Experience YOKAN: Traditional Japanese Confectionery

Yōkan from Toraya
TORAYA's Yōkan

In true Japanese spirit, wagashi or traditional Japanese sweets, are not only delicious but are also beautiful pieces of edible art and culture. Yōkan, a subset of wagashi, is a traditional jellied confectionery of red or white beans, sugar and gelatin. They come in blocks and are eaten in slices. As yokan is a reflection of the Japanese love and reverence for nature, the seasons play a big part in these desserts. These days, yokan comes in varied shapes, colours and sizes. Common additions to the dessert include chestnuts, persimmons, figs, honey or brown sugar. This is why some variations of yokan might remind Singaporean locals of kueh, with its texture and intriguing taste.

Yoneya Yōkan
Yoneya yokan

Making its debut in Singapore this year is The YOKAN Collection , an exhibition that aims to heighten awareness of this once-unknown part of Japanese culinary culture. Happening from 28 to 29 October 2017 at The National Museum of Singapore, visitors will be able to sample this Japanese delicacy, normally served on special occasions with accompanying green tea. Fifteen vendors of renowned yokan-makers and producers (like Yoneya and Suzukake) will have their products on display for visitors to sample and purchase. Wagashi masters and experts will also be on hand to demonstrate the high art of yokan making.

One of the headlining acts is Hiromori Uchida,  the fifth generation Master Chef of Ganyudou, a 150-year-old sweet shop located in Shizuoka. Using the knowledge that has been passed down through generations, Uchida adapts his wagashi with taste and methods that appeal to modern palates.

Another wagashi master present is Mitsuharu Kurokawa. He is the eighteenth-generation member of the Kurowaka family - yes you read that right - and the Managing Director of Toraya, which has been the purveyor of wagashi to the Japanese royal court for over 400 years. At the exhibition, you'll be able to sample some of the red bean sweets that the royal family favours.

Suzukake Yōkan Fukuoka
Yokan from Suzukake, a wagashi shop in Fukuoka

While many Singaporeans are familiar with other wagashi such as mochi and dorayaki, Yōkan is one of the oldest Japanese sweets, with a cultural history that resonates with many Japanese. It is often given as gifts within Japan, so be sure to pick up some when you visit; the jelly-like sweets have a relatively long shelf life, provided you don't open the package it is contained in first.

The YOKAN Collection debuts in Singapore at 93 Stamford Road, The National Museum of Singapore, Gallery 10, Singapore 178897; from 28 to 29 October 2017, 11AM to 8PM. Admission is FREE.