanese Snacks 101’. As the name might suggest, over a few articles, we’re going to be diving into lessons on the interesting details behind your favourite Japanese snacks and sweets - their origins, history and classification; detailing the key events that led to this very moment in time, where delicious treats from Japan are more accessible to you than ever before! Be sure to take notes, as all of this will be on the final test.
What are dagashi?
Simply put, ‘dagashi’ (not to be confused with ‘wagashi’, which we’ll talk about later!) is a term that refers to a broad range of small, inexpensive sugary candies that have origins dating all the way back to Japan’s Edo period, with recorded production history as early as the 17th Century! If we’re looking for a starting point for a history of Japanese snacks, there really is no better place to look than at dagashi, which has quite the legacy.

During the 1600s is when dagashi first started to catch on in Japan. The term ‘dagashi’ combines the words for ‘negligible’ and ‘candy’ referring to its inexpensive, easy-to-produce and small nature. During the 17th century, dagashi was mostly made with a mixture of thick sugary syrup, rice and oats. They were pretty basic, but I’m sure at the time, people loved it: certainly enough for dagashi to still be a thing today!

The first dagashiya (dagashi shops) were also established during this time, and many of Japan’s different regions began to develop their own unique styles of dagashi which at the time were marked by different colourings added to the candy. There weren’t many rules to dagashi to begin with, and traditional dagashi production involved incorporating a lot of ingredients that just happened to be available at the time.

Some example of early types of dagashi that have stuck around for a long while include: konpeito, which contains only a few simple ingredients (mostly sugar and colouring), kinako ame which are hard candies coated in a soybean powder and karinto which is wheat dough covered in sugar and fried. There are many more types beyond this, but those are some of the most enduring.
How did it change?
Dagashi and dagashiya increased in popularity throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as commerce grew. Originally, dagashi were sold for as little as a few yen per piece, and although some inflation has obviously incurred an increase in prices since their inception, to this day dagashiya still boast incredibly cheap prices for a wide variety of treats. Some dagashiya have hundreds of varieties!

Dagashiya saw a particular boom in popularity during the showa era (the period of history between 1926 - 1989, during the reign of Emperor Showa). Especially the post-war economic rise of Japan, dagashi maintained a popularity both domestically and as something favoured by tourists. This is also when various advances in production processes and marketing helped to commercialise dagashi into what it is known as today. Dagashi became more packaged, branded and readily available, especially in the period of Japan’s economic boom, where it eventually made its way into convenience stores and supermarkets beyond just the traditional dagashiya.

Don’t worry though - in the modern age, you can still find plenty of dagashiya, which will stock treats both modern and traditional for as little as ten yen (about 6p or 10 cents). It’s even common to find them literally attached to entertainment venues like game arcades, bowling alleys and even bars! That’s right, you can buy cheap candy before you play the popular drum arcade game Taiko No Tatsujin, bowl a winning strike or even before you sink a pint. Dagashi is still pretty pervasive in Japanese culture.

Over time, the scope and type of dagashi that you’re likely to find has expanded greatly, accommodating for a wide range of tastes. From sour hard candies to chewy sweet candies and everything in between and even including a wide range of savoury snacks.
Popular dagashi!
We’ve stocked some candies at Tofu Cute before that might be considered dagashi in one way or another. One of the most popular dagashi, Umaibo, is something we have a long history with ourselves. Umaibo is a corn puff snack (not unlike a ‘cheese puff’ if you want a comparison) that comes in a variety of flavours. From the delicious pizza flavour to the more eccentric takoyaki (octopus balls!) flavour, there’s a savoury umaibo that’s right for everyone. They also offer excellent value for money, as they’re very inexpensive whilst remaining very satisfying.

Sakuma Drops also have a history of being sold in dagashi stores - delicious fruit flavoured hard-boiled candies (plus mint and chocolate flavours, too!) which come in a colourful tin. If you’ve never had the joy of a tin of Sakuma drops, then you’re missing out. They’re one of my favourite snacks at Tofu Cute, and tend to last me quite a long time.

Another classic Dagashi that we’ve stocked before is konpeito! We’ve had a lot of different types of konpeito over the years, but I’m a huge fan of the floral packaged type that we have right now, which have a wonderful aesthetic quality to them! They’re perfect if you want a candy to decorate a cake or even just to have an affection for a particular colour combo.
What is Wagashi, then?
On the other side of the coin when it comes to the history of Japanese snacks is Wagashi - dutifully crafted, traditionally made sweets. This includes any type of mochi or anything that uses mochi as an ingredient, but also a variety of sweets made from matcha (green tea powder), local fruits, anko (red bean paste) or any other traditionally ‘Japanese’ ingredients used as a base. Not unlike the much cheaper to produce dagashi, it’s something that took off during the Edo period of Japanese history. You’re probably already familiar with most of the popular types of wagashi - mochi, dango, taiyaki, and anything matcha. Wagashi are understood as more artisanal and therefore a bit pricier than traditional dagashi, but of course, there’s plenty of commercially available types of wagashi available, too!

At Tofu Cute, we’ve stocked a variety of wagashi based snacks before, including a range of authentically produced mochi in classic flavours like matcha, taro and sesame. Mochi are one of the Japanese snacks we think everyone should try, so if you’re new to all this stuff, you can get some from our online shop. We have them in all kinds of fun fruity flavours, chocolate-y flavours and the more traditional taste profiles - they’re all worth trying!

Traditional wagashi are still very easy to find in Japan, as well as a wide variety of snacks inspired by wagashi.
Dagashi and Wagashi in popular culture
Of course, both of these types of treats have had a significant influence on Japanese popular culture. You’re likely to spot references to both dagashi and wagashi all throughout Japanese media, including anime, games and movies.

You’ll probably already be familiar with some of the more classic references to dagashi in anime, such as konpeito appearing as an object of the soot sprite’s affection in the classic Studio Ghibli animated feature Spirited Away (you didn’t think I was going to not mention this, did you?). You might recall the many references to mochi and dango in the hit anime One Piece. You may even be familiar with the series Dagashi Kashi, which focuses on the everyday lives of people who work at modern dagashi shops. Beyond this, however, references to dagashi and wagashi in Japanese media are innumerable, and there’s certainly far too many to list off here!

With the introduction of import businesses like ours, Japanese confections of all kinds have become a lot more popular in the west, although it’s still not something that pops up a lot in our media. Either way, we hope we can help to make it more popular!
Conclusion
With all that said, it’s time to wrap up our first Japanese Snacks 101 article. We hope you’ve taken plenty of notes, as I said - this will be on the final exam - so be sure to make sure you know your dagashi from your wagashi. In the next Japanese Snacks 101 article, we’ll cover the history of the most popular Japanese snack companies - from Glico to Calbee, there’s a lot of interesting stories hidden in there. As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time!
Japanese Snacks 101
Hello everyone, and welcome to a new series here on the Tofu Cute blog, which is rather informatively titled ‘Japanese Snacks 101’. As the name might suggest, over a few articles, we’re going to be diving into lessons on the interesting details behind your favourite Japanese snacks and sweets - their origins, history and classification; detailing the key events that led to this very moment in time, where delicious treats from Japan are more accessible to you than ever before! Be sure to take notes, as all of this will be on the final test.
What are dagashi?
Simply put, ‘dagashi’ (not to be confused with ‘wagashi’, which we’ll talk about later!) is a term that refers to a broad range of small, inexpensive sugary candies that have origins dating all the way back to Japan’s Edo period, with recorded production history as early as the 17th Century! If we’re looking for a starting point for a history of Japanese snacks, there really is no better place to look than at dagashi, which has quite the legacy.

During the 1600s is when dagashi first started to catch on in Japan. The term ‘dagashi’ combines the words for ‘negligible’ and ‘candy’ referring to its inexpensive, easy-to-produce and small nature. During the 17th century, dagashi was mostly made with a mixture of thick sugary syrup, rice and oats. They were pretty basic, but I’m sure at the time, people loved it: certainly enough for dagashi to still be a thing today!

The first dagashiya (dagashi shops) were also established during this time, and many of Japan’s different regions began to develop their own unique styles of dagashi which at the time were marked by different colourings added to the candy. There weren’t many rules to dagashi to begin with, and traditional dagashi production involved incorporating a lot of ingredients that just happened to be available at the time.

Some example of early types of dagashi that have stuck around for a long while include: konpeito, which contains only a few simple ingredients (mostly sugar and colouring), kinako ame which are hard candies coated in a soybean powder and karinto which is wheat dough covered in sugar and fried. There are many more types beyond this, but those are some of the most enduring.
How did it change?
Dagashi and dagashiya increased in popularity throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as commerce grew. Originally, dagashi were sold for as little as a few yen per piece, and although some inflation has obviously incurred an increase in prices since their inception, to this day dagashiya still boast incredibly cheap prices for a wide variety of treats. Some dagashiya have hundreds of varieties!

Dagashiya saw a particular boom in popularity during the showa era (the period of history between 1926 - 1989, during the reign of Emperor Showa). Especially the post-war economic rise of Japan, dagashi maintained a popularity both domestically and as something favoured by tourists. This is also when various advances in production processes and marketing helped to commercialise dagashi into what it is known as today. Dagashi became more packaged, branded and readily available, especially in the period of Japan’s economic boom, where it eventually made its way into convenience stores and supermarkets beyond just the traditional dagashiya.

Don’t worry though - in the modern age, you can still find plenty of dagashiya, which will stock treats both modern and traditional for as little as ten yen (about 6p or 10 cents). It’s even common to find them literally attached to entertainment venues like game arcades, bowling alleys and even bars! That’s right, you can buy cheap candy before you play the popular drum arcade game Taiko No Tatsujin, bowl a winning strike or even before you sink a pint. Dagashi is still pretty pervasive in Japanese culture.

Over time, the scope and type of dagashi that you’re likely to find has expanded greatly, accommodating for a wide range of tastes. From sour hard candies to chewy sweet candies and everything in between and even including a wide range of savoury snacks.
Popular dagashi!
We’ve stocked some candies at Tofu Cute before that might be considered dagashi in one way or another. One of the most popular dagashi, Umaibo, is something we have a long history with ourselves. Umaibo is a corn puff snack (not unlike a ‘cheese puff’ if you want a comparison) that comes in a variety of flavours. From the delicious pizza flavour to the more eccentric takoyaki (octopus balls!) flavour, there’s a savoury umaibo that’s right for everyone. They also offer excellent value for money, as they’re very inexpensive whilst remaining very satisfying.

Sakuma Drops also have a history of being sold in dagashi stores - delicious fruit flavoured hard-boiled candies (plus mint and chocolate flavours, too!) which come in a colourful tin. If you’ve never had the joy of a tin of Sakuma drops, then you’re missing out. They’re one of my favourite snacks at Tofu Cute, and tend to last me quite a long time.

Another classic Dagashi that we’ve stocked before is konpeito! We’ve had a lot of different types of konpeito over the years, but I’m a huge fan of the floral packaged type that we have right now, which have a wonderful aesthetic quality to them! They’re perfect if you want a candy to decorate a cake or even just to have an affection for a particular colour combo.
What is Wagashi, then?
On the other side of the coin when it comes to the history of Japanese snacks is Wagashi - dutifully crafted, traditionally made sweets. This includes any type of mochi or anything that uses mochi as an ingredient, but also a variety of sweets made from matcha (green tea powder), local fruits, anko (red bean paste) or any other traditionally ‘Japanese’ ingredients used as a base. Not unlike the much cheaper to produce dagashi, it’s something that took off during the Edo period of Japanese history. You’re probably already familiar with most of the popular types of wagashi - mochi, dango, taiyaki, and anything matcha. Wagashi are understood as more artisanal and therefore a bit pricier than traditional dagashi, but of course, there’s plenty of commercially available types of wagashi available, too!

At Tofu Cute, we’ve stocked a variety of wagashi based snacks before, including a range of authentically produced mochi in classic flavours like matcha, taro and sesame. Mochi are one of the Japanese snacks we think everyone should try, so if you’re new to all this stuff, you can get some from our online shop. We have them in all kinds of fun fruity flavours, chocolate-y flavours and the more traditional taste profiles - they’re all worth trying!

Traditional wagashi are still very easy to find in Japan, as well as a wide variety of snacks inspired by wagashi.
Dagashi and Wagashi in popular culture
Of course, both of these types of treats have had a significant influence on Japanese popular culture. You’re likely to spot references to both dagashi and wagashi all throughout Japanese media, including anime, games and movies.

You’ll probably already be familiar with some of the more classic references to dagashi in anime, such as konpeito appearing as an object of the soot sprite’s affection in the classic Studio Ghibli animated feature Spirited Away (you didn’t think I was going to not mention this, did you?). You might recall the many references to mochi and dango in the hit anime One Piece. You may even be familiar with the series Dagashi Kashi, which focuses on the everyday lives of people who work at modern dagashi shops. Beyond this, however, references to dagashi and wagashi in Japanese media are innumerable, and there’s certainly far too many to list off here!

With the introduction of import businesses like ours, Japanese confections of all kinds have become a lot more popular in the west, although it’s still not something that pops up a lot in our media. Either way, we hope we can help to make it more popular!
Conclusion
With all that said, it’s time to wrap up our first Japanese Snacks 101 article. We hope you’ve taken plenty of notes, as I said - this will be on the final exam - so be sure to make sure you know your dagashi from your wagashi. In the next Japanese Snacks 101 article, we’ll cover the history of the most popular Japanese snack companies - from Glico to Calbee, there’s a lot of interesting stories hidden in there. As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time!
About the Author: Adam
Adam is the lead writer of the Tofu Cute Blog and Wordsmith person at Team Tofu. When he's not making fun content for Tofu Cute, he enjoys being a huge nerd. He spends his free time gaming, reading, cooking and figuring out ways to make Godzilla and other giant monsters real.
About the Author: Adam
Adam is the lead writer of the Tofu Cute Blog and Wordsmith person at Team Tofu. When he's not making fun content for Tofu Cute, he enjoys being a huge nerd. He spends his free time gaming, reading, cooking and figuring out ways to make Godzilla and other giant monsters real.
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