Omiyage Diaries Pt. 2
Yamato Koriyama, Honke Kikuya, centuries of Japanese sweets
Lisa (Tokyo born, Tokyo bred, and oh so cosmopolitan) recently let slip to me that she has maybe been to the ancient capital city of Nara only once in her life. Maybe you have skipped it altogether. Nara is (as I keep saying) Japan’s first capital and a hop-skip from Kyoto with deer, temples, and shrines in droves, but is often overlooked by travelers with busy itineraries. It goes without saying that she has absolutely skipped the city that is the topic of today’s dispatch, Yamato Koriyama.
Yamato Koriyama - the Goldfish Capital
Yamato Koriyama (my hometown!)1 is two JR stops away from Nara (the capital city with the deer). Its current claim to fame is that it is the goldfish capital of Japan (apparently goldfish production was a side hustle for the samurai class in the 18th century), that it is the host of the national goldfish scooping competition2, and that it is the site of the ruins of the Koriyama Castle3. The site of these ruins is recognized as one of the top 100 cherry blossom sites in Japan. The focus on goldfish is admittedly a little kitschy, but Yamato Koriyama also has more than its fair share of shrines and temples from its days as a military bastion.
The welcome sign at the Yamato Koriyama JR station
Honke Kikuya - Circa 1585
On top of all of this splendor, this time capsule of a city is also the home base for Honke Kikuya4, a pastry shop that has stood since 1585 when the founder, Kikuya Jihei, served mochi coated in kinako to a visiting Toyotomi Hidenaga5 . Legend has it Kikuya Jihei went on to open a shop serving these sweets (oshiro no kuchi - castle entrance) outside of the Koriyama Castle gates (now ruins).
In addition to the mochi described above, Honke Kikuya is renowned for several famous wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) that I have been consuming since I was in utero. Their namagashi (a subcategory of wagashi that are seasonal and more delicate) are exceptional. While Ako’s shiomi manju can be transported in a suitcase overseas thanks to their dry outer coating, namagashi are always made fresh and must be consumed by the next day.
An assortment of namagashi from the Honke Kikuya Instagram account
I have scoured the Internet for a technical definition of namagashi, but the main point seems to be that they are they are higher in moisture than other wagashi (over 30 percent water). They are based on pastes made usually from white beans, but also azuki, lily root, and yams.
The seasonally shaped namagashi pictured here are specifically known as nerikiri and are among the most precious of the namagashi category (maple leaves in the autumn, cherry blossoms in spring). The shop attendant will sternly inform you to consume them within 24 hours when you make your purchase.
Honke Kikuya’s cherry blossom namagashi
Nerikiri, like all wagashi, are traditionally served as part of a Japanese tea ceremony. As much as I’m tempted to recreate certain tastes, one look at a master craftsman and I know that this is one thing that I will leave to the experts. Honke Kikuya is hardly the only shop to make nerikiri, but they are my (and Michiko’s, and Mikiyo’s) sentimental favorite. If you cannot make it to their original shop in Yamato Koriyama, they also have outposts throughout Nara prefecture, including one conveniently outside of the Kintetsu train station in the ancient capital city of Nara.
In New York?
I’ve looked, but have not found. Minamoto no Kitchoan offers a roster of very solid mochi based wagashi (and baumkuchen, besides), but no nerikiri. Please comment if you have a recommendation! My next trip to Yamato Koriyama is not until September.
I love my home town, but boy is it a trek from New York. You must fly to Narita (14 hours), take the Narita Express to Shinagawa (1 hour), take the Shinkansen to Kyoto (2 hours), and then the express Kintesu to Yamato Koriyama (1 hour). That’s the itinerary. You’re welcome!
A popular game at summer festivals, the goal is to scoop as many little goldfish into a bucket as you can with a paper net.
This castle was the home base (at different points) of Toyotomi Hidenaga and for the Koriyama clan. Family lore has it that we are descendants of some of the samurai for this castle during the Koriyama clan times. Hi!
Honke Kikuya recently followed me back on Instagram (likely the mistake of an intern). I have officially peaked.
The younger half brother of the warlord credited with uniting Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In addition to uniting Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was also an enthusiastic supporter of Sen no Rikyu, perhaps the most influential (and the most renowned) master of Japanese tea ceremony. He was Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s close confidante until he was ordered to commit seppuku. Japanese tea ceremony is based heavily in Zen principles and the provision of wagashi is an essential part of the ceremony. Toyotomi Hideyoshi commissioned tea rooms in all of his castles and it would make sense that wagashi would have flourished during this time.