Although July has started off a bit rocky for us, June despite the gloom was a month of wonderful treats, like meeting Mr. Jimmy Mirikitani and finding new treasures. On June 30th we stumbled upon a Japanese confectionary called Tokara.
When we walked in, we saw two women sitting on tatami in a small room sipping tea. We felt like we intruded into someone’s living room. At first we didn’t really understand where we were or what we were looking for because it didn’t seem like a restaurant or cafe yet it wasn’t a retail space either. Probably because we looked perplexed, the owner explained that she makes Kyoto-style confections (known as wagashi) to match the season, which she opens up her space only once a month to offer, usually on the third Sunday of the month.
The confections she was selling on that particular day was a set of three Minazuki: wheat flour dumplings shaped in triangles with adzuki beans sprinkled on top. The triangle shape is supposed to represent ice stemming from the tradition of people keeping natural ice in an underground storage in Kyoto called Himuro and on June 3oth, the ice was taken out of the storage and offered to the emperor and his family. Common people could not have ice during the summer, so they made sweets with wheat in a triangle shape to symbolize ice. The adzuki is also supposed to symbolize good health and luck. Every year on June 30th, people in Kyoto still practice this ancient tradition of eating minazuki with appreciation for the half year past peacefully and praying for good health and luck for the rest of the year.
We weren’t planning on purchasing anything when we walked through Tokara’s doors, but we felt like we were in the presence of something special and unique so we purchased one baby blue package containing the three triangles without even knowing what we were buying looked like. There was only four packages left so we felt lucky to get something that’s offered only once a year. And there was something really delightful in a childlike way about leaving this Japanese confectionary with a hidden, mysterious treat with such an interesting story, history, and tradition contained within a charming packaging.
I couldn’t wait until after dinner so as soon as we got home, I unwrapped our present and we ate our “ice.” They tasted just like something you’d find carefully crafted in Kyoto. They were barely sweet, the texture was perfect, and each triangle had its own unique, light taste. My favorite was the green (matcha) one, Grant favored the white one (the most delicately flavored one of them all), and we both loved the beans on the brown one. Tokara will next be opening their doors on July 15th, and you might just find us there again.