cabinet of wonders: yamanaka ishikawaya green tea sweets

20Aug09

pink candy manual

Some of the nicest packaging I’ve come across lately has to be from the set of Yamanaka Ishikawaya green tea sweets that came with my grocery delivery a few weeks ago.  The company not only has a mascot that is the cutest thing since sliced milk, but they also offer a fantastic variety of brilliantly executed okashi, including several seasonal specialties.   (Okashi — お菓子 — is a general word for snacks, including certain types of Japanese-style sweets.)

the green

These green tea okashi came individually packaged in beautiful green wrappers.  The kanji script on the right-hand side simply indicates the type of sweet inside, which in this case roku-cha (緑茶, or ‘green tea’) mixed with sweet bean paste.

square plum time

Of course, Japanese sweets aren’t ever only about flavor; they’re always just as equally about presentation and texture.  These roku-cha sweets not only emphasize the difference between the soft bean paste inside and the light and crispy shell that encloses it, but they also have a beautiful plum-blossom motif stamped into the center of the okashi.  In a sense, there’s almost a double set of differences at work here.  Not only is there the contrast between the soft bean paste center and the crisp exterior shell, but there is also an almost conceptual difference at work in terms of the sense of formal and structural constraint embodied in the hard rectangular exterior of the sweet and the chaotic formlessness of the tea-flavored paste inside.  I suppose it’s kind of like that old Far Side cartoon where the two polar bears are standing outside the igloo and the one says to the other, “Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside.”

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