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The art of dessert: Japanese wagashi master sculpts intricate pieces out of bean paste

Junichi Mitsubori is a culinary rockstar in Japan, famous for his intricate dessert sculptures known as "wagashi."

Junichi Mitsubori is bringing the traditional art form to the contemporary world

Wagashi Master Junichi Mitsubori is in Vancouver this week to share the traditional Japanese edible art form. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Junichi Mitsubori is a culinary rockstar in Japan, famous for his intricate dessert sculptures known as "wagashi."

The edible art form goes back over 300 years but Mitsubori has brought it into the modern world.

"Wagashi is a traditional Japanese sweet that's primarily associated with and used in the Japanese tea ceremony," Mitsubori said, speaking in Japanese through translator Maiko Beare.

The creations are sculpted out of bean paste, glutinous rice and sugar — but the experience of eating the dessert is about much more than the taste.

The creation of wagashi goes beyond simply crafting a beautiful dessert, says Mitsubori. (Maggie MacPherson)

"We have a saying in Japan that something is to be experienced with all five senses, that it is really a sensory experience — it's not just about the taste or flavour," Mitsubori told CBC's Margaret Gallagher.

"It's the same way that a tea ceremony is not just purely about the moment of drinking a bowl of tea but the entire experience."

In many ways, he said, the experience is meant to reflect a spirit of hospitality and consideration for guests.

"[It] invites your guest through a spatial and temporal art that is not just in the object but is in ... the whole space and time involved in the creation of that piece, which enriches the mind and the spirit of the person it's being created for," he said.

Wagashi Master Junichi Mitsubori holding one of his creations. He wears a mask during the performances as a way of stopping people from to make conversation and distracting him while he works. (Maggie MacPherson)

Reviving the art

But Mitsubori said he fears the art is becoming lost in the younger generation in Japan.

"Japanese children have become more distant from traditional Japanese sweets these days," Mitsubori said.

"In fact, Western sweets are more popular —  cakes, cookies and so forth."

He's from a family of wagashi creators and wanted to help revive the art.

"I really wanted to bring the pleasure of Japanese traditional sweets of wagashi into the modern day, into contemporary life," he said.

The more intricate designs can take up to an hour to create. (Maggie MacPherson)

And he's certainly found success doing so. Mitsubori frequently appears on Japanese television, and he has a global Instagram following.

It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to more than an hour to create one of the desserts.  

Mitsubori calls his performances Kado: The New Way of Wagashi.

With files from Margaret Gallagher and On The Coast


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